Friday, May 28, 2004

Magnificent Obsessions

In an unscheduled intermission from the regularly programmed meditations on films, writing, and writing on films, you’ll just have to tide yourselves over with this.

There’s a red triangle flashing neon in my mind, screaming “KEEP IN LOW GEAR”, but the beast is too hard to get a handle on, and is skidding out of control. I’ve got an inbox groaning under the weight of unanswered e-mails, film reviews pending, friends and family being neglected, the elusive next job still to be found, and a day job that I despise with a virulent intensity, especially as it keeps sapping my ability to do anything else meaningful. Thank fuck we have a 3-day weekend around the corner.

The only thing keeping me going in my snatched moments shuttling between obligations are books. There are a handful of books jostling for space amongst back issues of Empire and Time magazine in my ever-trusty bag, and they all aid in letting me hold onto the slender hair that is my lifeline between this existence and a full-on, Michael Douglas in Falling Down spaz-attack.

On the go at the moment, in no particular order:

Ed McBain’s Sadie When She Died. Slowly filling the gaps in my collection of 87th Precinct novels, and this one’s a corker. Words that crackle and pop across the page, sending you hurtling towards the end, when you just know that the trusty bulls of the 87 will prevail. Class.

Volume 7 of Tokyopop’s manga adaptation of one of my enduring fixations, Battle Royale. Eviscerations, big doe-eyes, high-tech weaponry, and the obligatory panty shots.

Ryan Gilbey’s It Don’t Worry Me. Admittedly, we don’t really need yet another book singing the praises of the 1970s American movie-brats (Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese et al), but this is a passionate and intensely personal look at a decade of great movies, and a nice counter-point to the scurrilous rumour-mongering of Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

Lee Server’s biography of the heavy-lidded hipster, Robert Mitchum, Baby, I Don’t Care. Wading through this one very slowly, but it’s worth it, covering his womanising, dope-smoking, ill-advised foray into music, and, of course, his movies.

Right, someone’s on the verge of cracking a whip again. I’m gone.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

All the Write Moves

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” – The Wizard of Oz

My first film-writing gig opened my eyes in a lot of different ways. For a start, talking to other people who did the same thing, I realised that I had seen more movies than most of my peers. Not boasting, just a fact. However, I do believe that to be good at this, it is very important to have a depth and breadth of knowledge when it comes to the history of cinema. I like to think that good film journalists aren’t just critics shouting, “This is good. See it” or “This is shit. Avoid!” like carnival barkers. I think the good ones are cultural commentators who can say something about the art, craft and entertainment of film and filmmaking, with the ability to discuss movies contextually. If you are lucky, you can cast a sliver of light on things that people don’t tend to see or think about, refracted through your own experience, observations and opinions. And if I can impart even the tiniest nugget of the enthusiasm and giddy child-like wonder I feel about the big screen that I love so much, then I’ve done my job right.

“That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies.” – Grand Canyon

Now, here are a couple of dirty little secrets that the hermetically sealed film journalism community probably don’t want you to know, things that I learnt quite soon after my journey into the rarefied world of press passes and Soho screening rooms. A lot of film journalists don’t have the depth of knowledge to do the job well. A depressing percentage of my generation of writers believe cinema began with Star Wars. Even more mind-blowing, the next generation filling the pages of glossy magazines act as if cinema began with Pulp Fiction. This limited knowledge is hampered by the fact that most of the films they have seen have been churned out of the Hollywood meat-grinder. Access to a wide variety of films isn’t difficult, especially with the advent of multi-channel television and the proliferation of DVD.

Most film writers also suck. The standard of writing on the whole is poor. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots and lots of very talented film journalists out there. Sadly, there is a hell of a lot more bad ones. Like most industries, this is very much an “it’s who you know” business, and doors only tend to open if you know the guy on the other side with the keys in his pocket. You don’t succeed in this game by being the best. It’s all about the contacts.

Some film journos are frustrated wannabe filmmakers, who only are only in this game to get access to the talent and PR companies, thinking that they can sneak in the back door of the film industry. They probably can’t. But, damn, they are obnoxious.

Next time: research versus knowledge, “Don’t give up the day job”, and actually sitting through the movies. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

One last thing. Whilst writing this I’ve been listening to Imagination. I make no apologies for this. They were phenomenal. Don’t be a hater.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Do the Write Thing

“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you're crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are.” – The Breakfast Club

The other day an old friend of mine asked me how many times I’d been to the cinema that week.
“Four. But that’s an aberration. Usually I try and go once a week. Why?”
“And how many films did you watch at home?”
“One. I usually watch one or two over a weekend. Why are you asking me these questions?”
“I just wanted to know what qualifies you to be a film journalist.”

