Thursday, January 11, 2018

About posthumanism

I’m reading Katherine Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman (which Blogger turns into “Postman”, which is nice, and sexist), and came across this on Twitter and I know it’s *meant* to be funny but I’m not really laughing, sorry.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

About that reshuffle

Our new Culture Secretary.

About Chile

Greil Marcus, discussing the UK post-punk scene, circa 1980:
Among the many mysteries of British culture I know I will never solve is the meaning of “Chile Solidarity Disco.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

About All the Money in the World

When I was younger, I had several of those books about the behind-the-scenes scandals and secrets of the movie industry, sort of PG-rated Hollywood Babylon. One chapter I remember was about the casting ideas that didn’t come off, accompanied by slightly wonky collages that showed what The Wizard of Oz would have been like with Shirley Temple and WC Fields, or Doris Day as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Of course, it’s impossible to watch All the Money in the World – as I tried to do last night – without thinking of the unfortunate circumstances that preceded its release. The difference is, that this isn’t a “what if?” A version of the movie with Kevin Spacey actually exists and we don’t need to glue a cut-out of his head onto Christopher Plummer’s body to make it so; in fact, the collage effectively happened the other way round, with Plummer interpolated to a film that was already essentially finished. One effect of the last-minute change is that you’re constantly focusing on the artificiality of the filming process, knowing that all the scenes with Plummer were thrown together a few weeks ago, long after the other stuff had been shot. When actors talk about “the old man” they didn’t have an image of Plummer as J Paul Getty in their heads; as you see a reaction shot to Plummer, he or she was probably reacting to Spacey (who’s several inches shorter than his replacement, which must have added to the fun).

It’s a pity, because although Plummer is very good, his is strictly a supporting role. The real centre of the film is Michelle Williams as Getty’s daughter-in-law Gail, exactly the sort of role we need for women in a post-Weinstein universe, discovering her own hidden strengths without needing to flash her cleavage; but she’s all but buried as we try to work out how the venerable Plummer was shoehorned into the action.

Both Williams and Plummer are tipped for Oscars. There’s a healthy tradition of people winning statuettes for reasons extrinsic to the performances in question, which often aren’t their best; Judi Dench for not having won it for Mrs Brown the year before; Henry Fonda for not having won one at all, and being nearly dead; John Wayne for being John Wayne. But Plummer could be the first person to acquire an award for who he isn’t.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

About Mastermind (again)

In case you a) missed it and b) care. (That’s not me, by the way.)


Sunday, December 31, 2017

About 2017

Possibly because I wanted to blot out the increasing ghastliness of the real world, this was the year I rediscovered the joy of blogging, which in 2017 feels a bit like expressing a fondness for CB radio or meerschaum pipes. There’s a different vibe about it now; the happy little virtual posse that collected here a decade or so ago, some of whom have become real-life friends, is no more. Occasionally this feels like a private diary for my own amusement rather than The Conversation that Patroclus of blessed memory posited. Nevertheless, in the past two months I’ve posted more than I did in 2015 and 2016 combined, which must mean something or other.

Anyway, this is the last post of the year, so I guess that means the inevitable cultural best-of. My favourite book was Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language, a postmodern caper about postmodernism and its adherents, many of whom are tormented with gleeful savagery in the course of a bizarre plot that begins with the death of Roland Barthes and then turns into something like The Da Vinci Code for people who’ve read far more books than is good for them. Binet endured a late challenge from Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, a collection of deadpan potted biographies of Australian writers, all of whom are, the reader quickly deduces, are entirely invented; I was especially taken by the arch-plagiarist Frederick Stafford, author of Odysseus, Mrs Galloway and The Prodigious Gatsby. Fiction about people who exist; or non-fiction about people who don’t? Meh, I don’t have to choose because the O’Neill was either published last year (in Australia) or won’t be until next year (in the UK), so they can co-exist, defiantly elitist (if one believes that it’s elitist to appeal to readers with a pretty good grasp of the 20th-century literary canon) but with a delicious sense of silliness as well.

Elsewhere, the musical event of my year should have been Brian Wilson in concert in Hammersmith, although his evident discomfort and the decline in his vocal abilities made it feel more like a final gathering of the faithful to honour an elderly Pope than a gig per se. So let’s set that aside and give the gong to the Magnetic Fields for 50 Song Memoir; as the titles suggests, a year-by-year autobiography of the band’s leader, Stephin Merritt, spread across five discs. It doesn’t quite hit the astonishing heights of their 69 Love Songs, but, hey, what does? I did also enjoy the antics of Leo Pellegrino at the Mingus Prom, but I only saw it on telly so it probably doesn’t count.

In other categories, my favourite evening at the theatre was Patrick Marber’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (more cerebral daftness for people who aren’t ashamed of knowing stuff) and in a gallery it was James Ensor at the Royal Academy. The TV adaptation of Decline and Fall was huge fun, especially the performance of Douglas Hodge as the reprehensible Grimes. (Moreover, it was on old-fashioned sit-up-and-beg on-at-a-certain-time telly, rather than Netflix or Amazon, so there.) And in the cinema? A dead heat between mother! and Paddington 2. There’s a double bill to be cherished.

But just as my finger hovers over the Publish button, I realise that everything I’ve selected was essentially the work of white men. Which isn’t a good look, is it? OK, here’s your job for today: if you can be bothered to find your way into Blogger’s arcane comment set-up, recommend something from 2017 that wasn’t made by someone who looks like me.

See you on the other side...

Friday, December 29, 2017

About editing

I’ve seen the editing process from both sides and I’ve been brutal and I’ve been brutalised. (It toughens you up for the reviews, they say.) But the annotated manuscript of the aborted book by tiresome alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos takes things to new levels. My favourite, albeit not the harshest: “The use of phrases like ‘two-faced backstabbing bitches’ diminishes your overall point.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

About that four-storey phallus

The street artist Carolina Falkholt doubtless expected to provoke a reaction when she painted a large phallus on the outside of a building on New York’s Lower East Side, and she got it, much of it expressed as sincere worries for the tender sensibilities of children. (Just read some Freud, people.) But I was rather fond of the response of local resident Sal Balvo: “I’m walking down the street and I see a genital. That’s what I came to New York for.”