Thursday, 27 June 2013

Before Midnight, The Red Pill Review

I know. Everyone will be reviewing this. Everyone in London is going to see it. It's the third in a series that might have a fourth ("Before Lunch"?), about Jesse, a cocky, good-looking young man who looks a lot like Ethan Hawke, and Celine, a quirky French girl who looks a lot like Julie Delpy. Having met on a train eighteen years ago (Before Sunrise), and ten years later in an English-language bookshop in Paris (Before Sunset), they are now married, with cute blonde twins, a divorced wife who raced off with Jessie's son when Jessie went with Celine to Paris to have the twins. They are now enjoying a six-week holiday in an idyllic setting in Greece, or not, because at the end Celine stages a huge row in the evening.

It's at that point the movie stops being an affectionate and skilful homage to the inspiration of the first two: Eric Rohmer. Rohmer's people talked, and were often scrappy, and Marie Riviere could be the whiniest woman on the face of the planet, but no-one ever got nastily angry and most of the time they were urbane if they weren't actually charming. Rohmer didn't really believe much in True Love, and Soulmates, and stuff like that. His view of sexual relationships was that they were transient and of little substance, and the only time he pretended to believe in True Love, everyone was so glad, they gave him the Palme d'Or for The Green Ray. Rohmer characters would never set off the way Celine does: they are too adult and sophisticated.

A few years ago, I might have seen Celine's anger as an expression of Female Insecurity that Jessie is Being Too Insensitive To Address And Was His Fault Anyway. Not now. She fabricates the row from nothing, in fact, from a perfect day and a wonderful supper. They have been given a hotel room for the night by their friends, who will babysit the twins. They walk there through a beautiful Greek evening. And after a while, it becomes clear that Celine is looking to pick a fight. She has no reason to do so: well, other than that Ethan is still skinny and hot and male, and she's a "fat mommy" - in her own words. Here's a tip ladies: if that's what's making you insecure, get to the gym and on a diet. Don't scream at your man until he gives you reassurance just to shut you up. It might work in this movie, but in real life in the year of our Lord 2013, it will alienate him even more.

Delpy creates a portrait of everything that men now deplore about modern women. The emphasis on "her career", the emotional self-indulgence, the physical deterioration, the random emotions, the resentment about her children and role as a mother, the shit-testing… it's all there. Hake's Jessie is the poor son-of-a-bitch who is stuck with her, and his "I love you's" come across as horribly lacking self-respect. His guilt about not being there while his son goes through High School is a show. He has indeed put the last eight years of his life at Celine's disposal, and look what he gets for it:  she's losing respect for him. The whole thing could have been scripted by Roissy.

I'm guessing we're supposed to read her as expressing her pent-up middle-aged insecurities, and to blame Jessie for setting them off by not-quite suggesting they move to Chicago to be near his son. To make that sympathetic, we the audience have to buy that women are allowed to express their feelings intemperately, and with cruel and hurtful attacks on their partners. You might, I don't. So to me, her outburst is as deliberate an action as a debutante snorting coke, and has the same purpose. The row is entirely strategic, and her words are meant to be wounding and hurtful. It doesn't occur to her to say simply: if we move to Chicago, your ex-wife will screw around with the weekend access, you will be happy or sad or upset at her whim, and so she will wreck your daughters' lives as well. Jessie will mutter something about wanting to be there for his son, and she should say: she won't let you be there for him, and you know it, you haven't failed, she has failed your son. But no, what we get is a gender-war-based tirade about Jessie's behaviour, her lost dreams and all the rest of those tired old tropes. Doing it the calm way would have made a much more interesting movie, because then Jessie would have had to deal with his self-indulgent feelings of guilt. Now there's a Rohmer movie for you.

