Monday, April 30, 2007

Q&A

Every Saturday in The Guardian Weekend Magazine, there is a section called Q&A, where a series of questions are given to a variable and broad range of luminaries. I’ve ganked the questions for my own nefarious purposes, and here are my answers, whether you want them or not!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?


Laughing, smiling and playing with my wife and daughter and no-one else is around.

What is your greatest fear?


My greatest (and only) fear has nothing to do with me, but with my loved ones and is so awful to conceive that I don’t even want to articulate it here. I’m sure you can work it out.

With which historical figure do you most identify?


Bill Hicks. For many, many reasons, but mostly because of this: “I was told when I grew up I could be anything I wanted: a fireman, a policeman, a doctor - even President, it seemed. And for the first time in the history of mankind, something new, called an astronaut. But like so many kids brought up on a steady diet of Westerns, I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. And in my heart of hearts I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go, in my endless ride into the setting sun.”

What has been your most embarrassing moment?


I don’t really get embarrassed anymore but, when I was younger (I can’t remember when now, but I could have been any age between 8 and 12), I was in the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Notting Hill with my Dad and my brother. They had just had the front of the place re-done with immaculate, clean, clear glass. I misjudged where the door was and walked into an immovable glass wall with an awesomely loud CLANG.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My propensity for crippling self-doubt. (It used to be procrastination, but I’ve slowly managed to master that one).

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Cruelty. Rudeness. Greed. I haven’t even scratched the surface…

What objects do you always carry with you?

Books, notepad, pen, wallet, phone, keys.

Where would you like to live?

Closer to London than I currently do, in a house that can accommodate all three of us and our accumulated crap.

What is your greatest extravagance?


Comics!

What is your greatest regret?

I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…

What is your favourite smell?

Freshly-brewed coffee.

What is your favourite word?

Daddy.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife and daughter.

Do you believe in capital punishment?

No.

How did you vote in the last election?

I can’t bloody remember. I either voted for the Liberal Democrats in protest over the war, or Labour. Either way, it didn’t matter. The area where I live is a Conservative stronghold.

Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?

No.

For what cause would you die?

Although not something I would categorise as a “cause”, I would die for my wife and daughter. I’d much rather live for them, though.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Fuck, fucking, fucker, fucked and all its many and glorious variations, especially motherfucker.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

If someone could eliminate the need for me to do soul-destroying and ultimately futile jobs by giving me a never-ending stipend so that I can sit and write all day, interspersed with breaks for time with my family and other more elevating, fulfilling and entertaining pursuits, that would be good. Failing that, more sleep would be nice.

How do you relax?

You can stick me anywhere with a book and a drink, and I’ll be just fine.

What keeps you awake at night?

Many things: my daughter; the bastard dogs next door barking; drunk shitheads wandering past on the street shouting; too much coffee; a swift kick from my wife if I start snoring; a full bladder.

Do you believe in life after death?

If it occurs after death, it cannot rightly be called “life”. Having said that, I am open to the possibility that there is something.

How would you like to be remembered?

Loved by some, hated by others. Any strong emotion other than apathy sounds pretty good to me.

How would you like to die?

Holed up in an empty house, surrounded by hundreds of armed Bolivians, and out of ammo. I dash out in a futile attempt to reach my horse and I freeze in an inexplicable sepia-tone, just as there is a shout of “Fuego” and the hail of hundreds of rifle bullets…

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?


Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Double Dragon

Q: What’s better than watching one Bruce Lee movie?
A: Watching TWO Bruce Lee movies!



London’s National Film Theatre (and that is what I intend to continue calling it, no matter how much they shove rebranding down my neck with BFI Southbank splashed all over it. It will always be my lovely NFT) is just pulling into the final stretch of its Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film Part II season, so I ambled down there on Wednesday night to catch a double-bill of high-kicking, bone-snapping Bruce Lee chopsocky classics: Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury.

Both produced by Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest studio in 1972, the tragically short-lived ascendance of Bruce Lee marked the shift in martial arts cinema away from the period-set wuxia pian movies that were the bread-and-butter of Shaw Brothers in the ‘60s and ‘70s, trading in elaborate swordplay for more brutal hand-to-hand (and foot-to-face) combat.

Now, Enter the Dragon is one of my favourite movies of all time. I have seen it many, many times over the years, and I never tire of it. And it’s not just because of Bruce Lee. From Lalo Schifrin’s glorious score and Bolo Yeung having the living piss kicked out of him, to Jim “Black Belt Jones” Kelly cherry-picking a bunch of hookers for some light relaxation before dissing the Big Bad Boss as “Mr. Han Man”. Then there’s the great John Saxon, and the hall of mirrors, and…it’s just a brilliant film. Writing about it makes me want to watch it again right now. But I’m zipping off on an over-excitable tangent now. Back to the other night at the NFT...



