Friday, January 26, 2018

About Leonardo


If you’re going to publish a book called The Death of Expertise, bemoaning the lack of respect accorded to people who actually know stuff, maybe it’s not such a great idea, on only the second page of the preface, to refer to the man who painted the Mona Lisa as “Da Vinci”, as if that were his surname.

PS: It seems to be catching. Although it’s only the banal charlatan Jeff Koons, so, whatever.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

About content

Reminded of a comment by Marshall McLuhan while listening to Douglas Coupland’s documentary on Radio 4:
...the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind... 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

About VR

Stumbling out of London Bridge, I see a poster for something to do at the bloody Shard, touting itself as “the UK’s highest Virtual Reality experience”. But surely the whole point of VR is that it transcends physical location; and if you’re aware that you’re genuinely, empirically however-many-analogue-storeys above London, rather than within the slightly emetic digital world created by the headset, then something’s not quite working.

There’s probably a metaphor here for global capitalism but I’m not sure if it’s worth pursuing.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

About Christopher Robin

When I was very young, maybe five or six, there was a family holiday to Devon. At one point we ended up in a bookshop. I was probably mooching among the Ladybirds when my father nudged me and pointed towards the back of the shop, from where a bespectacled man had appeared, muttered something to the lady at the till and then disappeared again. “That’s Christopher Robin,” whispered Dad.


And it really was. Christopher Robin Milne had opened the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth in 1951, barely tolerating the gawpers who still saw him as the slightly fey child of his father’s books, all of them seemingly unaware (the clue’s in the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, people) that childhood isn’t a lifetime deal. I was still coming to terms with the distinction between fiction and real life, a confusion that wasn’t resolved by teachers who told us Bible stories in the same tones they reserved for sums and spelling; and if I’d deduced that Christopher Robin at least had his roots in reality, I couldn’t quite cope with the idea that this, to me, phenomenally old man (he would then have been in his early/mid-50s) was the blond, leggy friend to Pooh and Eeyore and all.

That said, in retrospect, he was probably the first Famous Person I’d seen in real life, outside the frame of a TV screen. And I still reckon that’s a pretty good one to start with.

Who was yours?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

About Banksy (not for the first time)

Bristol Museum is in hot water for selling prints of a Banksy work without the mystery stenciller’s permission. On the face of it, it’s a straightforward copyright issue; but of course Banksy made his reputation as a graffitist, a subversive, a lawbreaker, a defacer. He does things in galleries now, but derives his authenticity from his time on the streets, where copycats attract opprobrium, but not lawyers’ letters. One purchaser cancelled his order when he found the print wasn’t authorised, as if a picture of something that Banksy did (not the work itself) is only good if Banksy says it is.

Which reminds me – “authentic” and “author” and “authorised” and “authority” all come from the same root.

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.)