Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Full Clip #2

Time for another romp through my recent reads. That’s more than enough alliteration for now - On with the Linky Goodness!
I've recently finished reading Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom. (For the record: Whilst I’m not entirely sold on a few of the specifics Cohen cites in the book to support his arguments, I do fundamentally agree with absolutely all of his broader points). The book is dedicated to the late Christopher Hitchens. So I was particularly interested to trip over this piece at The Spectator by Cohen on the way Hitchens, his legacy and his reputation are being trashed by his former publisher Verso.

Here’s a small fragment of the article, but click through and read the whole thing. “The publishing house has done something I have not seen since the passing of communism: denounced its dead author for his ideological deviations. It recruited one Richard Seymour, a Marxist Leninist hack, to produce Unhitched. (Geddit?) Among his many, many other sins, Seymour accuses his Verso colleague of being a ‘terrible liar’, ‘career-minded’, a ‘power fetishist’, ‘a cliché’ an ‘ouvrierist’ and, worst of all, an apostate who abandoned ‘the left’ to support the West’s wars against al-Qa’eda and Saddam Hussein.” 

The great cinematographer Christopher Doyle gives a blistering must-read two-part interview to BLOUIN ARTINFO. The first part can be found here, but where he really cuts loose is in the second part here, tearing into the current parlous state of cinematography and the Academy Awards, with particular venom set aside for Life of Pi and Lincoln. Sit back and luxuriate in the glorious invective.

“She's brown sugar and spice, but if you don't treat her nice she'll put you on ice!”. “A chick with drive who don't take no jive!” She’s Pam Grier! I love Pam Grier. I really, really love Pam Grier. Especially Foxy Brown and Coffy. And Scream Blacula Scream. And, of course, Jackie Brown. Hell, I love Original Gangstas too.

Thanks to the recent career retrospective at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center (Foxy: The Complete Pam Grier), there’s a terrific career overview by Wesley Morris over at Grantland, and a report back from the event by Will McKinley at his blog Cinematically Insane. Go forth and dig deep into the life and work of “The Baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever hit town!”

The most devastatingly powerful piece of writing to come out recently as we pass the ten year anniversary of the Iraq War is this open letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney by the dying war veteran Tomas Young: “You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.”

Finally, The Telegraph publishes a wonderful obituary for gentleman thief and renowned cat burglar Peter Scott: “The people I burgled got rich by greed and skulduggery. They indulged in the mechanics of ostentation — they deserved me and I deserved them. If I rob Ivana Trump, it is just a meeting of two different kinds of degeneracy on a dark rooftop.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Happiness Patrol

“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.” -- Oscar Wilde
I've been thinking a lot about happiness recently (as anyone who read my brief paean to Twin Peaks a couple of weeks ago will know). But not Happiness in the sense of a Utopian impossible-to-attain Permanent State. More along the lines of little chunks of happiness dropped into the whiskey tumbler of my day kind of a way. (Although, ideally, I like to take my happiness neat).

Here are a few of the things which have given little upticks to my Joy levels lately:


I spend the vast majority of my day plugged in, largely to drown out the inane burblings of anyone in my immediate orbit. (Sometimes, I remain plugged in even when nothing is filtering directly into my earholes, so that I can exude just the right amount of “Fuck off and leave me alone” vibes. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone).

I’m a voracious, eclectic listener, but it’s a very specific kind of music that always raises an unbidden smile. I don’t mean in terms of genre - I mean stylistically. Artists or (usually) bands with a sense of performance and theatricality and absurdity and fun. And, of course, some serious chops. To wit:

Earth, Wind & Fire
Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Morris Day and The Time
And then there is the ne plus ultra of third-eye-popping visual-sonic confections - George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the many members of their Parliafunkidelicment Thang. I mean, damn, just Garry Shider, the Starchild himself, on stage in a nappy was a glorious thing to behold.
Scott Pilgrim vs The Prodigy

