Same Film, Different Feels

Film poster, copyright 20th Century Fox.

I revisited The Turning Point a couple of days ago. It’s one of my favourite films and I have watched it goodness knows how many times. When I was a teenager, I recorded it when it was screened on Channel 5, Singaporean Broadcasting Corporation, and I watched that video tape so many times, over so many years, the picture got decidedly fuzzy in the end.

I got the DVD in the early 2000s, but have not watched it for years — the last time, I was probably in my late thirties.

I was ballet crazy in primary school and through my teens and early adulthood, so the gorgeous ballet sequences in The Turning Point were very special to me. Remember, this was before the days of YouTube and the Internet. I was living in a small town in Malaysia and had no access to any ballet performances of any kind. The rehearsal scenes in the film were also wonderful — they allowed me to be a part of a magical, mysterious world that I could otherwise only dream (and read) about.

Baryshnikov was the main reason I was first drawn to the film. I was crazy about him, although not as much as I was crazy about Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. However, after I watched The Turning Point for the first time, I was definitely more taken with Leslie Browne than I was with the Russian superstar.

tp bb1
Copyright 20th Century Fox.

Of course I took her character, Emilia’s side in the love affair portrayed in the film. And of course I swooned over the romance of an aspiring young dancer falling in love with the more experienced but also young, handsome star of the ballet company. Watching the film today, I found that I was amused by how predictable Emilia’s feeling are, and then annoyed at how predictable Yuri’s behaviour is. Otherwise, the relationship is not a terribly interesting feature of the film, but written to highlight deeper issues faced by Emilia’s mother Deedee (played by Shirley McClaine) and Emma (Anne Bancroft), the ageing ballerina and Deedee’s best friend.

Copyright 20th Century Fox.

It is so interesting to me that when I was a child (yes, my teen self seems like a child to me now), I was totally unmoved by the film’s most important relationship: the one between Deedee and Emma. When I re-watched The Turning Point in my teens, I may have fast forwarded through the scenes in which the two women interact. I know I definitely fast forwarded through that last climatic interaction at the ballet gala, in which things come to a head between the two friends.

But today … goodness! Nearly every scene featuring the two women made me tear up, and all of them hit a chord. Obviously, what Deedee and Emma faced, the problems they were struggling with meant nothing to me when I was young because, having not lived, I knew nothing, and was scornful and dismissive of everything that I had not experienced. Thwarted ambition and lost dreams, betrayal, regret, self-sabotage — what did I know of these things?

Copyright 20th Century Fox.

At the end of the film, Deedee says to Emma, of Emilia, ‘Oh, Emma, if only she knew everything we know’ and Emma replies, ‘It wouldn’t matter a damn.’

In life, experience is everything. Without it, there is only imagination and even that, in my opinion, relies on experience to function fully.

We can’t force what about a story resonates with us. We can’t imagine what will appeal and what not until it does or doesn’t. I love this film now as much as I did when I was sixteen, but for different reasons. I know exactly why I loved it in 1983, but I would never have guessed, then, how my life would shape the way I responded to the story on Saturday.





WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?

Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

Yes, still reading this. ‘Savouring’ is the word.

The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

It’s taken me awhile to get to this book although I’ve had it on my Kindle for some time now. Loving it so far. It’s funny and charming, and unpredictable. Reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones too, which is never a bad thing. I adore Peter Grant so far, but I disapprove of his attraction to Lesley. HarHar.

What did you recently finish reading?

Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather on the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann

Lehmann is one of my lovely dead white women authors. Invitation was a re-read, first time reading Weather.

Invitation sparkles. Olivia Curtis is adorable. I like her awkwardness and her honesty. And I love her and Rollo at the ball. Weather is more Olivia and more Rollo, but ten years have passed and their relationship is less than ideal. It’s a depressing book, on the whole. Enjoyed it, but it definitely made me droop.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have no idea. I thought of re-reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland but I can’t find it. I may read JPod by him, but I also have eleven new books I bought on Sunday. Maybe something from that pile. There is also the other pile by my bed. Maybe the short stories edited by Linh Dinh.

