Beethoven: Piano Sonata 11 op. 22
City of Ice

Sunday Night Journal — January 22, 2012

Upstairs Downstairs 2 and Downton Abbey

This is sort of a follow-up to that post a few weeks about Upstairs Downstairs. I don't think I mentioned in that one that the reason we were watching the original series was that we had seen the new one which first aired last year. I'd noticed the ads for it and was curious; also I thought my wife might like it, though she had not seen the original back in the '70s. So we watched the three episodes, and that led to watching the original, and having done that we were curious again about the new version.

It's really pretty good, though as with most such follow-ups you have to get over the idea that it isn't as good as the original because it isn't exactly like itl. Perhaps it was because of that syndrome that I liked it better on second viewing. Jean Marsh as Rose Buck is the only character carried over from the old series: she returns to 165 Eaton Place as housekeeper for an entirely new family (nothing is heard of the Bellamys).  It's set in 1936, and, as in the original, mixes contemporary events with domestic drama. "Contemporary events" of course must include the rise of fascism, and that ends up being a principal theme: a daughter of the wealthy family becomes infatuated with fascism and fascists (which naturally brings to mind the Mitford girls, Unity and Diana).


Unity and Diana Mitford at a Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, 1937 (source: Wikipedia)

The weakness of this three-part series is, for me, the second episode. It deals directly with Hitler's persecution of the Jews, and in my opinion the effort doesn't work very well: it involves a story which struck me as slightly implausible and generally heavy-handed. That's a somewhat harsh judgment, as I'm sure the writers were trying to approach this difficult subject with care. I think what caused me to react that way is that what is happening in Germany is made of direct consequence to the English household in a way that seems a little contrived and melodramatic. It's not necessary, as there are already two characters with fascist sympathies, and their development is sufficient to bring the great events of the time into the story. The first and third episodes are superior to the second. I've read that more are in production, and I'll certainly watch them. 

And I have now joined the ranks of those watching the very similar Downton Abbey. Its first season, which showed last year, was apparently very popular, but I  had somehow missed hearing of it. My wife hadn't, though, and had watched and enjoyed some of it over the net, so we started recording the new season when it began a couple of weeks ago. 

Perhaps it's not fair to assert that the series is modeled on Upstairs Downstairs, but it's almost inconceivable that there was no influence, as it depicts the intertwined lives of a rich English family and their servants in the early 20th century. It's well-written, well-acted, well-produced--very well--but on the basis of three episodes I don't like it as well as either the old or the new UD. It's more like a soap opera, in that there is a more continual sequence of melodramatic twists and turns designed to make sure you come back for the next installment. And unlike Upstairs Downstairs it involves truly wicked things done by truly malicious people. In general its atmosphere is a little oppressive, almost menacing. People speak quietly, the lighting is muted, the lighting in the servant's quarters especially having that yellowish quality which seems favored by cintematographers when they want to induce anxiety. The old Upstairs Downstairs certainly included a realistic mixture of folly and sin and tragedy, but there was no real malevolence on the part of any character that I can remember, and there was a general sense of good spirits about it. I don't mean that there's something amiss when art deals with real evil, but there seems something slightly less healthy about Downton

But I'll keep watching it. I want to know what happens. 

War of the Planets

It's a widely held opinion that Plan 9 From Outer Space is the worst movie ever made.  But last night I saw one that I think is more deserving of the honor: War of the Planets. I recorded it from the Turner Classic Movies channel a few weeks ago just because I find it hard to pass up an old sci-fi movie. Most of them are not very good but this one is truly awful. 

I've seen Plan 9, and it is indeed truly dreadful. But it almost isn't a real movie at all, just a sort of mess. You feel like the people who made it weren't really trying and didn't really care how good or bad it was. But War of the Planets looks like a lot of work and a certain amount of money went into it, and it's truly awful. It would be entertaining to describe some of the funnier moments, but I really couldn't do them justice. As it goes on, you realize that someone thought that in the future astronauts would naturally update the language by preceding ordinary words with the word "space." As in "You're a space idiot."

There seems to be more than one movie called War of the Planets--this one was made in 1966, in Italy, though it's in English and was released by MGM. Here's the trailer:


As you can see, it's actually the war against green smoke. I don't recall the term "diaphanoids" used in the trailer appearing in the film itself, but maybe I missed it.  And notice the way the guy pronounces "lasers"--"lazers."  At other points, he says it correctly. I suppose there are probably a number of movies as bad as this one, but I do think it's the worst I've ever seen, in the sense I described above.

Chronicles of Marmite

My daughter and her children--two of them as of two weeks ago--were here this afternoon. I made myself a snack of toasted rye bread with butter and Marmite, and she wanted to try it. She took a bite and didn't think it was so bad. My wife had not yet tasted Marmite, although that had not stopped her from believing it to be quite nasty. I guess my daughter's example encouraged her; anyway, she, too, took a bite. There was a long pause while the taste registered on her, then she made a sort of choking cry and spat it out. I regret very much that I didn't think to have a camera ready to capture the moment.