The NFT had programmed the films so that Way of the Dragon played first, followed by Fist of Fury which, to my mind, was getting it all ass-backwards.

Fist of Fury
was the last film that Lee would make with director Lo Wei, troubled by the racist undertones that permeated the film (a story of a vicious rivalry between Japanese and Chinese martial arts schools), in addition to other disagreements. Nevertheless, the fight sequences are pretty spectacular as Lee carries out his sustained campaign of revenge, and Lee’s body is just a thing of beauty, a finely-honed instrument of his art. The look on his face as he feels the bones of his enemies cracking under his feet, it's almost as if he is the one in pain, as if every death he causes is a stain on his soul that he can never remove. Every yelp is a combination of anguish and release, every vanquished enemy is another step closer to hell. And, is it just me, or does the soundtrack sound like someone has plagiarised massive chunks of Quincy Jones’ Ironside score? No matter, it's still a great film.



But not as great as Way of the Dragon. That movie kicks things up a notch. Set in Rome (although shot predominantly on sound stages back in Hong Kong), and both written and directed by Lee, this is something else. Unlike the steady stream of fight scenes in Fist of Fury, Lee here aims for delayed gratification, opting for fish-out-of-water slapstick as Lee tries to adapt to another culture for the first half hour of the movie. It’s all a bit clumsy, and Jackie Chan would have greater success with that shtick years later, but when the fists do start flying, it is undoubtedly worth the wait, as everything inexorably draws us to the final face-off between Lee and Chuck Norris in the Colosseum, watched only by a confused kitten that mewls at them at judicious cutaways so we can catch our breath before the body parts start flailing again. Selected refrains of Ennio Morricone’s score from Once Upon A Time In The West only bolster the sensation that we are watching something that is both mythical and epic. Beautifully shot, Bruce Lee understands that in cinema, action is character. And he makes sure that, at least for the audience, revenge is sweet.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Banging One Out

Tired and busy today. But fret not! It’s not every day you can read a story with the headline “Captain America Arrested with Burrito in Pants”.

Here is the late Captain America in better days, busting someone hard in the face:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Obsessive Compulsions: Wichita Lineman

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload


Even a steely-hearted bastard like me can melt when confronted with the right piece of music. There are only two songs that can reduce me to a shattered puddle of messy emotion. The first is Otis Redding’s I've Been Loving You Too Long. And the other is the song made famous by Glen Campbell.

Wichita Lineman gets me every goddamn time.

It may be a cliché to talk about “the hairs on my neck standing up”, but it happens to me every time I hear it, as soon as that second chorus cuts in right on through to the very last note.

I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman,
Is still on the line


A masterpiece of evocative minimalism, with only a handful of beautiful, yearning lyrics, alchemically commingling with those swooping strings and that glorious guitar solo, it’s just an exhausting song. And there isn’t a finer couplet in music than: “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” That just kills me, and every time I look at my wife or my daughter, I know exactly what those words mean.

I feel physically shattered every time I hear it, and then I have to listen to it again immediately. But it’s not masochism. It’s a desire to revel in the unguarded vulnerability and wrenching honesty of it.

I know I need a small vacation
But it don't look like rain.
And if it snows that stretch down south,
Won’t ever stand the strain.


The song subtly shifts from the POV of the Lineman himself to third-person narration and back again, before being subsumed by the loping caress of the guitar that salves his heartache, at least for a short while anyway.

The song has been covered many, many times, and the Wikipedia page for it has a not-remotely-exhaustive list of all extant versions. I’ve got a handful of them myself, from a stripped-down Johnny Cash rendition to a truly wonderful version by the Swamp Fox Tony Joe White. Then there are the jaunty riffs by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, and the Dee Felice Trio (a latin jazz vocal-trio that was a side-project for James Brown back in the ’60s when he liked to wear his producing hat) which, whilst they have an air of alluring lounge exotica about them, don’t really slice straight into your heart the way that they should. No, the real gut-puncher is the original recording by the Rhinestone Cowboy, Mr. Glen Campbell.

For the fascinating history of this amazing love letter to an unseen and eternally unrequited love, click here. And here’s a great version with Glen Campbell playing with Stone Temple Pilots. If listening to it don’t kill you, it’ll just make you stronger:



And I need you more than want you.
And I want you for all time.
And the Wichita Lineman,
Is still on the line

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thwip!

