Saturday, June 20, 2009

Barrie Hibbert Reviews the Movie, ‘Is Anybody There?’

In England, old actors never die… they just get bit parts in movies about elderly people in residential care.

In the latest of these old-age home dramas “Is Anybody There?” veteran Michael Caine is superb as the retired magician, Clarence Parkinson … or “The Amazing Clarence” as the gaudy sign on the side of his battered old van proclaims.

Clarence, a widower, has been assessed by the local authority as being in the early stages of dementia and unable to care for himself any longer. A place is found for him at Lark Hall run by a couple who have turned their house into a rest home for the elderly. Among the dozen or so mainly eccentric and fairly decrepit residents, are a number of characters whose faces will be familiar to film-goers of years gone by. They certainly look older than when I recall their earlier appearances, but Leslie Phillips is no less dapper, and Sylvia Sims’ glamour, though faded, is still evident.

“Is Anybody There?” tells the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between Clarence and Edward, the eleven-year-old son of the couple who run the home. As the film’s promotional leaflet says, “It is a charming story about growing up and growing old.”

There are some hilarious moments in the film, but as the plot unfolds there are fewer laughs, and there is a profound poignancy in the way the old man and the boy try to help each other to “lay their ghosts.”

For me, some of the most poignant moments come near the end of the story. Clarence had been haunted for many years by the guilt he felt in cheating on his lovely wife, Annie and then finally walking out on her.

Talking with Edward one day, he remarked how beautiful she had been, how much he had loved her and how badly he had treated her. Then he said, “Years ago, I found out she’d died … and… you know… I’ve never even visited her grave. ”

In an attempt to help his old friend, Edward discovers where Annie is buried and takes Clarence on a bus journey to the cemetery. They locate the grave, but the old man, by now quite deeply into his dementia, looks at the name Annie Parkinson on the headstone with a measure of interest but no emotion. All he can say is, “Well, look at that… she’s got the same name as my missus.”

But even in the haze of his growing mental incapacity, Clarence is still racked with guilt. One day, after he has wandered far from the home, he ends up dazed and confused in the hands of the police. Eventually, the couple who run the home are contacted and they arrive to pick up poor old Clarence and take him back to Lark Hall.

On the way home, he is sitting in the back seat with the wife. In his confusion he thinks she is Annie and he starts to pour his heart out to her, telling her how desperately sorry he is for all the pain he has caused her. “It’s alright,” she tells him, “It’s alright.” But Clarence keeps saying over and over again, through his tears, “I’m sorry, Annie… I’m sorry, I’m terribly sorry! ” He is inconsolable.

Then the young woman does something quite extraordinary. She takes the old man’s face gently in her hands, looks into his tear-filled eyes and in a firm, but quiet and tender voice says, “I forgive you… I forgive you, Clarence.” Then, even more deliberately, “I –- forgive -- you.”

He is stunned into silence. As the words hit home, the old man’s tortured face relaxes into a gentle smile, and he nestles his head on the young woman’s shoulder, and sleeps quietly for the rest of the journey.

I am sure I will long recall many of the scenes from this remarkable film, but probably the most memorable will be the one when the back seat of that car became a confessional… the caring young woman became a priest… and a weary old sinner found forgiveness and peace.

Thanks to Barrie Hibbert, Adelaide, South Australia.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Images from the movie.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1954 classic, The Great Crash 1929, has been running off the book shelves of late. People are searching for wisdom or a wise prescription to help them negotiate a path out of their personal recession.

The book has been revised and reprinted but it is amazingly fresh. The stories of ‘get rich’ schemes, the original Ponzi and bankers brazenly paying themselves lavish salaries when their banks are in crisis, give this book an astonishing contemporary feel.

Readers will be interested to study the role of the President (‘too hands off or hands on?), the Federal Reserve, the calls of ‘superficial optimism’ designed to boost confidence and the issue of how to regulate the regulators.

1929. These four numbers are etched into the collective memories like 1066, 1776, 1914 or 9/11.

Galbraith says that his literary task was “to tell what happened in 1929 and immediately before and after.” (p25)

It is not the purpose of this author to make predictions about whether history would repeat itself and whether there would be another recession on the size of the crash in ’29.

While Galbraith is not assuming the role of economic forecaster, this book does have some important lessons to say to businesspeople and individuals who are seeking to be wise about their saving and spending. This book is a vaccination against memory loss. Galbraith believes that instead of transacting loads of legislation to ensure a crash doesn’t happen again it is far better to regularly refresh the memory with the lessons of history.

The cyclical nature of speculation, boom and bust make this book an antidote to amnesia. It should be read every five years or when contemplating the possibility of a big investment. Sadly, this is a history book that illustrates that people learn little from history.

One doesn’t have to be an economist to enjoy or benefit from this book on economics as it has simplicity, drama and fluctuating emotion.

This is a close and careful study of an economic cycle, stopping frame by frame to comment on the forecasts, the disintegration of confidence, the mysteries of the Stock exchange, the explanations, the postmortems, the suicides, the ‘pregnant lessons’ and the calls, ‘Never Again’.

Galbraith writes engagingly and with color. For example, writing about Wall Street he says:

“Wall Street, in these matters, is like a lovely and accomplished woman who must wear black cotton stockings, heavy woolen underwear, and parade her knowledge as a cook because, unhappily, her supreme accomplishment is as a harlot.” (p48)

Similarly, Galbraith pours out pithy wisdom in apt definitions like this:

Will Payne explains the difference between a gambler and an investor. A gambler, he pointed out, wins only because someone else loses. Where it is investment, all gain. (p50)

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash 1929 (London: Penguin, 1954, 1975).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 65.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Great Crash 1929.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Can Anything Compete With a Great Book?

The National has commenced the first installment of a four-part series in which Abu Dhabi families talk about their reading habits at a time when book sales still prove strong.

“But when it comes to being truly lifted out of ourselves, to learning about worlds and lives not our own, to having our imaginations sparked and to sheer, lose-yourself pleasure, can anything compete with a great book?”

Link: Hooked on Books, The National, 1 June 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sales Rise When Obama Endorses Books

When President Barack Obama recently told The New York Times Magazine that he was reading “Netherland,” the novel caught fire.

Sales quickly rose by 40 percent and as of last week, the book had sold more than 95,000 copies.

“It was getting so much attention and we were in such demand that we decided to move up the release of the paperback by a month,” said Russell Perreault, vice president and director of publicity at Vintage Books, the novel’s publisher. “It’s been fantastic.”

Like presidents before him, when Obama reveals the current title on his nightstand, good things happen for that book.

To read entire article follow this link.

Dr Geoff Pound