Later my daughter tried it again, a whole piece of toast, and said it was "sort of weirdly good." That's a good description.

Liturgical Progress

Tonight for the first time at Mass I said "and with your spirit" instead "and also with you" without stumbling. Without stumbling audibly, at least--I thought "and also with you" but caught myself before I actually said it.

Sometimes it is, I suppose

The current issue of our diocesan newspaper has an article about "premartial sex." 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

When I was off for Christmas, I went to daily Mass and that was a great help to me in adapting to most of the changes in the Mass. The one that I cannot seem to get right is the one that is also my favorite, "Lord I am not worthy ...." Part of the problem is that if you really are trying to pray, there is no way you can remember to say something new, and this is a part of the Mass where I'm likely to be trying to pray.

I'm really sorry that I was offline during the four weeks after the changes because I had stuff to say! Well, I'm not sorry I was offline, because it was great, but I hate missing out on discussions. Looks like there was more at Craig's than here though.


I had to have a test to post that last comment. Blah!


I cannot decide whether pre-martial sex would be rather good fun or rather dreadful.

Maybe it would be "weirdly good"

Can you tell me how that awful space movie ended so I won't have to watch it myself?

I watched the new series of UD a few weeks ago after your post on the original series and I have now seen a few episodes of the original. I quite enjoyed them.

Surely post-martial would be preferable.

It gives those tests sort of randomly, Janet, except when you have a link in the comment, and then it seems to do it pretty much all the time.

But anyway, yeah, it does take some deliberate concentration at first, and that's good in one way but it's also a distraction.

Louise, the movie ends with the astronauts dropping a lot of bombs, which is supposed to be the end of the diaphanoids. How bombs can destroy green smoke is not explained. Or where they came from, and why there aren't a bunch more. They emanate from Mars but it isn't clear whether they're natives or not.

I can't really recommend it even for fun. Like Plan 9, it's funny but yet vaguely dispiriting.

We just watched Cowboys and Aliens, or at least Bill watched it all and I watched some of it. He said it was fun. I just got tired of it, but then, it takes a lot to make me sit still for a whole movie these days.


Do you mean on account of the fact that premartial sex is immoral? I would imagine that postmartial sex might be a bit lacklustre.

So... Bombs. That's not very satisfying is it?

Well, there was so much nonsense anyway that it didn't much matter. Since the evil beings were so obviously puffs of green smoke, and the explosions were so obviously little fires set among toys...

I was thinking that it's probably more enjoyable to fight and then make up than to make up and then fight.:-)

Re Cowboys and Aliens, I've suspected that once you've been amused by the title there might not be all that much left. Though I would probably sit through it if (or when) I started it. I have trouble bailing out of any movie once I've started it, which causes me to resist starting ones that I think might bore me.

I've been doing pretty well with the new prayers, although I have noticed that I am more inclined to say "And with thy spirit", which is what was said in an Anglican church I used to attend.

I know what you mean, Janet, about paying attention to this rather than that, but personally I am finding that the change to the prayer you mention is among my favourite of the changes. I look forward to the part where I pray that "my soul" be healed.

An old priest that I know (and who was the founding editor of the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano) said that "spirit" in that phrase means something very specific. I'm not perfectly clear about it, but something to do with the spirit of the priest who is in alter Christi. So, it was wrong to change and good to change back.

This is why I think, as some of you didn't, that needed to be a lot more preparation--because there is a LOT there that you don't know if you don't know you don't know it.

Craig, that is my favorite part.


I always supposed it must mean something specific, because it's such an odd phrase. Not something one would naturally say at all.

I always start to say "thy", too--that is, once I've conquered the "also with you" impulse. And I was only an Anglican for a few years.

What a jolly looking bunch of Nazis in that photograph. With the benefit of hindsight, even more chilling than a collection of haughty scowls would be.

Oh, I see, martial between the spouses, not combative somewhere else! (I almost made a typo which would have said "marital between the spouses" - aren't typos fun!)

Yes, Paul, now that you mention it (Nazi photo) that is pretty chilling.

I must say, Louise, I was sort of wondering if you meant that you actually enjoy fighting with your husband.

What sort of chills me about that picture is that if you'd seen it at the time, and didn't know that much about the Nazis (if it was possible to be that ignorant), you wouldn't have thought they looked like evil people. And the Mitfords are just nice cheery-looking young ladies. I wonder how many of those men survived the war. And how many committed or abetted atrocities.

Having done a bit of karate and fencing, I really had those kinds of activities in mind!

Happy Nazis - it really is incongruous. Not that people can't be happy when committing atrocities, but happiness and Nazism just don't go together in my brain.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)