Fairytale of New York

This Christmas Day Shane MacGowan turns 59. I wonder if he realized thirty years ago while he was writing the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” (co-written with Jeb Finer) that the saddest Christmas song ever would be his most widely-listened-to:

That woman singing with him is Kirsty MacColl, may she rest in peace. Her father Ewen MacColl was a Scottish Communist and folk-singer. The story goes, he wrote his most popular song for his young mistress Patty Seeger while he was still living with Kirsty’s mother. It’s had many versions, including a super one by Engelbert Humperdinck, but Roberta Flack “owns” it:

Not a bad song for the yule log either. Merry Christmas.

Crazy Love

I watched a very odd theater-home double feature last night, two strange films. First was Amour Fou, written and directed by the Austrian Jessica Hausner – not to be confused with Amour, the Michael Haneke film that’s positively perky compared to Amour Fou. In fact, Hausner’s script makes The White Ribbon seem like The Sound of Music.

Based on a tragic real-life affair, of sorts, between the German Romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist and the married Henriette Vogel, it turns the story as it’s usually told on its head by making Henriette the lead character. Vogel is a modestly popular fixture on the Berlin social circuit in 1810, and von Kleist is portrayed as a predatory depressive searching for a woman with whom to make a suicide pact. Hausner adds just enough setbacks and simple, eleventh hour turns to keep it interesting, while the script meditates on the nature of love. It goes to illustrate something a female fiction writer once told me: No matter how big a scumbag a guy is, there is a woman out there who will gladly let him walk all over her.

Crazy Love: Who could resist him?

Crazy Love: Who could resist him?

Amour Fou is one gorgeous composition after another, like a museum of period rooms with live reenactors, delivering their lines with comic understatement. Funny but not funny ha-ha, it’s a movie you respect more than you actually enjoy.

Back home, I was in the mood for something a lot lighter, and I’d been postponing Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share ever since it came out in 2012. Its marketing hooks are so transparent, I didn’t want to see Loach’s social realist creds yoked to another middle-brow tourist board showpiece, a Trotskyist, Scottish Sideways.Though my prediction may have been proven right, I still found myself moved by it at times.

As much as I’d like to give credit for its touching qualities to screenwriter Paul Laverty – for I’m always inclined to credit the writer for a film’s merits, and blame anyone else for its faults – I think it belongs to Loach. Specifically, his casting. By casting Paul Brannigan as Robbie and giving him ample time to get smacked around, and show off his glaring faults, Loach put a sadly self-defeating electric wire in the middle of this otherwise predictable film. Even when the plot becomes an implausible heist, I found myself still riveted by Robbie. Ditto for John Henshaw as the sympathetic corrections officer who takes him on the scotch tasting that changes his life.

You get the feeling that Laverty and Loach were laughing all the way to the bank, or to the bankrolling of their next “workers of the world, unite” message film, while they were making this one.