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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Reasons why Fran has watched some Robin Williams clips today instead of working



Sad news about Robin Williams.   Today I watched an episode of 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' to which he brings chaos and disorder and hilarity like an untrained puppy, refusing to follow the instructions given and appearing behind desks and in front of cameras at unplanned moments.

Then I watched some clips of him ad-libbing in 'Good Morning Vietnam'.  How did he do that stuff? His brain was as quick as electricity and I don't know how his mouth kept up.

Another clip, from 'The Dead Poets Society' has him, in the role of John Keating, ordering the students to tear out a page of 'excrement' from a book on poetry in which the editor rambles on about how to measure a poem using a graph.  'Rip it out!' he cries, and the boys fall to the task with abandon, apart from one who uses a ruler to make sure he does it in a straight line.  One senses that the poor boy is having trouble taking on these anarchic ideas.

All this reminded me of something I read recently about art, whether that be writing or sculpture or dance or theatre.  It was about the element of surprise, and that it's the unexpected in art that catches the heart of the reader or viewer and brings delight.  I think this was the secret of Robin Williams' success. We love the Peep-Bo in childhood, and it teaches us to enjoy the maverick, the Jack-in-the-box, the picture of the old lady that, looked at another way, is a beautiful woman, the cheque in the post we'd forgotten was coming, the one poppy bursting out from a concrete slab, the sudden change of key in a song ....



That's why one of the most common exercises I give students at school (or in creative writing classes with adults) is to devise different endings for common clichés.  It's always said that you shouldn't use clichés, but in fact sometimes a cliché which has been subverted causes more of a surprise, and therefore more pleasure.

For instance, take 'as soft as silk'.  How could we use this in writing, or in a song, or play?  Her skin was as soft as silk is a cliché.  Her skin was as soft as silken butter?  Her skin was as soft as silk on silk?  Her skin was as soft as whipped-silk milk chocolate?

Let's take it somewhere else, keeping the sibilance, the 's' sounds from the original cliché.  Her skin was as soft and silky as submission.  Her skin was as soft as a small bird's flight.  Her skin was as soft as a sly whisper behind a hand.

It all depends what you want to say.

I'm just playing around with language here.  But I love doing it.  And so did Robin Williams.  So, that was my little tribute to him, and I pray for his family.  I know what it is to be left behind in that way, wondering.

Not all surprises are good ones.












20 comments:

  1. A lovely tribute, Fran. Our family, too, was touched by suicude many years ago. It's a terrible thing, for both perpetrator and for those left wondering and blaming themselves. His poor family. And what a waste of a wonderful talent.

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    1. I heard that some of his most recent work was a flop - as I said to someone else tonight, I wonder how he coped with that perceived failure. People's high expectations must be a burden.

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  2. So true Fran. Beautiful blogpost. You have modelled the element of surprise too. Loved it.

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    1. Thanks for this lovely comment.

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  3. A touching and, oh so appropriate, tribute. Those surprises will be sorely missed.

    I wanted to write something today, Fran, but the words wouldn't come. Or rather, they were locked around my heart like a charm bracelet, the key to which, I have been temporarily relieved of. A Facebook 'friend' - a journalist - posted this morning, "Not usually bothered by celeb deaths, but RW is chafing. Perhaps because you think by 63 you have worked it out, learned your lessons..."

    My response, "All our lessons become unlearned when we find ourselves tangled in the sheets of pointlessness. Neither love, luck or magic is guaranteed to save us."

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    1. I think you did write something today. That comment has some cracking lines.

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  4. I'm convinced Robin Williams was a genius and we're losing too many of them, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

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    1. Genius sometimes seems to come with a price - maybe, as I said to Frances above, that price is high expectations which make it harder to be honest when you feel rubbish.

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  5. We'll never have another talent like Robin Williams. He simply can't be replaced.

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    1. That's the sign of a real talent, I guess.

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  6. A beautiful post, Fran. I always felt there had to be another side to his manic comedy.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Thanks, Janie. Yes, there was always a sense of him being on the edge of something a little dangerous.

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  7. Dead Poets Society is still one of my all time favourite films. Poised and poignant, Williams' performance is unmatched.

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    1. I mean to watch it again very soon, although it always makes me feel inadequate as an English teacher!

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  8. If , as is now being said , he had developed Parkinson's , his suicide makes sense . My father , a lecturer , retreated into an unreachable depression as his Parkinson's increased and his voice changed . For Robin William's , it would have been difficult to contemplate , too .

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    1. It must be a horrible feeling, knowing that you are losing all the faculties that help you to control your own life. And, if you've been famous, being in the eye of the public while that happens must be even worse.

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  9. I haven't commented anywhere about the death of Robin Williams until now. I felt sad but I also felt sad last week for the little girl who pops into my shop while staying on holiday with her granny. She told me that a few years ago her much older sister had died. I was sorry. She said, " People die all the time "
    I was shocked at her answer. She went on to tell me she was going to a camp for bereaved children. I imagine this is where she came to terms with the loss through support.
    I hope Robin William's family & close friends receive support and eventually come to cope with their loss too.

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    1. That's sad, for the little girl to grow up so expecting tragedy. I hope she got some help, as you say.

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  10. The world is a sadder place without Robin William's comic genius in it.

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    1. Especially as so much contemporary comedy (I sound so old-fashioned here ...) falls short, as in, it's not funny ...

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