Rachael Herman

Tag: People

‘Just Another Piece In Their Games…’

Yes, in the vein of all you cool teenagers and shameful adults alike, I too have joined club ‘Hunger Games’. You know, I seriously thought I had buried this penchant for the puerile fantastic years ago – along with poor Dobby the house-elf hims-elf – in the bid to revel in the far more grown-up Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair. It turns out, however, that this grave for the juvenile was evidently a shallow one. (Sorry Dobby, my love, I’m afraid it’s still game over for you.) This latest slip into the realm of childish indulgence happened no sooner than when the credits of the first film in Suzanne Collin’s franchise had started to roll; replenishing both excitement and wonder to an imagination parched of both, and reinaugurating the ugly obsessive nature that tends to go hand-hand with a good children’s story. (Whatever I say in the next few hundred words about the books, I’d like to make it clear that I view the movie as an excellent and exciting piece of film-making; Gary Ross, I doff my hat to you, sir.) So where to go from there, I wondered. Why to the books of course! Before the film came into my life, I was unaware of the books’ existence, but a birthday favour later and I was the proud owner of the trinity: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Here is what I made of them…

Book One: The Hunger Games (aka the eye-opener)

Having seen the first film I was obviously aware of what was going to go down in the first book. One may argue that this would perhaps defeat the purpose of even reading the story, however, I found that the heads-up gained from the viewing only allowed me to concentrate on details that had either been deliberately omitted from the books or proven too complicated to deliver on screen. One example of this would be the unfolding of the relationship between young tributes, Peeta and Katniss. In the film, it is not particularly clear as to what the nature of  their relationship actually is, more specifically Katniss’ take on the whole thing. However, I do understand that the adaptation of a first-person narrative from print to picture will always prove to be a problem in the absence of a narrator. But yes, the book did adequately shed some more light onto the ‘Patniss’ (Peeta and Katniss, duh) love saga, which I was happy about. What I was not so thrilled with, on the other hand, was Collins’ decision to make use of that ghastly present tense and terse, pointed sentences in order to put us firmly in the ‘midst of the action’. Not when EVERY sentence apparently fits this description. No thank you.

Book Two: Catching Fire (aka the favourite)

By the time I had reached the second book – and I mean it was a struggle when up against such a tirade of tiny, tiny sentences – I can safely say that I was starting to grow weary of Katniss’ annoying whine of a voice. Yes, I realise that she is a typical seventeen year old girl, but all this to-ing and fro-ing between love interests, which is only matched by the to-ing and fro-ing she makes to the hospital, really devours any sympathy I once had for her. There really is no logic to her affections. ‘But there is no logic to love!’ I hear you cry… Shut up, no one who demands that amount of nobility for her actions should be that capricious. She is just too weak. Another gripe I was beginning to realise I had  with the way Collins had chosen to tell her tale was the fact that every chapter seemed to end with some sort of cliff hanger; to the point where it was just getting ridiculous. There were moments in the chapter where, I must admit, I felt like screaming, ‘Really Suzanne?! Did that REALLY happen?!’ No, I don’t think it did. I think you are just terrified that no one will want to read on if you don’t end each chapter with some outrageous dramatic one-liner. Please. Have a little more faith in your own writing and give the reader a touch more credit to the fact that they will NOT slam the book shut in utter disgust that nothing astounding has happened in the last five pages. It’s all about subtlety, love.

Example from Catching Fire, p209, of a classic Collins-cliffhanger.

I would next like to address the issue of president Snow. The first book showed promise of a somewhat enigmatically calculating villain, and with the second book I was undoubtedly vying for a deliciously dark and troubled back-story to get my teeth into, to establish in my mind a smart and intimidating villain. It turned out that there was no real back-story – at least Volders had a troubled past that we could revel in; to explain why he was a twisted, cold-blooded killer. Snow just had some botox that went wrong…I don’t get the wrong impression here, I do in fact likeCatching Fire, especially the brilliance that is the second arena, complete with tactical alliances to boot. Fantastically intriguing. Let us only hope that justice will be done to this creation on the big screen!

Book Three: Mockingjay (aka the struggle)

‘Just another piece in their/his/her/my Games’, was the phrase that was now causing me physical and mental anguish every time I happened upon it, which was pretty much in every other chapter of Mockingjay. As if this wasn’t enough, the complete overkill of the rather pretentious name itself, Mockingjay, was answerable to a reflex of steaming anger bubbling up from inside of me every time it was mentioned. All in all, I have to say that I found this book incredibly hard to deal with, mainly on account of its clumsiness in addressing the rebellion, and its lack of our main man: Peeta. I felt that the poor boy, who, let’s face it, is the best written character in the whole saga, was rather made a mockery of. His absence was really quite telling, particularly when the romantic interest was in favour of Gale, as I found myself becoming really quite uninterested in the whole thing. What a DULL character Gale is. Clearly Collins thinks so too, as it goes to show back in Catching Fire. Subsequent to his whipping for crimes against Panem, we are informed that Gale was in a critical state being tended to night and day. Then in the next chapter we find out, in a rather off-handed reference, that Gale is back down the mines. Does Collins even remember he was injured?! Speaking of miraculous recoveries, Peeta’s plight against the Trackerjackers in what we commonly call a ‘highjacking’ was a rather dubious one. No light was ever really shed on exactly HOW our man was saved from this nasty fate. All  the information we receive is that dear old Delly has been having a chat with him now and again, coaxing him out of his (righteous) hatred for Katniss. Hmmm, interesting.