Insanely short of time today, but I want to keep to my one-post-a-day-for-a-month rule for as long as I can. Therefore, you get this, true believers!

Your results:
You are Spider-Man
























Spider-Man
80%
Superman
55%
Green Lantern
55%
Iron Man
50%
Robin
47%
Wonder Woman
45%
Hulk
45%
Supergirl
40%
Catwoman
40%
The Flash
35%
Batman
35%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hide Yo’ Mommas! Big Brotha is Comin’!

Picture the scene: I’m walking down a darkened street late one night. A man jumps from the shadows wielding a large samurai sword. In one deft movement, almost faster than I can see, the blade whips through the air before resting gently across my neck. The man gives me a choice. Describe the perfect movie using no more than two words, or I’ll lose my head. Would I start sweating in fear? Would I uncontrollably soil myself? No, I would not. Because I know the answer. Don’t even have to think about it. The words hover in the air just ripe for the picking. Describe the perfect movie with two words? Shit, I can do that right now.

Truck Turner



I wish I could just reach through my monitor right now and place a copy of the DVD in the hands of each and every one of you. But I can’t. So this will have to do.

But first, a little piece of potentially apocryphal movie trivia: Apparently, when Isaac Hayes was approached by Gordon Parks to score Shaft, Hayes tried to use the opportunity to convince Parks that he should also be cast in the title role. Well, we all know that didn’t happen. But a few years down the line, Hayes got the chance to be the leading man in his own blaxploitation movie.



So why is Truck Turner (or, as I like to call it, “Isaac Hayes IS Truck Turner!”) so awe-inspiringly bad-ass? There are so, so many reasons. Here are just a few:

Isaac Hayes. He might not be the best actor in the world, but the man has presence. He just looks phenomenal, whether he is striding purposefully across a roof wearing nothing but a pair of jeans and a shoulder holster, or coated in sweat as he throws down in a barroom brawl.



Yaphet Kotto chewing the scenery as only he can in his barely-intelligible but utterly compelling growl.

Nichelle Nichols, obliterating every single lingering memory of the ladylike Lt. Uhura with her bold, brassy and foul-mouthed turn as the ruthless and icy madam Dorinda.

It’s subversive. The idea of the Blaxploitation Male Icon hinged on the slick, handsome, indestructible, immaculately-dressed and irresistible-to-women template, as personified by Richard Roundtree in Shaft, Ron O’Neal in Superfly and Fred Williamson in Black Caesar. Truck Turner spins that idea around and presents us with a man who, when we first meet him, is forced to dress for the day in a shirt that his cat has just pissed all over. He is fiercely devoted to his shop-lifting girlfriend, and lives a slovenly life littered with beer cans and junk food. Mack "Truck" Turner is a total slob, and he is still one cool motherfucker, proving that clothes don’t always make the man.

An almost continuous stream of car chases and shootouts, executed with a level of wit and invention that excuse the budgetary constraints, in particular the hospital gunfight and the Pursuit of the Pimpmobile!

The music. Of course! It’s Isaac Hayes doing what he does best. As far as I’m concerned, the music of Truck Turner is just as good as the music from Shaft and, from me, that ain’t no faint praise.

It’s funny. Genuine laugh-out-loud moments, which were a scarcity in most of the more serious and stern revenge-motivated action-oriented blaxploitation movies of the era. Special mention here goes to the sight of cocaine being sprinkled into the coffin at the Pimp Funeral as a sign of respect.

I don’t know what else I can say. I fucking love it. All I can do now is present you with the original trailer which blasts more action, laughs and funk into its brief running time than most full-length action movies. Those guys at AIP sure knew how to market a movie. And if you don’t love what you see in this trailer, then YOU HAVE NO SOUL!

Out For The Count

An apology is in order.

Clearly, I am an innumerate idiot, as Sucker Punch is now THREE years old, and not four as stated in the previous blog entry.

I am a bad man who must be punished for his transgressions against time, simple addition and plain ol' fashioned fact checking.

On the other hand, it was late on a Friday afternoon and I was tired, so cut me some slack.

Normal blogging will now recommence.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Three Strikes and I’m Out

Man, why the fuck did I say I was going to blog every day for a month?

Well, I’m not going to back down from the challenge, even if it is self-imposed. I’m afraid I’m not particularly entertaining at the moment, so let’s just plough through this shit one more time. Ready?

