The Fictional Window

A review of The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh; narrated by Robert Carlyle.

Read Time: approx 4-7 min

Sometimes, in the recommendation of another, is unexpected beauty.

Because of Once Upon A Time, I have been slowly investigating Robert Carlyle’s other work, taking my time. While bingeing has its value, so does anticipation. Galloping through a dessert is a poor choice, of course. At least a year ago I discovered that he had recorded an audio book but I couldn’t find it where I usually buy audiobooks so I left it unresearched. Until now.

The Cutting Room bubbled up through a fan community I was perusing and I decided it was time. So I tried again to go buy it. Failure. With a reasonable amount of effort, even searching a British site, I could not find a place to buy the audiobook. So, with a grimace of distaste, I used a fan-created audio collection to stream it and began to listen.

A cautious stranger recently recommended this book to me. Upon learning of my interest in Mr. Carlyle’s work, she looked at me sideways, uncertain: just so you know, it’s homoerotic. I raised my eyebrows in surprise and smiled at her. I responded: great!

Behind my cultured and accepting (I hope) smile I was thinking: I guess I’ll find out if I like that kind of thing; I haven’t really tried reading much of that. With the attitude of trying something new I felt uncertain about, I invited Mr. Carlyle to read to me for an evening. That evening stretched into three and the book kept me up later than I had planned more than once. As expected, Mr. Carlyle’s performance is riveting, smooth and adds further depth to the work I would never have been able to imagine for myself. His background lends authenticity and hearing his singing voice is an unexpected treat.

The Cutting Room was not what I was expecting based on the qualification I received with the recommendation. Though I spent the first half the book wondering what drew Mr. Carlyle to the work, I spent the second half thinking that this fell directly in his wheelhouse. From the recommender’s dubious smile, I expected it to be simply, or even mostly smut. It wasn’t. Sure, there are some delightfully adult scenes, but this is substantive.

The book itself has a sort of lusciously elegant texture to the prose but without over-complication. At its core, it is a mystery sans the tired who-dun-it trope. Refreshing. This is an inviting perspective on personal investigation which I find compelling and very real. Our protagonist, Rilke, finds himself in a shady conundrum between his curiosity, his morality, the law and self-preservation.

The Cutting Room has a sort of timeless quality. At first listen, the time period remained vague and I wondered if this story took place pre or post internet; a sharp demarcation due to the sudden and extensive permeation of instantly available knowledge. Only later did it become apparent that this story takes place in the age of cell phones. The reason for my confusion, I think, resides with the descriptive choices. Ms. Welsh describes a world through the lens of antiquity, both Glasgow itself and Rilke’s line of work. The narrative reflection of Rilke’s worldview impresses me. I have never read any other work by Ms. Welsh, but if she actively chose her descriptive style to match her character’s chronological orientation to the world around him, I am in awe.

As I mentioned, I am a Once fan, and as such, spend most of my literary time in the urban fantasy section because I love it’s creativity and myriad possibilities. I find Urban Fantasy to be the perfect happy medium between the blunt quality of much real world fiction (which can drive the escapist reader away) and the losses which can occur during the world-building of an entirely fantastical landscape. Thematically, Urban Fantasy provides a platform for an oblique look at something unfaceable head-on while giving the reader just enough of the familiar to be a comfort and a steady scaffold for exploration. But I am not confined to what I consider the brightest flowers in the garden. Sometimes, it is the scent that matters or the uniqueness of the bloom. Which brings us to recommendation.

I would never have picked this up off the shelf without the connection to Mr. Carlyle. I do not know Mr. Carlyle and likely I will never so much as pass him on the street but what I do know of the man is that he and I share certain tastes in fiction. If he liked it, I probably will too, though he seems to have a tougher stomach lining that I do about certain things. Mr. Carlyle has invited me to explore and I have, for a while now, leaned on a trust that if he has spent his time on something, there is a reason which will interest and often educate me. It seems that some people pick a corner of the sky and decide to hold it up. They bend their talents and energies toward moving humanity forward as they are able and interested. While trying not to be too presumptuous about someone I have never met, Mr. Carlyle strikes me as such a person.