As someone rarely short of words, that shut me up. In over four years of writing about movies, no one has ever asked me that question. I didn’t have an answer. But here’s what I tried to say to him then. (It’s worth noting that at the time, I’d already had two pints of cheap beer on an empty stomach, so I’m doing this without the benefit of muddy thinking and a thick tongue).

I have absolutely no professional writing qualifications. And, personally, that works for me. You might be able to teach people the craft or discipline of writing, you might be able to inspire them to want to write, but you either fill pages with words, or you don’t.

“Nobody teaches a writer anything. You tell them what you know. You tell them to find their voice and stick with it, because that's all you have in the end. You tell the ones who have it to keep at it and you tell the ones who don't to keep at it, too. Because that's the only way to get where you're going.” – Wonder Boys

Now, on to specifics. Why film journalism? (I refuse to use the designation “film critic” here. I don’t critique films, although I sometimes criticise them. I’m only interested in writing intelligently, educationally and, on my good days, entertainingly, about cinema.) The film journalism thing was a fluke. I was someone who wrote aimlessly. Scribbled stray thoughts in notebooks. Stole snatches of overheard conversations to use at a later date. Had great ideas for stories, which never went beyond the idea phase.

And then I had the opportunity to write something professionally about movies. So, given this chance to force myself to complete something, something with a deadline and a publication date, that people other than myself would read, I forced myself, with much anxiety and insecurity, to do it. Best thing I ever did.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself…my misadventures in the Screen Trade began long before that day. To be continued.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Trivial pursuits

I am the only person sitting in my part of the office, and I absolutely refuse to do any work whatsoever. Oh, I have work that I should be doing. But I figure, since I’ve run out of money this month, they don’t get any more work out of me. You don’t pay, you don’t get.

Perversely, my part of the office is ridiculously cold. The sun is blazing outside, and I can’t feel my fingers. When it’s snowing outside, the office is like a fucking sauna. The Managing Asswipe needs to figure out how the thermostat works.

I spent the morning purposefully surfing the Internet for things of interest. Now I’ve had my lunch, I’m spending the afternoon surfing aimlessly for things of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. Which has led me to messageboards. And the overwhelming need for complete strangers to share every shred of trivial personal minutiae with other complete strangers, as if these new web correspondents were actual, real-world “friends”. So, what the fuck? Here goes….