I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I already loved Bryan Lee O’Malley’s books before I saw the movie, and I was excited when the first trailer appeared. Prominent in the trailer is the Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die, which made it Even Better Than I Could Have Possibly Hoped For. But here’s the thing - that track didn't end up in the movie. Fortunately for all of us, an obliging fan has cut together a video for the song consisting exclusively of footage from the movie. Prepare to feel the wrath of the League of the Evil Exes! Here is the epic Scott Pilgrim vs The Prodigy:
The Mr. Men

I never really stopped reading Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Men books. I tend to rediscover them anew every couple of years, losing myself in their deceptive simplicity. (It still saddens me that I don’t live in a world where worms stick their heads out of the ground to say Hello.) A lot of the early Mr. Men animations seem to have popped up on YouTube in the last few years, giving me the opportunity to revel in the expressive, reassuringly avuncular narration of Arthur Lowe whilst humming the infectiously catchy theme tune by Joe Campbell and Tony Hymas.

Of course, all of these things are largely passive pursuits. I just sit back and let the entertainment splash against my pleasure centres. There is a raft of other things I actively do get serotonin sloshing through me, but this is starting to run long enough as it is. I’ll save all of that for some other time.

My Density Has Brought Me To You

The only time in my life that I went to the cinema with my entire family (my father, my mother, my younger brother and me) was to see Back to the Future. I was thirteen-years-old.

When the film finished, I was so exhilarated by the experience and fizzing with excitement that I ran from the cinema to the carpark in ecstatic joy. Anybody who knows me now (or knew me then) would know how staggeringly uncharacteristic of me that is. I don’t really do running. Why run when walking still gets you to the same place, unruffled and sweat-free?

My father died the following year, so it was a once in a lifetime family outing. Jump into the DeLorean of my memories and arrive twenty-five years later. It is 2010, and Back to the Future has been re-released theatrically. My daughter was six-years old. She’d already seen all three Back to the Future films many, many times over at home. But never on a big screen. So we went.

Towards the end of the film, my daughter started awkwardly rocking back and forth. The apple juice she’d been guzzling for the last couple of hours had finally finished making its way through her. I leaned over and whispered:

“Do you need to go to the toilet?”
“Well, come on then, I’ll take you.”
“No! Not yet!”

And so she sat there in a state of obvious discomfort, and rocked. But she wasn't going to let a full bladder stop her from hearing eight words that she really needed to hear. Not wanted. Needed.

“Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.”

And with that, she suddenly stood up and said that, Yes, we could go now.

That’s my girl.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that Back to the Future has always loomed large in my family history. From my father to the granddaughter he never got to meet. So, leaving aside how much I love it as a work of cinema, it also holds great nostalgic, personal, almost talismanic sway over me.

Maybe all of that goes some small way towards explaining why I've been so utterly charmed by Sydney Freeland’s short film Hoverboard. Partly because it’s about a little girl so deeply in love with Back to the Future Part II (which also happens to be my daughter’s favourite film in the trilogy). And partly because it is about conjuring up the things we love through invention, imagination and sheer passion. But don’t let me project my emotional attachments on to it too much - watch it yourself. Here you go:

Hoverboard from Nashville Review on Vimeo.

Like Marty and Doc’s adventures in the many ages of Hill Valley, memories aren't linear, so let’s go back in time just once more. In 1989, four years after The One and Only Family Cinema Outing, I went to see Back to the Future Part II. It wasn't the same cinema, but it was half-way up the same road. It was a small screen and there was hardly anybody in there. I went with a school friend, and we sat sprawled out watching the film, munching on popcorn and passing a small bottle of vodka back and forth between us. As much as I enjoyed the film, it was a weekday afternoon that held none of the magic or allure of that evening four years earlier. I was a different person at a different time in my life. A seventeen-year-old idiot swigging neat vodka in a cinema. I preferred the thirteen-year-old Me. The one running to the car after going to the movies with his dad.

To this day, I've still never seen Back to the Future Part III on a large screen. This could fill me with regret but, if these films have ever taught me anything, it is that history (my story) can and does always change.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Full Clip #1

Trying something new, with the first in an occasional series listing some of the things I've tripped over on my online travels in recent weeks.