Job Watch Update – The recruitment consultant actually kept his promise and called me at 6pm last night. He wasn’t the bearer of good news. The feedback went something like this: I was a very, very strong candidate. Perfect for the job. They liked me very much. BUT…There was someone else who beat me by a tiny, tiny margin, and they have decided to go with him. So I didn’t get it. (This only reinforces my long-standing conviction that everything before the word “but” is always a lie).

It sounded like the reason it took them so long to get back to me was that they were agonising over a decision, and I lost it on a coin-toss. Fuck.

I have very mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, I’m gagging to get out of my current job, and I find myself back on the endless treadmill of hunting for the next one. At the same time, these people were probably going to be a complete fucking nightmare to work for and, in the long run, this will look like a blessing in disguise. Right now, though, I’m just feeling disappointed and slightly beaten down by the whole thing.

I’ve just read through 643 job ads. Whittling them down little by little, I applied for 5 of them. And the cycle begins anew…

As we pull into the final stretch of the working week, I’ve just noticed something. On Sunday, Sucker Punch reaches the dubious milestone of its Fourth Birthday. 4 years! I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing...

From here, I have discovered the following:

"Energetic" and "imaginative" best describe the 4-year-old. Often impatient and silly, they discover humour and spend a great deal of time being silly and telling you "jokes." A 4-year-old's language may range from silly words such as "batty-watty" to profanity. Loud, boisterous laughter may accompany such language.

Imagination suddenly becomes greater than life for the 4-year-old, who often confuses reality and "make-believe." Wild stories and exaggerations are common.

Four-year-olds feel good about the things they can do, show self-confidence, and are willing to try new adventures. They race up and down stairs or around corners, dash on tricycles or scooters, and pull wagons at full tilt. You still need to watch them closely as they cannot estimate their own abilities accurately and are capable of trying some outlandish and dangerous tricks.


Yeah, that sounds about right. Join me for another year of batty-watty adventures as I continue to hurl myself down flights of stairs, won’t you? Onwards!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Just Bees and Things and Flowers

It’s a gorgeous day outside. Kind of crappy inside, though…

My observation for the day – There is absolutely no scientific evidence for what I am about to postulate, but it remains a FACT! I can prove it with a length of string, a magic eight-ball and a soiled paper cup. Ready?

Blond women like bald men, but dark-haired women like men with hair. I SPEAK TRUTH! If you don’t believe me, walk around and take a random sampling of couples that you see. I know, I know. I am wise beyond my years.

Job Watch Update – My resolve weakened and I decided to chase up the recruitment consultant about the job. He wasn’t responding to my phone calls. I think he has had enough of me and has started to screen my calls. Tough shit, I’m a tenacious sumbitch when I need to be. So I sent him a strongly-worded e-mail voicing my displeasure and demanding a rejection or an offer, post-haste! He actually got back to me after that. Never underestimate the power of a well-aimed sliver of simmering rage. I got apologies and lies and yet another promise that I would have an answer by the end of the day. I’m not holding my breath…

Today, I leave you with this piece of YouTube exotica. Someone has taken idyllic sun-blessed footage of rippling water and shimmering sunsets and has soundtracked it with the hypnotic goodtimegrooves of Roy Ayers’s Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Well, if you're trapped in employment hell like me, this is the closest we're going to get to the good weather for the rest of the afternoon. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Snow Job

"Waaaake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!
Up ya wake! Up ya wake! Up ya wake!
Here I am. Am I here? Y'know it. It ya know.
This is Mister Señor AKA, doing the nasty to ya eyes, ya eyes to the nasty.
And that’s the truth, Ruth!"

(With profound apologies to Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson)

I have decided that I am going to write at least one entry here every day for at least a month. Maybe longer. But not on weekends. No. I have to drop offline occasionally or the relentless chatter of The Interwebs will destroy my embattled mind.

Be forewarned: It is entirely possible that this will result in little more than inane babble about absolutely nothing of import whatsoever. Or I may irrevocably blind us all with words freighted with coruscating wit and blistering wisdom. It’s a crap shoot. Let’s see what happens together…

Today, gentle reader, a cautionary tale on why it is nigh on impossible for anyone anywhere to get a job. I present you with a Timeline Of Frustration:

September 2006 – I go to a job interview. There are no meeting rooms available, so my interview is conducted in the main body of an open-plan office, where I have to ignore the low-level buzz of phones ringing, background voices, keyboard hammering, mouse-clicking, etc. First, I have to spend half an hour doing a fucking psychometric test, followed by an interview with the I.T. Manager.

Feedback for the interview is positive. I await the next step. It never comes. The job gets put on indefinite hold and floats away to live in the Land of Jobs That Don’t Really Exist. I forget about it and get on with my life.