What time is it? 3.35pm
Name as it appears on birth certificate? AKA
Nicknames: My wallet is the one that says bad motherfucker
Parents name: Look, you shower of grammatically challenged tards, it should be Parents names. Plural. And there's a missing apostrophe, too.
Number of candles on last birthday cake: I don’t do birthday cakes
Date that you regularly blow them out: Well, it would be my birthday, wouldn’t it?
Pets: None
Height: 6 foot 3 inches
Eye: Eye what? Eye colour?? Well, be more specific! Let’s say somewhere between dark brown and pitch black
Haircolor: Leaving aside the Americanism here, Hair Colour is two separate words! It’s jet black, with a bit of silver at the temples. Like Nick Fury.
Piercings: None
Tattoos: None
How much do you love your job: I’m thinking of fire-bombing the building when I leave this evening
Birthplace: London
Hometown: London
Current resident: Yes, I am, thanks.
Had the drink Calypso Breeze? No! What the hell kind of question is that anyway?
Been in love before? Yes.
Been to Africa? What?? No!
Been toilet papering? Is this wallpapering with toilet paper? Of course I haven’t. Who the fuck does that?
Been drunk? Yes, of course I have.
Been toilet papered? No, of course I haven’t
Been in a car crash? No
Croutons or bacon bits? There’s an assumption here that I would have either. And I wouldn’t.
2 doors or 4 doors on your car? No doors. I don't drive.
Sprite or 7-up? Neither
Coffee or coffee ice cream? Coffee.
Blanket or stuffed animal: What am I, five-years old? Neither.
Dumper or dumpee??? Not my triple-question marks, by the way, so even the original question asker realises how stupid this question is. Bearing that in mind, this question doesn’t deserve an answer
Salad dressing? Definitely not. Unless the purpose of the salad dressing can be negotiated. What if I pour it all over the floor, you slide in it and smash your face up on the nearest wall?
Colour of socks? Black
Toilet paper on the roll-over or under? Whatever. As long as I can get it off the roll and wipe my ass, who cares?
Why? So I don’t get shit all over myself.
Place to be kissed? Anywhere. Everywhere. You offering?
Movie: Movie what? Favourite movie? Last movie I saw? I rented Dreamcatcher last night. And it sucked really, really hard. To quote the film itself: “I'm filing that in the "Who Gives A Shit" section of my Memory Warehouse.”
Quotes from a movie: Say, would you like a chocolate covered pretzel?
Favourite holiday: If I’m not working, then I’m having my favourite holiday. Or filling out stupid online questionnaires by messgeboard dweebs
Favourite foods: Thai or Indian
Favourite day of the week? Ah, the reintroduction of the question mark at the end of a (fragment of a) question. How refreshing. Saturday, I suppose.
Favourite song at the moment: “Gangsters of the Groove” by Heatwave. Keyboards, wacka-wacka guitars, chunky basslines, screeching falsettos and excruciating lyrics. Kismet
Favourite TV Show?: Of all time? At the moment? Be more specific! I can’t thing of an answer for this off the top of my head. (Sweet Fancy Moses, I’m struggling with simple-minded questionnaires now.)
Favourite word or phrase: Teabag. Or blumpkin.
Word or phrase that you most despise: I’m really starting to loath the word “favourite”
Toothpaste: That’s not even a question!
Flower: Is this like a word association game now? OK, I’ll play along.
Restaurant? Shoe
Least favourite subject: Toothpaste, flowers and restaurants. And online questionnaires.
Favourite subject: Bukkake
Alcoholic drink: Jack Daniels.
Sport to watch: I don’t do sports.
Type of ice cream: Bukkake
Zoo exhibit: This is really starting to melt my brain now.
Muppet show character: Zoot
Disney/Warner bro: I’m all about the Pixar
Fast food restaurant: Whatever
When was your last hospital visit?: You sick freak! Do you take some weird vicarious pleasure in someone else’s misfortunes? Hmmm? That’s the first endearing quality you’ve exhibited in over 50 questions…
Favourite drink: Didn’t we already do this one?
Colour of carpet in your bedroom?: Cream. Hides stains better
What was the name of your childhood blanket?: Piss off
How many times did you fail your Drivers License test?: Once. So far.
What do you think of Ouija boards?: What do Ouija boards think of me? That’s what I want to know.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?: Somewhere else.
Who is the last person you got email from before this? I haven’t had the chance to check my email. Too busy with this.
Have you ever been convicted of a crime?: Not yet
Which single store would you choose to max out your credit card?: I’ve got enough money problems without going down that road
What do you do most often when you are bored?: Almost 70 questions in, the answer to that question must be abundantly clear by now
What words or phrases do you over use?: Haven’t we already had THIS question as well?
Most annoying thing?: About me? About you? About this questionnaire? I’m not going to answer any more ambiguous questions.
Best thing?: I don’t even know what this means.
Bed time? Whenever I fall asleep.
Who will respond to this the fastest? Absolutely no-one.
Who is the least likely to respond to this? Absolutely everyone
What time is it now? 4.41pm. I just lost an hour of my life that I can never, ever get back.

And if you’ve read this far, you are now as sorry as I am.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4

Soho in the Summer
Tony Montana and an Ambar
A new film by Almodóvar

New comics on a Thursday
A strong black coffee from a café
And a BMT from Subway

Finger-sucking Leslie Grantham
Something he really should abstain from
Made him look like a right plum

Cheap beer with my homies
Green Park and a light breeze
Sometimes I’m not that hard to please

Reasons to be cheerful
Just
For
Me

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Don’t push me, ‘cos I’m close to the edge

As I sit here slicing off another sliver of my soul to scratch together my miserly salary, there are very, very few things that are keeping me from sticking sharpened pencils up my nose and slamming my head through the desk.

Feeling this bored, uninspired and apathetic, sometimes you really, really need to trip over a web page like this. Or this. It is absolutely imperative that I crack my brain on the jagged edges of the Internet as often as possible.

And I’d be climbing onto the roof with a sniper rifle if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve got my ears otherwise occupied, oblivious to the wittering inanities of the people I laughingly refer to as “colleagues”. My headphones are distracting my brain with the Darth Vader of the slide fader, New York’s Number One cut-creator, Grandmaster Flash. And once again, all is right with the world. At least until tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Low Standards

Every morning on the London Underground, I witness the same strange herd-mentality amongst commuting desk-jockeys. 90% of my fellows Londoners are engrossed in the filthy gutter-press rag Metro. I know it’s free, but a freebie is no excuse for allowing your brain to rot by reading hollow lifestyle puff pieces, whilst trying to avoid being blinded by bright orange Easyjet ads.

The other 10% of them are buried in crap fiction like “Miss DumBitch’s Hilarious Vignettes about Hangovers and Getting Cock” or whatever the shite chick-lit du jour being pimped by Waterstone’s this month is, but I digress.