Delpy and Hawke are compelling. I didn't walk out. The first half of the movie is beautiful. The second half is a terrific portrayal of a train wreck. I didn't buy the reconciliation, because I know that in real life, a woman who behaved like Celine does is actually one symptom short of a personality disorder. Walking out on the father of your children saying that you don't love him anymore is actually pretty close to breach of contract. Either you mean it, when the two of you are over, or you don't, in which case you are not a functioning adult, but a spiteful, hurtful, self-indulgent and self-pitying mess. There's simply no excuse for her behaviour. It's a gigantic shit-test designed to make Jessie prove his love for her, and when he does, she will lose even more respect for him because he fell for it. The only way to pass a shit-test is not to take it in the first place. Adults don't do that to each other.

There aren't many happy people in Rohmer movies either - and when there are, they are old. The middle-aged ones just look good next to his unsettled central characters, as in real life, couples will put on a show in the presence of unhappy Others. In this, Linklater and Delpy are following their mentor, but it's too extreme, and they create a madwoman instead.

There were, however, a number of women chuckling away during these scenes, and at Celine. It was the kind of laughter that suggested they saw her as an emotional child with no self-knowledge: of course she would behave like that, silly thing, she's French and clearly a little spoiled. Which is another way of saying what I just said, but without the insistence that a forty-year old woman behave like an adult.

Let's look at the "Before" trilogy: boy meets girl on train, follows every rule in the PUA book and gets an SDL in a park. Making promises to meet in a year's time, they not only don't, but also seemingly never correspond again. They meet ten years later, both the worse for emotional and relational wear, and the sex takes over again. Then they get married and have children, and she turns into Frustrated Resentful Wife who can only get her kicks by fabricating specious rows. Looks like Linklater, Delpy and Hawke - who co-wrote all three films - are saying that the last thing that two attractive people who have a magic sexual attraction between them should do is get married and have children. Because look where it gets them.

Red Pill gets through every time.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Around Fitzrovia Goodge St

Fitzrovia is the area north of Soho and south of the Euston Road, though the bit between Oxford Street and Goodge Street around Charlotte Street  is a kind of "North Soho". Fashion wholesalers, hospitals, the University of Westminster, plenty of residential buildings, and restaurants. Lots of restaurants. And design, media and web companies. 

Will someone tell me how those back-rub places make money? Or what they are really a front for? On days like this one, London looks clean and almost welcoming. Like a city you can breath in, whereas for much of the last twelve months, we've been scurrying through it to get out of the cold and rain.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Newman Passage Soho

When the sky is blue, every little side-street and passage in London looks like somewhere you might want to live or work. I've never walked along this little diversion before and probably never will again. 

Those look like plastic model V2-rockets to me, but I could be wrong. The bicycle. The rooftop garden. The GPO tower. Ah, London.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Advice To A Young Lady Seeking A Husband: Part Two

Fifth: he wants to see that you are a functioning adult. Are you rude to waiters? Do you hand out honey-do lists? Can you figure out how to assemble flat-pack furniture? Do you jump at spiders? Are you paying down your student loan? Are you holding down a job? Are your quarters reasonably clean and your fridge stocked with essentials. Can you cook a freaking ham and cheese omelette or do you eat out of a microwave? Do you spend to your earnings or are you running up debt? Can you compromise and let it go? Do you dress like an adult or are you walking around in a costume? Do you expect people to divine what you want, or do you state it with confidence? Do you whinge and find fault? Can you catch a waiter's eye and deal calmly with bureaucracy? Do you keep your promises? Do you turn up late or cancel? Are you confident about your prospects and future? Do you have reason to be? Are your friends also functioning adults? You get the idea. None of these are nice-to-haves. You need to be above 90% on this stuff. Why? because he is. That's one reason he's a quality man.

Sixth: he's looking for evidence of emotional instability and personality problems. Given the percentage of women with Narcissist, Borderline and manipulative personalities, this is a legitimate concern. He's looking for DSM-IV symptoms of actual personality disorders, or any of the Big Eight problem behaviours (alcoholism, heroin, cocaine, speed, sex, gambling, food issues and self-harm). Any of those are instant knock-outs. He's looking for a generally "up" disposition, and not for mood swings, rows, fights, silent treatments, resentful scowls, fake drama, clingy behaviour and the like. In other words, just don't come across like a character from an English soap opera.

