Friday, August 26, 2011

There and then

I’ve just noticed something that the director Rowan Joffe said last year about his version of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock; specifically regarding his decision to update the action to 1964: “...1939’s a very, very long time ago and it almost feels like a foreign country to a contemporary audience.”

I’m not sure whether he was consciously referring to LP Hartley’s famed line about the past, or just expressing the widely held feeling that mainstream audiences are unable to cope with the notion that life happened well before they were born (and it wasn’t just in black and white either). But the idea may need reworking these days, intensifying even, as cheap travel has ensured that many of us have far more experience of foreign countries than most contemporary readers of Hartley or Greene would have done. Meanwhile, globalisation ensures that that experience contains within far less of a feeling of difference or strangeness. There will be wi-fi and Starbucks and soft toilet paper and people in Manchester United shirts. A 20-something from Brighton would probably find it easier to survive in modern Bangkok or Budapest than he would if he stayed on his home turf and travelled back 70-odd years. 1939 feels even more foreign than a foreign country does.

PS: Alistair @ Unpopular picks up the baton with regard to commodified youth culture, which came into being some time between the two dates.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Broken glass or honey

An interesting remark from a recent interview with former Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh: “The intensity of good music is too much to bear. And bad music is so offensive that that’s also too much to bear.”

I sort of half get that. I certainly know what it’s like to encounter a piece of music, or a film or a painting or whatever, that overwhelms with its emotional intensity, and it’s too distracting and you’re not in the mood and you just want to hide. (Oddly, I’ve never found that with a book: I’ve been so utterly gripped by a novel that I’ve stayed on the bus to the terminus, even though reading on buses makes me nauseous, but I’ve never had to put a book to one side because it overwhelms me. Has anyone?)

Where I part company with Ms Hersh is over the matter of bad music. I don’t mind a lot of bad music,  in fact I often like it, whether it’s bad because it’s a bit cheesy (like this) or simply incompetent (like that). What I can’t bear is music that’s simply bearable and polite and does its job and doesn’t charge emotional overtime. And I won’t post a link to it, because it encompasses about 95% of the music that surrounds us.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Whatever happened to Dirty Gertie?

Ah, if all those behooded young persons watched stuff like this in their formative years, maybe they wouldn’t riot. Boom, and in a very real sense, boom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Post about something other than the bloody riots (mostly)

Inspired by a notion of Annie Slaminsky:
"..."the offences of the night of 9 August ... takes them completely outside the usual context of criminality". [link] At what point will James Murdoch deploy the Top Gear defence, that it's just *banter*? Only one of them was the subject of a Chas 'n' Dave song, I believe. Books people claim as influences, without having read them: The Great Gatsby; Breakfast at Tiffany's. Cigarette makers sue over graphic warning labels [link] Does free speech include right *not* to say something? Nabokov on excellent form, I see :-) At least you took the trouble. Inciting acts of violence gets you four years? Well, Louis Walsh makes me want to punch his face in. Get your trousers, Lou... Let me guess... Criticises the rioters for their abysmal standards of grammar? Fourth Reich? Jesus, not even Nicholas Ridley was that demented. Tonight am going to a production of Carmen in a nightclub. If I don't drown en route. Lawks, if you haven't seen 's Bad Date Compendium... [link] Well, that was different. Yeeees. In Thai. With binbags and a breakdancing terrorist. Well I didn't, and i think I got an OK deal. For Su Pollard it's a lifetime.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The barbarian

I don’t know whether David Starkey is a racist. I doubt very much whether he knows either, because the word has ceased to have any empirical meaning, now being little more than a Humpty-Dumpty term of socio-political abuse (see also “politically correct”). But – probably inadvertently – he has raised another issue, about black culture. Or rather cultures, as his fellow panellist Dreda Say Mitchell argued, rightly pointing out that black British people should not be defined as a group  in terms of second-hand gangsta archetypes.

But if this is the case, that there is no single, homogeneous black culture, surely the same applies to the majority (dominant, mainstream, white, British, Judeo-Christian, whatever you want to call it) culture. Starkey probably wouldn’t wish to be defined by the antics depicted on The Only Way Is Essex. Indeed, I suspect he wouldn’t wish to be defined by comparison with Simon Schama or Niall Ferguson either. And if it’s impossible to define culture at the micro-level of self-publicising TV historians, (What would the collective noun be? A pontification?) then how the hell can you do it on a broader scale? What is white culture, English or British or western culture? It’s everything, and as such is nothing.

While the neds and scallies and oiks and rudies of all colours were smashing windows and burning buildings, it was Dr Starkey who – again by accident – laid waste to culture as we know it.