As I said, this would not have crossed my desk without a recommendation. While it lacks the extra cushion Urban Fantasy can sometimes provide, Welsh eases us slowly toward the thematic material so that by the time it is apparent, we’re invested and interested. Difficult subject matters such as this need a little care and Welsh gave us that. While in the back of my mind, I am aware of certain revolting proclivities, I have chosen to look away and focus on what I can do for the world with my skill set and interests. The value in this work is in the hand-holding we get as we walk into the dark. The reader gets to hold Rilke’s hand and draw comfort from his morality while we consider what we may have turned away from, ignored or even been unaware of. Perhaps even, a reader with particular interests may reexamine the moral consequences of such interests. And The Cutting Room accomplishes all of this, amazingly, without being overtly judgmental. The Cutting Room is an invitation to explore, to ponder and to reflect. We can look at the world from the safety of our fictional windows.

In the end, I bought the book from Amazon, so I was able to pay Ms. Welsh, but how will I pay Mr. Carlyle for his work? Being indebted to the Dark One seems a lousy proposition.

What do you think Rilke did with the books?

Are you already a Once Upon A Time Fan? Come check out my Once projects:

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

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It Can’t Be Wrong To Laugh At Barney Thomson

It Can’t Be Wrong To Laugh At Barney Thomson

Read Time: approx. 5-7 min

The Legend of Barney Thomson confirms my opinion of Robert Carlyle as an artist worthy of attention. Darkly hilarious, Barney delivers. A larger than life Scottish-Western (is this a genre now?), Mr. Carlyle obviously spent time polishing this with genuine appreciation for film-craft, attention to detail and love. Frank and gritty mise-en-scene bring this Barbershop of Horrors to life.

Barney feels like our collective existential crises exploded in the microwave. But rather than just finding a mess instead of a meal, Barney blew up the microwave itself and we, fortunately, can be found ducking behind the counter. Giggling madly.

It can’t be wrong to laugh at Barney. It just can’t be. But pitch black humor forces us to address why it is we’re laughing so hard at something which, told in the style of a drama, would be a tear-jerker and no mistake. Being mindful of spoilers, there is a scene in which Barney learns a tough truth from his mother. I confess, there was silence in the theater except for me who was laughing uncontrollably. I knew other people weren’t finding this scene particularly humorous, but I was laughing because when life gets that absurd, and it does, my coping strategy of choice is to take a step back and giggle as much as possible. It’s a pressure relief valve of mine.

It’s the piano falling from the sky, after the sky itself fell down. The choices are either shatter and panic, or laugh. So yeah, I was laughing alone in a room full of people because, while circumstances were different, I’ve been there to get hit in the head by the other shoe dropping. I swear this is empathy.

More seriously though, thematically, Barney is touching in ways I was not expecting. The gem at the heart of this film is Barney’s relationship with his mother. This bald look at sub-ideal parenting in a sub-ideal world is intimately relatable even while it seems ultimately inflated beyond what most of us actually experience. Well, I hope most of us don’t experience Cemolina Thomson.

But some folks do. Like so much of Mr. Carlyle’s work, this spotlight on how a tough world generates- grinds up like sausage really- mangled people showcases the essential humanity of the downtrodden, the weak, and even the cruel and heartless among us. Most of the Barney’s in our world are imminently forgettable. We don’t even notice them. They’re them, after all, not us. Until we find ourselves stalking their footprints.

It’s the whole attitude of it could never happen to me… I could never get stuck in an economically dying neighborhood or town. I couldn’t be so bad at my job as to lose it. I couldn’t find myself in a heap of trouble and completely alone. That only happens to other people, and besides which, if I lost my job, it would be for some other reason. Those people are losers and I just don’t have time for them.

At the end of the day, what if someone had had time for Barney Thomson as a child, or even later as an adult? How might his existence have been different? What about Cemolina? Would there have been hope for her too? And Holdall, generating, and suffering at the same time from, a toxic work culture. Been there, done that.

How do we make time for each other? Make compassion? Is the whole world so very tired that there is literally no energy to spare on lifting up those worse off than ourselves? Not the message I was expecting from the Legend of Barney Thomson, but there it is anyway.

Emma Thompson gave a scruff-grabbing performance. She shook us from start to finish. What a character, what an opportunity. Mr. Carlyle himself shines on his bad days (does he even have those?), as we well know, and on his good days he’s dazzling. In a particular scene, Barney seems on the verge of a panic attack. It is a long scene shot directly in Mr. Carlyle’s face and I found myself squirming in my seat because there was no escaping the steamroller of anxiety charging off the screen. There was no getting comfortable for pretty much the duration of the film because emotions were incredibly direct and literally in our faces. The space between audience and fiction got squeezed so tightly as to be barely there at all.

