Sweeney Todd with Subtitles and other Ephemera

The week before last I asked H what he was doing on Tuesday night.
‘Going to the gym.’
‘Do you want to go to the movies?’
‘Yeah. What’s on?’
‘The barber of Saville Road.’
‘Sweeney Todd!’
He began laughing. ‘It’s the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. There’s the Barber of Seville, and the tailors of Saville Road, but not a barber.’
‘Oh. Well it’s got subtitles, and I want to go.’

It was the first time I’d been to an English film with subtitles, and I sought it out because I knew I’d never be able to understand what was going on without the words. We went to the Vue in Islington, which I don’t like much, not least because the last time we went there and tried to get a hearing device we were told that they only had them for one cinema, which was showing some thuggish film of the calibre of Die Hard. What, they think deaf people don’t have intellect? Anyway, we got a refund (which didn’t compensate for a ruined evening) and the manager mumbled something about getting films with subtitles.

Evidently they can keep their word, because they showed Sweeney Todd with subtitles. P went in first while H waited for me to get there from work (I had to catch the vile 73 with someone breathing garlic down my neck) so I wasn’t in a what one would call state of grace when I arrived. H bought me ice cream, but knocked it from the cone onto the counter as he leant over to pay. You’d think the girl would have offered a new scoop of ice cream, but no, so I was left to thwack it back into the cone, now replete with salmonella bugs. Luckily I was brought up on a farm and have a tough stomach from drinking rain water into which birds and insects had fallen. P had texted H to say there were only 2 people inside (‘No wonder the ticket cost £10,’ P said), but when we went in this number had increased to 10. ‘Are all these people deaf?’ I whispered excitedly. You can tell I don’t get out much.

It was a dark film – visually and thematically – but the projection of the subtitles meant that there was an enormous, pale square in the middle of the blackness, with the words down the bottom. H, infuriated, complained to the doorman. The doorman consulted the projectionist and they wriggled the words around. The words disappeared and I missed some lines. The words came back, and the pale square stayed for the rest of the film. I ought to have expected no better.

M- told me I could sue places like cinemas if they don’t get their act together, and these days I’m sorely tempted to. If you advertise a product – any product, not just one with the hard of hearing symbol – you make sure it works, and having a frigging square in the middle of a movie just isn’t good enough. At least it was better than the time we went to the Trocadero to see Enduring Love. Naturally the hearing equipment didn’t work, so H took the back of it off and discovered there were no batteries inside. The poor boy went out and retrieved them from the bimbo at the counter, by which time he’d missed the crucial beginning. This is why I become so apathetic about complaining – you have to wait until the movie starts before realising the piece of shit they’ve given you isn’t going to work.

Anyway, it was a rare outing for me, as most of the time these days I remain chained to my desk, staring glumly out the window while trying to get some words onto the page, so that was something. I liked Johnny Depp, but Helena Bonham Carter, although she did a good 19th century Amy Winehouse, was far too simplistic. And there was too much blood. I didn’t like that.

Seeing as I lead a cloistered life, H provides most of my entertainment, and some of his stories are worth repeating, esp as he’ll never get around to putting them into his own blog, not least because they don’t involve willies. He went to Columbia Road last weekend and asked his favourite man (on account of his humour and cheap flowers, not his appendage or appearance) what he could do to stop his lupins dying, because last year they hadn’t come up.
‘What do you mean you killed your lupins?’ the man said. ‘Lupins are impossible to kill.’
H must have looked dejected, for the man softened and told him to put them in the soil as soon as he got home. Yes, it is a bit obvious, isn’t it … but I digress. H had been walking behind a lady in a black burqua, as she had a pram and was clearing a convenient path through all the people. Then she stopped before the lupins man, who had his back to her. He turned around, took a backwards step, threw his hands in the air and cried, ‘Aw my gawd, I thought it was a stickup!’
The Eastenders tittered around him. God only knows what the woman was thinking.

And the other day H came home with a gem from the office – you can describe someone who is ugly, he says, as having ‘a face like a sackful of smashed crabs.’ I laughed and laughed.

The rest of my entertainment comes from reading fiction. I read Toni Morrison’s Sula, then The Bluest Eye, both of which were so engrossing that I didn’t even panic when the Tube stopped in a tunnel on the way to work. I found the former a little plodding, but its beginning and ending illustrate why Morrison is so good at her craft.

It opens thus: ‘In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighbourhood.’ From that sentence you know the book is going to be about uprooting, and the loss of a natural environment, which mirrors the loss of childhood. A good writer, for me, is someone who can encapsulate an entire novel in their first line like this. The closing sentence is also poignant: ‘It was a fine cry – loud and long – but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.’ It’s a very feminine image, being circular, which hearkens back to Nel’s friendship with Sula. It also mirrors the rings on a surface of water which has been disturbed, and the continuity of the rings suggest the pain can never end.


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