January 2007 – I continue to trawl through job ads, firing off CVs, tolerating the self-serving bullshit of recruitment consultants, and all the other attendant ephemera that cling like crusty barnacles to any protracted job search. I get a call from an agency. We start to talk about a vacancy that has just come up. As we talk, it becomes apparent to me that this is the job from last September. I tell the recruitment consultant about the positive feedback from the interview, and he goes back to the company who confirm that, yes, they remember me and would like to see me again. They’ll get back to me very soon to arrange an interview. They don’t.

April 2007
– The agent calls. They really do want to see me now. We arrange a time. I go for a second interview. This time, it’s just the Head of Human Resources. Also, a meeting room is available. But the heating is on the blink, and we both have to shout to be heard over the construction work that seems to be going on in the building. Fine powdery dust from all the drilling falls on our heads for the duration of the interview. Other than that, it seems to go well. At the end, I am informed that I will still need to meet the I.T. Manager again at a later date to refresh his memory. OK. More waiting.

Last week – Late on Tuesday evening, on my way home from work, the agent calls:
“I know it is very short notice, but can you go in to see them first thing tomorrow morning?”
“Not really. Can we make it a later time? I have to clear the decks at work so I can attend.”
“Can’t you invent a doctor’s appointment or something? This really is the last hurdle now. They promise to have a definitive answer within the next 24 to 48 hours if you see them soon.”
“OK, set it up and I’ll see what I can do.”
Massive inconvenience, but I’m not in a position to turn down opportunities. I talk to my boss and tell him that I will be late to work the next day. I go home and rush around in preparation: iron shirt, polish shoes, shave.

The next day, I go for my third interview. No meeting rooms available again. We use the CEO’s office. I don’t receive an apology for the short-notice of the interview. For the duration of the interview, the I.T. Manager is peeling and / or chewing an orange. It’s distracting. Once again, he reiterates the promise that I will definitely get a straight answer in the next 24 to 48 hours.

On that Wednesday, I hear nothing. On Thursday, I’m told that I will get a definite answer by the end of the day. I get the same promise on Friday. And Monday. I stopped chasing it up after that. I’m still waiting.

And I’m still stuck in my current hellish job. I’m writing this blog post because I’m trying to avoid reading the 6000 spam e-mails that I’ve just been asked to read through. I’m reminded of this line from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Here is Marvin the Paranoid Android:

''Come on,'' he droned, ''I've been ordered to take you down to the bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cos I don't.''

This is just one snapshot of my experiences in trying to find a new job. Of course, it’s not a unique experience. Shit, it’s not even a unique experience for me.

Anyway, the spam beckons. More later.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Obsessive Compulsions: Orson Welles and the Frozen Peas

The first in an occasional series of small valentines to the jagged shards of popular culture I keep stabbing into my insatiable brainmeat over and over again. As I incessantly relive these small and perfectly-formed moments of wonderment, the enthusiasm overflow is going to spill out right here.

Many years ago, whilst recording the narration for a Findus commercial in the UK, the great Orson Welles, in all his eloquent, curmudgeonly, Dionysian glory, starts sniping and arguing with the producer and the director. It’s all on tape. And it is phenomenal.

I cannot stop listening to this recording. I just can’t. For nearly two months now, whenever I need an irrational laugh, I listen to it. And it gets funnier every time. Partly because of Orson’s rumbling, irritable baritone. Partly because of his glorious turns-of-phrase. Partly because of the ineptitude of the crew working on the commercial, and their inability to placate the talent. Partly because of the surreal experience of hearing a great man arguing about something so patently trivial. It’s all here and more.

I’m not sure that I can articulate exactly why I love this so damn much. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to. It’s enough to know that I do. And who needs my shapeless musings, when you can get at the good stuff yourself with a couple of canny keystrokes? For your edification (and for my own personal reference), here is a slew of stuff relating to that recording session and it’s crumb, crisp coating. Links ahoy!

To hear this piece of unintentional comedy gold, click here.

For greater detail on that recording session, as well as a transcript, click here.

For more Orson Welles insanity, here he is absolutely shit-faced trying to get through a Paul Masson wine commercial:




Some more Frozen Peas love! The classic episode of Pinky and the Brain entitled Yes, Always that spoofs the infamous recording session:




And one last thing – an interview with Maurice LaMarche who used Welles as the basis for The Brain’s voice, and some nice anecdotes about his own love affair with that tape.

Got all that? Good. Now, altogether now: “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there...”