Friday, 13 May 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins and the importance of being crap

Many years ago when I was younger and fitter (best beloved) I did a fair bit of rock-climbing with ropes at a club in Birmingham that had lots of artificial cliffs and people who could dangle over the side of a sheer drop by one fingernail. After one session, I could hardly lift the tab on my Coke can or turn the key to start my car. But in the canteen, I came across a climbing magazine sporting the wonderful title 'The Importance of Being Crap' which extolled the virtues of Not Being Quite Good at Something. Because Being Crap gave you something to aim for, something to admire about people who Definitely Weren't Crap, and it kept you healthily humble.

'Florence Foster Jenkins' is the title of a wonderful new film about the celebrated eccentric (as in 'I am an individual, You are eccentric, She is Barking Mad') lady whose fortune enabled her to sponsor all sorts of musical events across New York City in the early 1940s.


As played by Meryl Streep, Florence absolutely loves music, constantly surrounding herself with musicians of rare talent and technique, but she has one tiny problem- she cannot sing. In fact, her singing voice is an instrument of such awfulness that it is surprising the Allies didn't employ her as a secret weapon. But that is only part of the story, because Florence's circle of friends have a real affection for her, protecting her from the words of harsh critics and politely applauding her latest efforts. Are they using her, exploiting her patronage? Possibly. But Florence's sheer delight for the music wafting through her head is quite beguiling. In a bizarre way, we admire her sheer dogged enthusiasm for the unknowingly awful.

A sad back-story emerges as the plot unfolds- of a disastrous first marriage, failing health- and the ridicule of audiences who treat her performances as a complete joke. Florence's decision to book Carnegie Hall to stage a concert for disabled war veterans appears to be heading straight towards disaster, but then...

You have to see it for yourself. There are some great set-pieces, especially Simon Helberg's turn as Cosme McMoon, Florence's pianist. But I wonder if the only people who will 'get this' film will be audiences over the age of 50, the ones beginning to notice that not everything we used to be able to do, is quite as easy as it used to be. How do you celebrate loss and transcend your limitations? By learning, painfully, slowly, to accept them. Florence and her friends show us the way of delightfully celebrating our imperfections together- and as her second husband says with feeling, 'Loyalty is all.'

Nobody's Perfect. So as they say in the film.... Let the Lady Sing!

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.