(Five Chinese Crackers weighs in, with just the right combination of passion and forensics; and you’ve probably already read Charlie Brooker on bling, but anyway. And then Rhodri Marsden on how the above video clip fits into everything. You may be none the wiser, but don’t say you aren’t better informed. PS: And also something about the contribution of urban [non-]planning, by Owen Hatherley. Do I spoil you or what? That said, I might write about something unriotous next time.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

It was a pleasure to burn...

Apparently bookshops have for the most part evaded the attention of the looters; and a Waterstones employee was heard quipping that this is a pity, because “if they steal some books they might learn something.” Which did prompt me to throw together a quick reading list that might throw a little light on the situation, and it was looking something like this:
...when I noticed the delightful Bidisha pointing out that a TV show made for Amnesty International was made by a team of 11 white men and... er... that’s it. And my boring liberal conscience kicked in, and I wondered whether it really matters, but if it does, are there any books by women and/or people who aren’t Caucasian that might be added to my list?

(Title half-inched from the opening of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Image ramraided from the delectable Photoshoplooter. And while we’re vaguely on the subject, if you think reading matter is sacrosanct, look at this.)

PS: As if someone heard me, Bookmarks has come up with a list. It’s more inclusive than mine, but not that much.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The revolution will not be televised if they nick all the televisions

(Those who have been following me on Twitter over the past few hours may find some of these observations a little familiar. My only defence is that, in true postmodern spirit, I’m just looting myself.)

A year and a bit ago, there was a period of civil disturbance in Bangkok. I wrote something about it at the time. It’s not helpful – nor is it my place – to divide the participants into goodies and baddies, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the protesters originally came to the city with honestly held grievances. In their view, the democratic process had failed them, after elected governments aligned to Thaksin Shinawatra were forced out of office, first by the army, then by the courts. Non-violent protest degenerated into something nastier, 90 or more people were killed, and much damage was inflicted on the city. But, as far as I’m aware, nobody stole any flat-screen TVs.

Some of the more strident opponents of the protesters argued that if this is how ordinary Thais behaved when they had the merest sniff of democracy, it might be better for the country if it were sealed off from these new-fangled notions for a few years. To his credit, Prime Minister Abhisit rejected such a move, in due course called an election, and was soundly defeated by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister/proxy. So the protesters got pretty much what they wanted but – crucially – they got it through the ballot box, not through brute force.

Recent events in London and beyond seem to have followed an initial trajectory that’s superficially similar to that of the Bangkok protests, with a peaceful demonstration against a perceived injustice getting out of control. But what happened next was at once less serious (nobody, so far as we know at the moment, is dead) and more reprehensible, as participants quickly ditched all pretence to a political motive and began to loot and burn for its own sake. Condemnation was quickly and rightly forthcoming from all quarters, even if some of the proposed responses (water cannons, troops on the street, martial law, shoot on sight) suggested that some people don’t follow recent events – those in Bangkok, for example – as closely as they might. And some other rumours banging around Twitter, such as the meme that the animals had been released from London Zoo, just prove that some people read too many John Irving books.

The looters in London and Birmingham and Liverpool and elsewhere don’t have the excuse that they were the victims of an anti-democratic fiddle; moreover, they’re considerably wealthier, in material terms, than most of the farmers and labourers who marched under Thaksin’s banner. The electoral system in Britain is far from perfect, but by chance, last year’s election gave an outcome that was closer to the intentions of the voters than many in recent times: as ever, no one party took an overall majority of votes, and unusually, no one party was able to govern unaided. It wasn’t the result I wanted, and maybe it wasn’t what the people lugging flat-screen TVs through smashed shop windows wanted (an analysis of voting behaviour among the hooded opportunists might throw up some surprises, although I suspect not) but it’s what happened.

But just because the looters aren’t noble, selfless freedom fighters, it doesn’t mean their behaviour doesn’t warrant analysis. It was in that spirit that I tweeted:
The looting is an unholy synthesis of welfare dependency and consumer capitalism. Discuss.
...and while some appreciated the contribution, and some agreed, and some didn’t, one or two hinted that such Hegelian chin-stroking is inappropriate right now, that our responses should be practical or emotional, but not intellectual; after all, not that many bookshops were ransacked over the past few nights. It’s pretty sad when the word “understanding” becomes freighted with negative connotations; if you’re trying to understand a criminal, does it really mean that you automatically want to hug him and forgive him and buy him a Wii? Surely it’s quite consistent to want to understand and analyse an act of wrongdoing, and at the same time to sympathise with the victims and punish the wrongdoers and try to prevent the whole fiasco from happening again.

Or should we just say fuck it, and wheel out the water cannons?