Only two real detractors appeared in the film for me: subtitles and smoking.

I am uncertain where the decision to add subtitles to the American (but apparently not the Canadian) release occurred, but I wasn’t pleased. Neither was the rest of the audience, based on the shouting that accompanied mine the moment we saw subtitles. If Canadians can understand Scottish, so can Americans. Insulting. The point of going to a film like this one linguistically is to LISTEN to the Scottish and learn. Subtitles distract from that challenge and from the film experience. They interfere with the suspension of disbelief.

Speaking for myself, I find it acceptable not to understand every word, idiom and grunt as it goes by. I understand that perhaps, and I don’t know for certain, the average movie goer would find that challenge itself, distracting, but this film obviously wasn’t aimed at the casual action flick film goer.

Moving on to smoking. I’ve never been to Scotland so I don’t know if smoking is really that ubiquitous, but Pacific Northwestern United States culture is nowhere near as accepting of that nasty addiction. I grew up around smoking and find it very hard to watch it portrayed, even if they aren’t smoking actual tobacco on set, in film because it is hard for me to watch people hurting themselves and other people for real. How to explain… I recently lost someone to cancer, likely from a lifetime of smoking various things including tobacco, and I think of that loss every time I see someone smoking on camera. It is also hard to watch smoking being considered as something normal which some people do as opposed to the public health crisis it is. Though we never see Barney smoke, his non-reaction to being in rooms full of smoke is evidence that this is an occurrence he is accustomed to encountering.

Those two rather minor details accounted for, Barney is solid.

When I read reviews of this film in anticipation (a long indeed anticipation here in the U.S.), I expected to like the film a bit more than the critics because I’m perhaps a tad biased as a fan of Mr. Carlyle’s previous and current work. In all honesty, I was expecting to see fatigue and struggle in the final outcome because Mr. Carlyle himself seemed to imply that the director’s chair in addition to starring was an awful lot to chew. Maybe Mr. Carlyle is just a humble guy, I, after all, don’t know the man, but what I saw in the film itself was pride in a piece of artwork and pleasure in its making. I saw the clarity of a finished work.

I recognize that I am reading in, but I don’t think I’m wrong. Every film, every piece of art, every book, all of it, gives off a general impression and is, at its heart, the fingerprint of its originator. All of that to seeps through onto the screen/page/whatever. Tell me it isn’t obvious when a film lacks the passions of those working on it. Anyone can spot a cheap throw-away and I’m sure everyone has regretted spending money on at least one film in their lives for this reason.

The brew a film was steeped in makes a huge difference and this, my friends, was some quality tea. This film has sophistication and density like it was made just for me. Like Mr. Carlyle had stopped by to ask what it is I like about film the very most. This film is smart without being inaccessible or opaque. There’s no need to go swimming in the thematic material in order to enjoy the film, but it’s there for those who do want that. Nice balance and hard to pull off.

Mr. Carlyle has a tremendous amount to offer this world and the Legend of Barney Thomson is only the latest proof. Two thumbs up, definitely go see it.

Are you already a Once Upon A Time Fan? Come check out my Once projects:

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

Once Season 5B: 9 Hopes

Once Season 5B: 9 Hopes

Alert: this article assumes current knowledge of Once Upon A Time

Dearly Departed, we are gathered here today…

… to fish Hook out of the Underworld.

I don’t know about you, but it has been a long hiatus. I filled the time doing this and that, of course, as one does. Life is full of non-moments. In fact, I think it is the punctuations that we live for, the nodes between the links in time, the accent marks in the music. Once is such a mark for me. We as humans attempt to spend as much time doing pleasant things with pleasant people as possible. In between, we go about doing the other necessary, but less fun, things which sustain us and enable us to create the more precious moments for ourselves and other people. You know, adulting. To me, Once feels like getting a break from all that pressure to make good. When I think of the end of this hiatus, I am transported back to those special moments in childhood when I found that Easter egg, before my brother and cousins, and I held that beautiful emblem of parent-love in my hands.

There is nothing in the adulthood quite like an Easter egg hunt. Except perhaps these little moments, which we spend our lives looking for. Specialness is rare, by definition, and Once is special. I have been spending time convincing, cajoling, begging and suggesting that those around me catch up with Once. And slowly, slowly, some of them have come around. I just love getting phone calls disguised as social check-ins which are really an excuse to talk about Once. Folks get caught up and then they call me. And we talk, sometimes for hours.