Seventh: he wants to know what your mother is like, because that's the role model you had, and he wants to know what your father is like, because that's what you will think men are.

Eighth: if he's the type who wants children, he will want to see how you respond to them, and they to you. Other people's children will do as experimental subjects, even the children of total strangers. (Warning, children are not always good indicators. I went out with a girl whom children loved, and was very good with them, but those who knew her knew she didn't have a motherly bone in her entire skeleton.)

Ninth: he has to decide if all the good stuff he's seen is just an act that's going to stop the moment you get the ring. Because that happens. A lot. By screw-ups who want to lure a victim into the legal spiderweb of marriage and spend the rest of their life tormenting and disrespecting him. He knows this and he's rightly suspicious.

And the reason you can tear up your 463 bullet-point checklist is that these are the same things you need to look for in him. Note the verb: "need", not "want".

This may look like a lot, but all it's really asking is that you're attractive, the two of you get along well and you're a functioning adult without major personality problems. You might think that's not much to ask, but in Anglo societies right now, it is. Remember, he has an option: he doesn't need to get married.

One more thing you need to understand. Under existing law, women take no risk at all getting married, men risk everything they have or will build up. A woman who wants divorce calls her lawyer and walks away with as much money and assets as her lawyer can get. A man who wants divorce risks being reamed unless he has video evidence of her behaving like a crazy bitch. He is taking a far greater risk than you are - you have no idea how much greater - and you need to be worth that risk.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Advice To A Young Lady Seeking A Husband: Part One

Here's the secret. When you go husband-hunting, you have the same marketing problem that a luxury goods manufacturer has. You need to produce a product that customers want to buy, but they have to be the right customers. You are not buying a husband, you're selling yourself to the quality of man you want to be married to. Re-read that, because it's important you get it. You are not selecting men off the shelf, like breakfast cereal, you are selling yourself as a desirable partner to the kind of men you want as partners. If there's a serious mis-match between what you have to offer and what those men want, it's not their fault they are "scared of a strong woman" or some other such nonsense, it's your fault for not doing your research properly, and offering the wrong things to the wrong people. If you want to be a "strong, independent woman", you need to find men who can live with that, not complain that the men you want don't want you. You won't find those men, by the way. Men don't want a "strong, independent woman"TM, except possibly as a short-term affair.

So you can take that 463 bullet-point checklist of requirements and bin it. It doesn't matter what you want. It matters what the men you want want. And they are not going to change. And the good news is this: when they are looking for a life-partner, as opposed to a one-night stand or a short affair, quality men look for the same things. (So do quality women, so this is just a quick refresher for you. Right?) 

First: does he find you physically attractive? Get over it. Looks matter. There is an upside here: how do you know he finds you attractive? Because he asked you out on a date. You passed. Now don't lose it. 

Second: do the two of you have good social chemistry? Can you shoot the breeze about nothing for a couple of hours and like doing so? Can you be comfortable sitting quietly together, just pleased that the other person is in the room? The "shoot the breeze" thing is what the first couple of dates are about. Early dates are not an opportunity for you to conduct a job interview, they are a time for you to find out how well you get on together, for you to show you can contribute to that process.

Third: is the sexual chemistry there? A relationship of fifty years starts with a one-night stand, or what might be a one-night stand. The first time, don't starfish, and don't do anything that requires safety words. Save the exotic stuff for a bit later. Unless you've already covered that subject. (If you have even the slightest urge to protest that "sex isn't everything / that important / (insert denial here)" then stop now. You are not suited for marriage.)

Congratulations! You're past the third date and into a relationship. (Maybe fourth. However, if you feel no great desire to have him shag your brains out by the third date, there's no sexual chemistry and you should drop it.)

