The Imitation Game

What to say about it. As a film it kept its pace and it worked overall.

The most deeply-flawed representation of a character was Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing. He has to take the rap because the film was built around him. He is obviously capable – highly capable. But something went wrong.

I had high hopes when he first appeared – a highly-intelligent person who did not suffer fools gladly and who was a cruel and expert swordsman with his words.

When we first see him being interviewed for the job at Bletchley he is sardonic and cutting – and when we see him being interviewed by the police about the burglary at his house he is the same.

But at times at Bletchley he is bumbling and hesitant in a way that he is quite simply, another person.

Yes, I know, people have more than one side to them – but not these two sides.

The moment in the film that I knew it was falling apart was early on when the original code breakers were first together and The MI6 man (Mark Strong) makes a parting remark about leaving the children to play with their toys.

That was bad enough, but then when the boys are left and wonder what they should do, the then team leader (Matthew Goode) says ‘Let’s Play’, my heart sank.

So much for the human interactions. What made it worse was the poor attempt it made to show what went on at Bletchley.

For example, can it really be that no one had thought what they would do when they broke the code? Did no one think the obvious – that they couldn’t go around forestalling every German plan because they would tip their hand to the fact of the code having been broken?

And what was anyone to make of the redcap who tips a drawer-full of Turing’s papers onto the desk and then announces – ‘Nothing here Sir.’ – meaning that he hadn’t found the secret codes and tools of a Soviet spy. Oh come on!

I think Matthew Goode was weak because he didn’t carry the conviction that he was a code breaker. Nothing about him suggested it. Mark Strong as the MI6 man was good, given the parts he has played recently where he has hammed it up a bit too much. Kiera Knightley was a bit patchy, and best in the opening scenes.

I wonder what went on during the making of the film? Did someone come the heavy and force a change of direction? Did the director lose control or interest? There was a real wealth of possibility in this film but it didn’t use it.

Final word for wonderful acting from the young Alan Turing (Alex Lawther). I would give him an intelligent film in which to act and let him get on with it.

What Play Was That

I’m trying to find out the name of a play that I saw on TV about two or three years ago in the UK.

It was a re-showing of a much older performance. The original may have been made for TV or it could have been a filmed performance of something that was originally a stage play.

The setting was a ‘civilised’ party with the hosts and with guests that arrived and interacted.

I would say it was set in the 1960s – in an apartment or house with contemporary furniture – an aspiring middle class setting.

It maybe had an American feel to it – like it was set in the USA – modern apartment – maybe not.

From memory, the whole play may have been silent – as in no spoken words – just gestures and expressions or perhaps the characters mouthed words.

We get to see into the psychology of the individuals – jealousy, fear, arrogance, disappointment – all of it under a veneer of civility.

The way people moved around in it, it was almost like a ballet – the whole thing was very styled and unnatural, yet insightful and realistic about the inner workings of how people interact.

It was almost balletic, very mannered – the way people turned and gestured and took their coats off and offered and accepted drinks – and through all that, the real inner cruelties, jealousies and disappointments were visible – attempted to be hidden but seen by us the audience – and sometimes by the other characters.

I asked what play was that, on Metafilter, but no one knew.

If you know the name of the play, let me know.

The Lelca M9 Song

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Leica M9 ?
I’m done shooting Nikons, I want to shoot prime.
It’s full-frame or nothing, and a big LCD,
And manual focus, please explain that to me.

Oh Lord, how I wanted a Leica M8,
But now I am grateful that you made me wait.
Worked hard all my lifetime, to get what is mine,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Leica M9.
Oh Lord, do this one thing, this one thing for me,
And Lord I’ll review it – I’ll do it for free.

©2009 David Bennett
From an idea of @FrasSmith and words of Janis Joplin
Originally published on Photographworks.com on September 14, 2009

Ernie Pyle: Brave Men

Ernie Pyle was an American war correspondent during World War II. He was very well known across a great cross-section of the American public – a real celebrity in his day – and very well liked.

In his newspaper columns and in his book Brave Men that was published in 1944, he describes the minutiae of army life in wartime from the perspective of the common soldier.

He described the way the war machine works – from engineers pulling captured tanks off the line with giant earth moving machines, to bomb loaders preparing bombers for a mission, to cooks cooking up thousands of meals for the troops.

The book describes the push from North Africa and up through Italy, then the waiting period in England before D Day, and then the invasion and the battle through France.

One cute image that he describes is of the American soldiers stationed in London in the lead up to D Day, and how the US Army established rules for one-way foot traffic for soldiers when walking along the pavements.

It was done in order to minimise how often soldiers would have to meet and salute one another while approaching from opposite directions.

Apparently, there were so many soldiers that before the rule was in place soldiers were having to salute every five steps or so and getting sore arms from all that saluting.

Another scene that he describes is of captured German soldiers on D Day standing on the cliffs and staring in disbelief and resignation at the sheer number of Allied ships that stretched from horizon to horizon.

The final chapter of Brave Men was written in August 1944, and Pyle talks about the war being more or less over.

That was, of course, before the German counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in December 1944, which was the last major offensive against the Allied forces in Europe.

It’s hard to tell you exactly why or how the book is so touching and sad. Certainly the tone changes when Pyle goes with the invasion forces on D Day, and he becomes more sombre and in the end, lyrical.

I started the book Brave Men about a year ago, and then put it aside while I read some other books. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and I have been reading a few pages at a time, mostly over breakfast.

I finished it today.

One passage is particularly poignant. It is about the jeep ride that he and another journalist and the photographer Robert Capa took into a town near Cherbourg.

The Germans has only just been pushed out of the town, and there was always the risk of snipers or of Germans left behind – manning a machine gun somewhere by the roadside. So Pyle was nervous, and he talks about the fearless Capa, who would push on whatever the risk.

Robert Capa was one of the original Magnum photographers. I know his work well and I also know that Capa was killed in 1954 when he stepped on a mine in South East Asia, in what was then called Indochina.

What I learned a week ago when reading up about the background to Brave Men, is that Ernie Pyle was killed in 1945 by Japanese machine gun fire on an island off Okinawa.

There is something strange about reading in a book published in 1944, the author writing about his companion, Capa, who I knew would be killed in 1954, and knowing also that the writer himself would be killed even before that, in 1945.

And there they were in his book Brave Men, described as large as life and nervous as kittens – riding into a town during the Allied invasion of Europe.

Coda

After the war, the Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo was taken over by the US Army headquarters and renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater – which remained its name until 1955.