We Need to Talk About Lionel Shriver Being a Mean-spirited Racist Arsehole

A few years ago, realising that I was reading, almost exclusively, books written by (dead) white women, I decided to make a conscious effort to read more novels by Asian and African writers. This did not mean that I would read just any book by an Asian or African author. My decision just meant that I made the conscious decision to seek out African and Asian fiction, which I had hitherto simply not paid attention to.


In response to Penguin Random House’s newly unveiled aims ‘that the books we publish should reflect the diverse society in which we live’, Lionel Shriver, in this piece for The Spectator, said, ‘Drunk on virtue, Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books. Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some.’

How is being inclusive ‘eschewing standards’? It seems to me that the publisher is admitting that there are systemic faults that result in more white authors that authors of colour being published, and it is addressing this problem by making public its intention to ‘actively [seek] out talented writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves‘. Shriver, on the other hand, is revealing her contempt for writers who aren’t white. She obviously believes that coloured communities are low on talent and that Penguin Random House will have to resort to publishing just any damn mss in order to fulfil their goals.

It’s telling how Shriver seems not to recognise/admit that mainstream publishing is a largely white, middle-class world. With most employees in publishing houses being white, it’s not hard to understand how there might be a bias (intentional or otherwise) towards white authors. So, in that situation, why don’t Shriver and other white writers worry that their work is being published purely because of the colour of their skin rather than because it’s actually good work? Because white privilege means they see themselves as racially neutral, i.e their race and skin colour have nothing to do with the lives they lead. And why does Shriver immediately assume that wanting to be more racially inclusive will result in fewer good books being published? I can’t think of any other reason besides the fact that she is a racist bag of manure who thinks that white authors are naturally more talented and able than authors of colour.

After all, surely she’s noticed that even without initiatives like those undertaken by Penguin Random House, publishing houses have published a fair number ‘meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’, by white authors no less?

Diversity poses no threat to readers’ standards, it only challenges Shriver’s bigoted beliefs.



WWW Wednesday

Time for an update.

Sorry for not blogging much lately. First, the general elections were a distraction. And then the results — oh what results! I am so happy with them and how we finally have a change of government, sixty-one years after independence. In the midst of the celebrations, I came down with a bad throat infection. I’m mostly well again, but still coughing a little (you know how these coughs linger).

So, admittedly, I’ve not been reading much. This year, reading has been slow and patchy. There are so many reasons, including depression; being busy with work etc, and (shock, horror!) just not being in the mood.

Nevertheless, the reading continues, even if it’s not as full-on as I would like it to be. Oh, another distraction is trying to get my short story collection ready for publication. I’m hoping it will be published this year. My editor has just sent me her edits and I’m going through them.

Anyway, on to WWW Wednesday …

What are you currently reading?

BirdcloudBird Cloud by Annie Proulx

This is Proulx’s account of building her dream home; also, natural history and anthropological study of the area; and family history. I’m reading this slowly, really taking my time. There’s a lot to digest and it all forms the most amazing pictures in my mind. I find this sort of detailed account so calming.



The Early Cases of Akechi Kogoro by Edogawa Rampo

This is a extremely strange collection of tales. The crimes and the people involved in them are distinctly odd and even bizarre. I’m now curious about the author’s other work. Today I discovered that he was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and his name is a Japanese rendering of that author’s. Now that I know this, I find myself repeating ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ the way I think a Japanese man might say it. Arghh.



What did you recently finish reading?

Reflection in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

I blogged about this novel and also used excerpts from it for my last Thirsty Thursdays post. Another rather strange book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

EHK web ehj jill pym


What do you think you’ll read next?

I have a number of books on my immediate TBR list (the pile of books on my bedside table), like The Book That Made Me, edited by Judith Ridge; Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam, edited by Linh Dinh; The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi; I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita; and Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, but I may read something else altogether. I may even have a little re-read of Excellent Women by Barbara Pym — Pinterest reminds me that I re-read all Pym’s books every two years and I’m due this year!

Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: Her Body Was Magnificent

In my last post I wrote about reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye. It contains some rather vivid descriptions of ham, which, like Leonora Penderton, are presented as too much, too rich, too juicy.