Fiction is sneaky in its power. Often we think we’re just in the mood to be entertained, or maybe we want company when we’re alone, but then something happens. Instead of indulging in the quintessential passivity, couch loungin’ ‘n TV watchin’, we’re transported somewhere else. Neurons start sparking as we make associations between our real lives and this new land which exists only in our collective mind. Yes, we are Borg, we all have Once suffusing our synapses. This commonality of experience brings our own lives into focus and it connects us to the experiences of others. Eavesdropping on the inner workings of the writers and actors, directors and crew is, thankfully, an acceptable mechanism of voyeurism. There are few more transparent and available looks into the minds of our fellow humans. Fiction is quite an intimate exchange between creators and fans.

And so we are, for an hour or so at a time, vividly imagining, learning and feeling together in spite of our ultimate separateness. Until it ends. The screen fades to black and then we get credits and music as a consolation prize. Hopefully we are left bereft and missing the people we were just hanging out with. That is definitely the case with Once.

It feels like my friends went on vacation and I’ve been just waiting for their return so I can invite them over for dinner and hear all the latest in their lives. I have missed these characters as if they were real people.

Hi Emma! So sorry about Hook, we all miss him. Make sure you send me a postcard from the Underworld.

Rumple, buddy, you gotta talk to your wife about you-know-what… I understand why you did what you did, but, my friend, you need help. Serious help. If you ever wanna talk, just call me, or better yet, come over and I’ll always listen.

Some people say, Barbara, it’s just a TV show, right?

Oh, of course I know they’re not real! But the neat thing about fiction is that while it is all make-believe, our reactions, our thoughts, our feelings, our pain, our fears and yes our hopes are completely and absolutely real. Our mental landscapes happen in real life though they aren’t visible to other people, even when we try to share. The best we can do for each other is to listen because, after all, we cannot experience one another’s internal workings directly. Unfortunately. Everything that happens in our minds happens and is real and impactful to the external reality we share in common.

Speaking of which, the impact, and indeed the whole point, of fiction is for us to react to it, to interact with it in our minds. Chewing over these fictional relationships and situations feeds our ability to deal with our real lives. This process informs us about our deeply held beliefs, can challenge them, can change us for better and, I would be remiss not to say, for worse also.

Fiction is like a dress rehearsal for life.

That’s why stories are so critically important for our life long maturation processes.

So yep, I’ve been thinking about you Belle, for months, fearing for how you’ll deal with what’s coming between you and the man you love. I’m so here for you. Whatever you end up deciding about him.

Regina, I know she’s not yours, but this isn’t your first adoption and I think with all the hard work you’ve been doing these past few years, you’re going to do even better the second time. And you did great with Henry even while being evil.

But I’ve gotta say, I question your judgment, Emma and Regina, in taking your teenage son to Hell with you… He’s not even an adult yet.

That brings me to my hopes for Season 5B. We’ve all had quite a bit of time to think about what we want to have happen next. Since the plane of possibility is so hugely broad I’ll conduct a little poll about my own hopes and see which them you would most like to see come to fruition.

Without further ado, here are my hopes.

Most of all, though less specific, I hope this little mission to the Underworld goes spectacularly sideways for our intrepid adventurers. Once is at its best when I’m left staring at the screen with the blood draining from my face while I’m trying to figure out where that came from. That said, I’m looking forward to warm fuzzies too. Once has given us some of the most touching moments I have ever seen on television in the past and we have no reason to expect less in 5B.

Adjacent to those moments, while I am up front about Rumbelle being my favorite of the romantic relationships, I have grown away from just waiting for snuggles. What I really want for them is to spend time dealing with their lives. We haven’t had a lot of that recently and, together or apart, I want to watch them sorting out their difficulties. Shipping is nice and all, but that’s what fan fiction is for. I want our writers to do some of the heavy lifting required between Belle and Rumple and put it on the screen for us to watch. Real life relationships are challenged by themes of addiction, dishonesty, ambition and codependence. Lots of people struggle with how to manage this and how amazing would it be to see this play out between Belle and Rumple?

What are you hoping for? Please comment below.

It’s clear I have a tremendous amount of faith in the creators of Once, and hopes plot-wise as well. We are in good hands, my friends. The writers have shown over and over a creativity seldom even approached elsewhere on television. Once is a very special Easter egg indeed and our journey of discovery is just about to resume. Even better, the internet just told me that Once has been picked up for Season 6!!!!!

Do you have your basket? Let’s go!

While you’re here, come check out my Once projects:

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!