Well, this isn’t a travel brochure; hence my taking the liberty of adding a question mark to the following: What better place to ring in the new year than in Scotland, where “Auld Lang Syne” is being sung more passionately and the ringing in goes on longer than anywhere else in the world? Having just returned from Glasgow and Edinburgh, I could think of a few alternatives, considering that Scotland’s chief tourist attractions this time of year—the famed Hogmanay festivities, were pretty much wiped out by fierce gales and lashing rains. The British weather! I have mentioned and deplored it often enough in this journal to claim that I was unprepared for its party-pooping force.
Since practically all of Glasgow takes a prolonged New Year’s holiday—including the city’s retailers and its museums, at one of which, the Kelvingrove, I spotted those heads dangling above on the day of Saddam Hussein’s hanging—there was little else to do than to seek shelter in a multiplex, mercifully kept open, and to take in a few double features. Fairly disappointed by the politics and pretensions of The Perfume, yet charmed by the slight Miss Potter and amused by the to me surprisingly bright Night at the Museum, I was enthralled at last by Guillermo del Toro’s El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth), easily the most exciting movie I have seen on the big screen in years, a film unrivalled by any piece of fiction I have come across in 2006.
Not that 2006 was lacking in cultural pearls, many of which I shared and appraised in this journal. I won’t altogether stoop to lining them up, however popular and convenient such an approach to reviewing might be. Indeed, I find it difficult to name the best and worst of the past twelve months; but let me try, anyway.
In a year during which I picked up far too few books to make up a list, my main literary find was H. G. Wells’s aforementioned Ann Veronica, an uneven but compelling portrait of the British suffragette movement. Rewarding as well was Anthony Trollope’s Cousin Henry, a Kafkaesque exploration of doubt and guilt, while Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, for all its romantic intensity, struck me as dark-aged (and downright fascist) in its vilification of the physically unusual.
At the pictures, the most satisfying film of the year may well have been The Illusionist, which I had the fortune to catch during my trip to Istanbul last September. It quietly triumphed over that other vanishing act, Christopher Nolan’s box-office misfire The Prestige; but, as pleased as I was to find James Bond back in form (after decades of discharging tiresome one-liners to demonstrate his cool) and getting to know The Queen in Helen Mirren’s soon-to-be-Academy Award nominated performance, it took a trip to the aforementioned Labyrinth on New Year’s Day to remind me of the magic of the movies, an emotional sway entirely absent in the hackneyed and uninspiring World Trade Center, the most exasperating of my cinematic encounters.
It was a year that convinced me, an inveterate old-time radio aficionado, to pay more attention to BBC radio, having tuned in to provocative (if not always convincing) plays like “Abrogate” (discussed here) and “True West” (reviewed in this post), adaptations like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (with Ian McKellen) and documentaries like “Down the Wires.” Still available online this first week of January 2007 are Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys” as well as drama by Pinter and Stoppard.
By comparison, I still look upon television chiefly as a purveyor of old movies, of which I must have taken in over a hundred this year. The BBC’s serialization of Jane Eyre felt less than fresh, the second season of Desperate Housewives irritated me with its heavy-handed bathos, while the third round of British reality show X Factor was short on personalities for which to root. More enjoyable was the Andrew Lloyd Webber judged How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, which generated a new West End personality to star in the current revival of The Sound of Music.
While I have no intention to see that show, I had my share of theatrical treats, foremost among them a revival of Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows and an imaginative staging of Mervyn Peake’s imaginative staging of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. The musical Daddy Cool, which I caught at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre, was not among them. Stringing together the songs of German pop-crafter Frank Farian (the man behind the late-1970s phenomenon Boney M. and the early-1990s lip-synch duo Milli Vanilli) and forcing them into a narrative that borrows from West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet, and Bollywood, Daddy is a Mamma Mia of a musical that will make even those who fondly remember some of the featured tunes go “Oh, brother!” That said, I still came out humming and, having gone backstage to see fictional gunmoll Ma Baker turn into the affable Michelle Collins, I hardly regret the experience.
Whatever I see, read, or hear this year I shall take in with glee, cheered by the thought of having in broadcastellan a journal in which to document nothing more plainly than the extent of my own folly.