‘Susie,’ said Mrs. Penderton, ‘do people have gizzards like chickens do?’

The Captain stood in the doorway and was noticed neither by his wife nor
his servant When she had been relieved of her boots, Mrs. Penderton moved
about the kitchen bare footed. She took a ham from the oven and sprinkled
the top with brown sugar and bread crumbs. She poured herself another
drink, only half a jigger this time, and in a sudden excess of vigor she
performed a little shag dance. The Captain was intensely irritated with his
wife, and she knew it.

‘For God’s sake, Leonora, go up and put on some shoes.’

For an answer Mrs. Penderton hummed a queer little tune to herself and
went past the Captain and into the living room.

Her husband followed close behind her. ‘You look like a slattern going
around the house like this.’

A fire was laid in the grate and Mrs. Penderton bent down to light it. Her
smooth sweet face was very rosy and there were little glistening sweat beads
on her upper lip.

‘The Langdons are coming any minute now and you will sit down to
dinner like this, I suppose?’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘And why not, you old prissy?’

The Captain said in a cold, taut voice: ‘You disgust me.’

Mrs. Penderton’s answer was a sudden laugh, a laugh both soft and
savage, as though she had received some long expected piece of scandalous
news or had thought of some sly joke. She pulled off her jersey, crushed it
into a ball, and threw it into the corner of the room. Then deliberately she
unbuttoned her breeches and stepped out of them. In a moment she was
standing naked by the hearth. Before the bright gold and orange light of the
fire her body was magnificent. The shoulders were straight so that the collar
bone made a sharp pure line. Between her round breasts there were delicate
blue veins. In a few years her body would be fullblown like a rose with
loosened petals, but now the soft roundness was controlled and disciplined by
sport. Although she stood quite still and placid, there was about her body a
subtle quality of vibration, as though on touching her flesh one would feel the
slow live coursing of the bright blood beneath. While the Captain looked at
her with the stunned indignation of a man who has suffered a slap in the face,
she walked serenely to the vestibule on her way to the stairs. The front door
was open and from the dark night outside a breeze blew in and lifted a loose
strand of her bronze hair.

She was halfway up the steps before the Captain recovered from his
shock. Then he ran trembling after her. ‘I will kill you!’ he said in a strangled
voice. ‘I will do it! I will do it!’ He crouched with his hand to the banister and
one foot on the second step of the stairway as though ready to spring up after

She turned slowly and looked down at him with unconcern for a moment
before she spoke. ‘Son, have you ever been collared and dragged out in the
street and thrashed by a naked woman?’

The Captain stood as she had left him. Then he put his head down on his
outstretched arm and rested his weight against the banister. From his throat
came a rasping sound like a sob, but there were no tears on his face.

The ways ham affects some men …

Leonora Penderton enjoyed her warm bath that evening. She dressed
herself slowly in the clothes she had already laid out on the bed. She wore a
simple gray skirt, a blue Angora sweater, and pearl earrings. She was
downstairs again at seven o’clock and their guests were waiting.

She and the Major found the dinner first rate. To begin with there was a
clear soup. Then with the ham they had rich oily turnip greens, and candied
sweet potatoes that were a transparent amber beneath the light and richly
glazed with sweet sauce. There were rolls and hot spoon bread. Susie passed
the vegetables only once and left the serving dishes on the table between the
Major and Leonora, for those two were great eaters.

I do like a woman who likes to eat.

‘Listen!’ said Leonora, and her fresh rosy face flamed suddenly with
anticipation. ‘I just wish you could see my kitchen now. Here’s the way it will
go. I’m putting in all the leaves in the dining room table and everybody will
just mill around and help themselves. I’m having a couple of Virginia hams, a
huge turkey, fried chicken, sliced cold pork, plenty of barbecued spareribs,
and all sorts of little knickknacks like pickled onions and olives and radishes.
And hot rolls and little cheese biscuits passed around. The punchbowl is in
the corner, and for people who like their liquor straight I’m having on the
sideboard eight quarts of Kentucky Bourbon, five of rye, and five of Scotch.’

Ham sandwich, anyone?