PS: Hurrah! Zoe Williams brings Baudrillard to the (street) party!

PPS: And at Prospect, David Goodhart throws a slug of Fukuyama into the punchbowl...

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Androzani McCarthy

Despite the assertions from the producers that American money would not have a detrimental effect on the new series of Torchwood, things aren’t looking so good. It’s not just the bit where the undead CIA bloke had to have Wales explained to him, or the tiresome pants/trousers badinage; it’s the feeling that they’ll be using the show as a dumping ground for Brat Pack stars whose careers started to falter in the 1980s. In fact, the whole show could be seen as something akin to one of the overflow camps into which the should-be-deceased beneficiaries/victims of the Miracle are being herded.

In the most recent instalment, we were blessed not only with Mare Winningham (St Elmo’s Fire) but also a barely recognisable C Thomas Howell (The Outsiders and the frightful Soul Man); this coming on top of the President from Independence Day, Dennis Nedry from Jurassic Park and Winston from Ghostbusters, the whole thing is a delight for devotees of the “hey-didn’t-you-used-to-be...?” tribe. But surely it’s a warning sign as to where Torchwood, and the whole Whovian universe is headed. Within a couple of series, I can see Jack Harkness (Emilio Estevez) crashing his dad’s car because he’s so angry that Amy Pond (Molly Ringwald) won’t go to the Gallifrey Prom with him, preferring as she does the smooth charms of The Master (Rob Lowe, in a cap-sleeved t-shirt). Co-starring Ralph Macchio as Davros and Demi Moore as The Rani, with the theme tune arranged by Wang Chung.

Actually, it all sounds rather marvellous.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

It’s all about meme meme meme

As AnnaLittleRedBoat suggests, the blogosphere isn’t – notwithstanding the haters – dead, but every now and then you do wonder whether it might be a bit kinder to whack it over the head with a shovel. (Whether or not it’s still social media or not I’ll leave to Patroclus.) Who remembers how it was in the olden days, like 2007 or something, when Amy Winehouse was always in the News of the World and we bloggers used to exchange memes? Well the dangerously brilliant and devilishly cute Annie Bookcrossing Slaminsky has deposited a new one in our collective digital lap. Feel free to pick it up and run with it:

1. Movie you love with a passion.
Casablanca. For all its flaws. Damn it, because of them.

2. Movie you vow to never watch.
That new Planet of the Apes thingy. The trailers seem specifically constructed to dissuade me.

3. Movie that literally left you speechless.
Festen. The whole audience stumbled into the light, as if we’d all been kicked in the face for the duration of the film.

4. Movie you always recommend.
Tampopo, because everyone who watches it feels hungry and frisky at the end, and they can’t decide which urge to satisfy first, which is a pleasant dilemma to have.

5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.
A whole load of British character actors, especially those who were good at underplaying; let’s say Denholm Elliott. No, John Le Mesurier.

6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for.
Jennifer Aniston. I don’t even get her hair.

7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet.
Orson Welles. Damn, that man could racont.

8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen (with picture).

9. Dream cast.
The Misfits was a pretty good combination, although most of the actors had at least a toe in the grave.

10. Favorite actor pairing.
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Brainy sex.

12. Favorite decade for movies
The 1940s.

13. Chick flick or action movie?
Action movies can distract you from their essential crassness with a big explosion or the like. Chick flicks can only deploy yet more crassness.

14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?
Anti-hero. Jean-Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle.

15. Black and white or color?
Black and white; specifically, black and white films made from about 1960 onwards, when going mono became a conscious decision rather than a default position. (Whistle Down The Wind, The Manchurian Candidate, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Branded To Kill, The Last Picture Show, Eraserhead, Manhattan, Down By Law, Clerks, Ed Wood...)

Your turn.

PS: Only just realised that I missed out question 11, which is:

Favorite movie setting
The Dali-designed dream landscape in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. I’m not a huge fan of Dali’s paintings, to be honest, but this makes me wish he’d done more set designs. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Norris’s norks

Although it’s many years since I worked for Guinness World Records, some sort of primeval instinct asserts itself now and again when a relevant news story comes into view. Would I have included it in the book, I wonder? Would it have warranted a picture? Would I have had to mediate over tantrums regarding its validity? All these thoughts flashed through my mind when I heard of the good ladies of Worcester, who had attempted to break the record for the most bras linked together, but were forced to call it off when the relevant undergarments became entangled. As such, it wouldn’t have made the cut. But it is, in its own way, the perfect British silly season story, in that it combines three highly attractive narrative components: admirable charitable instincts; breasts; and plucky failure.

Never mind, maybe a nice picture of a young Charlotte Rampling in a bra will boost my viewing figures again.