Example from Mockingjay, p37, of ‘Mockingjay’ overkill.

Overall, I feel that  Katniss’ final romantic revelation actually epitomised the way the series has been written: way too sudden and inadequately explained. ‘So yeah, by the way, I’m with Peeta now. I decided that Gale and I are too alike, oh well I guess that’s that. Sigh.’ Collins kicked things off with a great concept, managed to run with it insofar as creating a decent world and a handful of interesting characters (Hamish, Peeta, Finnick, Johanna and Beetee being among the elite), yet she has unfortunately stumbled at the final stretch. It just so happened that the ‘final stretch’ incorporates the entirety of the third book. Never mind, hey, it’s only a children’s book.

Self Portrait (1691), Michael Dahl

Browsing Michael Dahl’s back catalogue feels, for some reason, like one is gazing upon an identity parade of caricatures. This has ultimately lead to the conclusion that either Dahl was not the most flattering of painters, or that his subjects were simply just plain butters. We may never know. Repugnancy aside, I would instead like to focus on one of Dahl’s more easy-on-the-eye paintings, which resides at – you’ve guessed it – the National Portrait Gallery. The piece I am talking about is a self portrait of Mr Dahl himself and, rather surprisingly, isn’t hideously ugly. What initially drew me to the study was not the unusually flattering style of the painting, however, but its uncanny resemblance to The Young Ones comedian, Rik Mayall – funnily enough… (As an aside, the boyf maintains strongly that this is untrue and that in fact there is a striking similarity between Michael Dahl and Mamma Mia actor, Dominic Cooper . The silly fool, it looks nothing like him.) So without further ado, here is the painting itself for you to come to the correct conclusion:

Yes, I know what you are thinking: what on earth is Rik Mayall doing in a 17th Century painting? This likeness is astounding! Well worry not, little reader, I shall explain everything… (disclaimer: explanation does not actually contain any information about the funny man. Idiot.)

Born Mikael Dahl (that’s Swedish for Michael Dahl) on 29th September, 1659 in the city of Stokholm, Sweden, Dahl was educated and trained in the ways of the painter by Baroque artist David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl.  Twenty three years later, Dahl left Stokholm for the English capital, where he produced most of his work under the patronage of folks such as Queen Anne and Tory family, the Harleys. During this time Dahl only had one major rival: fellow portrait painter, Godfrey Kneller.

This particular painting of Dahl was completed in 1691 when the artist was thirty two years old. A suitably handsome man, as I’m sure you’ll agree, the charming Michael can be seen dressed in what appears to be a rather pleasant fern-green velvet jacket, with a dark aubergine and navy cloak draped around him. Now the green to me alludes to youth and inexperience, suggesting that Dahl perhaps views himself as something of a new-guy-on-the-block. The purple tones, on the other hand, could refer to his work in the royal courts at a fairly young age.

Next on the agenda would be to take a closer look at the composition, hand gestures and facial expression of our figure. As you can see two thirds of the painting comprises of the artist himself, whilst the remaining third contains what one can only assume to be an example of his own work, complete with tools of the trade positioned precariously adjacent to it. The positioning of the body directs the gaze onto said artwork and tools, which, combined with those blatant hand gestures, give the impression that the artist is potentially dissatisfied with the recognition – or lack thereof – he has been experiencing with regards to his artistic prowess, and consequently feels obliged to express this malcontent through his medium of expertise. I am almost willing myself to interpret the look upon the poor man’s face to be one of impatient disdain, as if to say, ‘Yes, I am an artist. I have painted for royalty at such a young age. Well done for noticing…’ But then again, I do have an unhealthy penchant for sarcasm. In all seriousness though, what  fascinates me is how different the style is of this piece is when compared with an example of one of his commissions, such as the one below entitled, The Flesher Family (1734):

What a motley crew. Especially that middle one… W.O.W. Not pretty, not pretty at all. In all honesty, I cannot imagine a single family that would be happy to pay for a piece of art that depicts their offspring as featuring heavily in the nose department, but there we go. Perhaps beak = bucks, or something like that.

Another variation between the style of his commissions and Dahl’s own self portrait is that the tones of the latter are far more stripped back and muted than those of the former, evoking, what I believe to be, a more empathetic reading of the piece. The viewer is more inclined to want to take on the gaze of an unassumingly handsome artisan, rather than of the gaudy-yet-sickly, elongated faces of aristocracy. Perhaps this was Dahl’s way of ‘sticking-it-to-the-man’, a constant bitterness toward a dependancy on patronage. The echoes of the Renaissance are doubly at play here in the way that Dahl painted his own face with such due care and attention to tradition, mimicking those Antiquity-loving 15th century artists of the south; as well as cleverly drawing the audience member’s attention to the stone sculpture in the archway, which, to me, pays additional homage to that Golden Age of Classical art.

To close, I would like to simply say that if I ever decide to paint others and myself for a living, I only hope that I would have the Michael Dahl-esque sense of humour to paint myself as beautiful and everyone else as gawky, waxy-looking freaks. Ha.

Weddings

A small selection from a friend’s wedding that I photographed, Summer 2010. My favourite is the first image, I love the expression on the groom’s face as he looks back to his new wife. Classic.