At the other end of the day, the commute home seems to involve a similar percentage of people fouling themselves by reading the London Evening Standard. And what a hunk of crap that paper is. Maybe I’m just looking through the rose-tinted Ray-Bans of nostalgia, but I’m sure the Standard wasn’t always this odious.

I don’t ever buy the bloody thing, but I can’t help but glance at it over people’s shoulders every now and then. And when I do, I wish I had the eyes of Ray Charles to protect me.

Page after page of not-particularly-newsworthy minutiae, the obligatory coverage of the latest Leicester Square film premiere, the heart-blackening slice-of-life tales, Brian Sewell…just pointless cack. But I can live with all that. What I really object to is the excessive scaremongering by co-opting Bush’s nebulous concept of “terrorism”. The front page screeches variations on “TUBE TERROR SCARE” in bland fonts, with irritating regularity. We know the inherent risks of living and working in a city that is targeted by a bunch of extremists (like Tony Blair), but we don’t need to have mass hysteria whipped up every time someone leaves a bag on the Tube. It’s irresponsible to terrorise your own citizens like that. Nothing wrong with measured and well-considered caution and awareness, but Standard journalism doesn’t fit into this category.

Amongst the national newspapers we have a broad range of formats, content and viewpoints, and we all have the option to choose one from the selection. The tabloids might just be the tits-and-bingo papers, but they don’t pretend to be anything else. And if you do want something else, there is a choice.

Our city has only one single, solitary daily paper, and it’s evil, lowest-common-denominator shit. London is one of the greatest cities in the world, and we should have a great newspaper that reflects that. Are Londoners not under-stimulated and bullshitted enough in their working days that they need to pay for the privilege of being intellectually shat on on their way home?

Have some fucking taste, have some fucking dignity and self-respect and buy a good book the next time you have an hour to kill on the Tube. You owe it to your brain to give it a bit of exercise.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Royale with cheese

Just spent the bank holiday weekend in Paris. I didn’t realise how much I needed a break until I got there. Ernest Hemingway once said “Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind, and I like to write standing up.” I agree with the first part.

Here’s what I learned. Paris is a filthy shithole, and I say that with the grudging affection that I can only muster up now that I’m not there anymore. The Metro is by far the worst offender, even though I couldn’t stop thinking about Subway as I shuttled around the city. (The underground walkways kept on conjuring up images of Irreversible as well, but let’s not go there).

And what is with the pigeons? I hate pigeons! It’s like an epidemic there! I know it’s a cliché, but they are flying rats, and I fucking hate the low-flying evil vermin.

Wandering around with Mrs. AKA resulted in a continuously alternating litany of “something smells” and “I need a wee”. In her defence, she is five months pregnant. But even without her hypersensitive olfactory sense twitching, I could tell the place reeked.

In addition to the ever-present rotting garbage, the city smells like a dirty ashtray. I don’t think I saw anyone who didn’t smoke. Now, I don’t object to smoking. I have the odd cigarette myself (say, 20 a day). But the place was just a dusty melange of ash, soot and butts. At least, until the pigeons chowed down on them. Hope it gives the little fuckers cancer.

So, London may be dirty and pigeon-infested, but we’re a bunch of amateurs next to their heroic efforts to pollute their city. Nevertheless, I had a very good time and I enjoyed every damn minute of it. Don’t let my rant convince you otherwise.

And this message would be incomplete without mentioning cinema excursions. The advantage of a wife who can’t walk around for protracted periods of time, combined with the fact that everything in Paris is wildly expensive (five quid for a beer? Not much less for a coffee??), allowed me to suggest not once, but twice, that we take the strain of our feet with a couple of movies.

Monster is an entertaining-enough serial-killer thriller that wouldn’t be getting anywhere near as much attention if it weren’t for that fact that it includes an Oscar-winning performance by Charlize Theron (see also Monster’s Ball for films that receive undue attention because of awards). A bit like an eighties straight-to-video exploitation shocker, so I liked it.

And we also had the opportunity to watch a movie in the UGC George V, just nestling in the shadows of the Arc de Triomphe. Sadly, the film was another slice of serial-killer schlock, Taking Lives, a film that has had little more than a cursory release in London. I imagine the reason for the film’s wide release in France lies in the casting of French character actors Olivier Martinez, Jean-Hughes Anglade and Tchéky Karyo. It certainly isn’t for things like plot, story-telling or the acting of the three American leads: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland. This is the kind of film you stumble upon on late night television, with a beer in one hand and a pizza in the other, watching with mild interest, until the end credits roll and you wish you had gone to bed two hours ago.