Fourth: now he wants to see that you will be an ally. He wants to see that you understand that it's him-and-you against the world, not you-against-him and maybe-you-will-back-him-against-the-world-if-you-judge-his-cause-to-be-right. It's the two of you against everyone else. We're talking loyalty here. You can never prove this totally, but you can allay a lot of doubt. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hanway Street, London W1T

There's a little nook off Tottenham Court Road called Hanway Street. It has Spanish bars, Korean restaurants, DJ shops and guys who will unlock your phone. It's been like that forever. Only the people who work on it or the Close behind it seem to know it's there. The shop selling old LP's is now for rent. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

June Vacation Post

I'm on holiday this week. I'm futzing right now, having just read The Bitter Truth About Sugar and Fairytale Physics. I think I know how Roch thought about one-forms and functions, but I couldn't really presume. The weather is great, and I've touched up the paint in my bedroom (Dulux Trade White forever) and tackled the out-of-control shrubs around my garden. I'm close to some kind of change of heart / revelation / understanding, but not there yet.

And I've decided that Bishopsgate isn't really that much better than Docklands. So if Docklands is where the money is - because it isn't in the West End, except Mayfair - for people who do what I do, then Docklands it is.

In the meantime, here's a nice little ditty from Seether.

Monday, 3 June 2013

May 2013 Review

When I list it all out, May looked like an active month My impression is that May sucked badly. Yet it started with a sunny and warm Bank Holiday, and ended with another one. Now if only the twenty days in between had not been grey, rainy and cold. (Mid-forties Fahrenheit at 07:00 is not warm.)

My family concluded some semi-complicated arrangements to reduce the tax bill on my Mother's estate, and the progress on my pensions crawled along slowly, this time with my own employer playing dumb about addresses and contacts. I should have done that years ago, but good financial advisors are hard to find. Sis and I had a lunchtime in Camden Lock for the first Bank Holiday Monday - photos already posted. I helped gather together some people for a colleague's 30th birthday supper at Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden, and a very pleasant evening that was. Sis and I visited Notting Hill that Saturday lunchtime and I introduced her to Books For Cooks. I visited my friend in Utrecht the next weekend, and we spent Saturday walking around Amsterdam, deciding not to stand in long queues to see the newly-refurbished Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, opting for a wander round the Steidlijk Museum (modern and contemporary art) instead. I signed up to Air BnB and found our merry band a place in Rome for the end of June, after all of us were blown out by dozens of owners. Yet more involvement with the Internetz and Modern World. I watched series one of Homeland and Justified, Died Young, Stayed Pretty, Who The #$&% Is Jackson Pollock, and The Art of Rap on DVD; Beware of Mr Baker with the Q+A with The Man Himself, as well as Something In The Air at the Curzon Soho, and the Bernadette Corporation show at the ICA. I bought a whole bunch of books on the Kindle and three more noisy guitar band albums for the phone. I added a Creek OBH-11 headphone amp to my hi-fi toys, and just as the man who has the headphone booth in Stables Yard said, it has indeed brought a new lease of life to my Sennheiser HD580s (headphone technology seems to have reached a plateau about ten years ago when these were made. The latest 650's a different, but not better, according to the reviews). And I finally took the car into a Fiat dealership to get the funny noise seen to: this gave me the rare experience of taking the Hounslow loop train at 06:30 on the morning I left the car at the garage. 

Then came The Cold and Fever. The one that knocks me out for three days and leaves me low on the fourth and fifth. The sixth day was the second Bank Holiday. I've had five sick days this year, and it's partly due to the weather. Talk to people and they will agree that, yes, they find this endless grey depressing, and that the pollen is silly this year. My eyes stream at 06:30 in the morning and it's not from the cold. My gym routine was blown, and I'm just getting back into it. My weight is up a bit, and I am convinced that's the effect of the pollen on my metabolism, as well as The Cold and Fever. 

And it was my birthday month, which causes all sorts of stock-taking I've already done. Since then, I've loosened up a bit. Saturday now looks like my new Training and wandering Day, and I may try going in on both days. What made it feel scrappy was the cold grey weather and the pollen, which makes my eyes itch, sneeze at random and also very drowsy in the afternoon. By two o'clock I feel like the life has been drained out of me, and that despite taking glutamine before the gym. Oh yes, I've been trying the supplements. Glutamine (seems to do something), carnitine (supposed to help with fat burning, not noticing) and of course the protein powder (now and again, it does make me feel fuller). But I feel like I've fallen down a snake.