Nate Thayer’s A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist - 2013 popped at the beginning of last week, raising that perennial bugbear about writers getting paid for their work. Thayer made a reasonable point, although I felt that the force of his point was somewhat diluted by the fact that he sounded like a bit of a douchebag when he attacked rookie editor Olga Khazan of The Atlantic, just for asking a simple question.

Senior Editor at The Atlantic Alexis Madrigal fired back with A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013. Madrigal made some valid and interesting points about the realities of publishing economics. But, again, I think he missed his target and it doesn't really address the issue of fair remuneration for jobbing writers. Nevertheless, both sides of the argument had merit and raised various points worth debating. (I’d recommend scrolling down to the comments to read Clay Shirky’s contribution to the discussion).

But, hold on a minute! What’s this? The story took an unexpected swerve when Jeremy Duns joined the fray. A desire for payment in return for written work is all well and long as you actually wrote the damn thing and didn't just brazenly plagiarise someone else’s work. In a pair of blog posts unambiguously titled Nate Thayer is a plagiarist and How Nate Thayer plagiarizes, Duns presented compelling and persuasive evidence to suggest that the original article by Thayer that The Atlantic wanted to run in a somewhat truncated form was, in fact, a work of plagiarism. Oh snap!

(The carousel hasn't stopped spinning just yet, bear with me.) It took Cord Jefferson at Gawker to pull all this distracting drama back to the central argument that kicked this all off in the first place, in the piece When People Write for Free, Who Pays? Lots of words had been written bouncing off this crucial point at slightly-off angles, but Jefferson nails it, boiling it all down to this: "What kind of writing community do we cultivate by not paying writers?"

If in doubt, always refer to this: Should I Work For Free? 

On a related note, Tanner Colby analyses the journalistic ethics and biases of Bob Woodward with specific reference to his book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi in a superb piece for Slate. All the President’s Men (co-written with Carl Bernstein) is now seen as a landmark in investigative journalism, but “Wired was so wrong, Belushi’s manager said, it made you think Nixon might be innocent.” Colby states “a lot of what Woodward writes comes off as being not quite right—some of it to the point where it can feel quite wrong.”

Some more quick hits of online goodness:

Coffitivity - the ambient sounds of a coffee shop because “the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee house is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.”

A fantastically entertaining and thorough piece by Margaret Heidenry at Vanity Fair about the rise and fall and possible resurgence of the Spec Script in Hollywood, showing how the power of the writer has ebbed and flowed over the years from “schmucks with Underwoods” to Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black’s million dollar paydays, and the impact of emerging technologies on negotiations and money games.

Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is almost upon us, and The Independent has an interview with one of its stars, Stacy Martin. Worth reading for the Stellan Skarsgård quote alone, stating that Nymphomaniac will be "sexually explicit but, believe me, it will be a very bad wanking movie".

Lastly: How Brian Sanders, a 75-year-old illustrator living outside of Cambridge came to design the gorgeous poster for season six of Mad Men.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Black as Midnight on a Moonless Night

"Diane, 11:30 am, February twenty-fourth. Entering the town of Twin Peaks."

I watched Twin Peaks when it first aired on BBC2 in 1990. One episode a week. One episode at a time. Right up until the end. And, like so many others, I was in its thrall from the very beginning. And yet...

I have resisted revisiting Twin Peaks since that very first time. Sure, sometimes I weaken and I’ll dip into an episode or catch a clip on YouTube, but I try not to. As much as I love it (and I love it a lot), I sort of don’t want to watch it ever again. For some reason I can’t really articulate, I feel like repeated exposure to that magnificent place will somehow dilute its potency and mystery.

I've been thinking about Twin Peaks a lot in the last couple of weeks. Recently, I've been feeling particularly tired (even by my standards) and burnt-out and I’m struggling to shake it. But, whenever it hits me, I recall one of the many highpoints that I still remember vividly from my all-too-brief stay in that unusual lumber town in the Pacific Northwest, and it always gives me a little lift. It goes like this:

"Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee. Like this."

One last morsel from that zen detective. Smart fella, that Dale Cooper:

"All things considered, being shot is not as bad as I always thought it might be. As long as you can keep the fear from your mind. But I guess you can say that about almost anything in life. Its not so bad as long as you can keep the fear from your mind."