Thursday, October 29, 2009

The quick and the dead

(Adopts Cyril Fletcher voice.) I am indebted to my old schoolchum Diccon Bewes (author of a forthcoming tome about all things Swiss), who alerted me to the Write Badly Well site, which may give some amusement to anybody who followed my Chasms of the Earth blog:
He slowly walked the slow, winding path towards the crooked, run-down old house. With one slow, hesitant hand he bravely, resolutely knocked on the dusty, pock-marked, ancient and frightening door. Slowly, it opened slowly. He slowly poked his brave head through the narrow, foreboding gap.
‘Hello?’ he slowly said, bravely.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Nick Griffin...

Half of my ancestry is of the sort of Anglo-Saxon stock that you revere (possibly with a small dash of Celt, the sort of thing you mention to reinforce the notion that yours is a British rather than English party). The other half is Polish Jewish, a rag-tag bunch that came over in about 1900, economic migrants and asylum seekers.

Should I send my legs back to where they came from?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Thinking about Cohen and e-books at Rock's Back Pages; and it’s been a week of Stephen Fry and annoying choppers at the Noughties blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We could be heroes

Ah, the London Film Festival, a chance to star-spot (Steven Soderbergh and, er... Nigel Havers) and to feel smug because you’ve seen a movie about a fortnight before your friends get a chance. A few titles tickle my postmodern bone, as they turn in on the film-making process, and ultimately themselves.

Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take comes from the Adam Curtis school of using archive footage, smartly juxtaposed with talking heads. Alfred Hitchcock finds himself introducing not his TV show in the 1950s and 60s, but broadcasters and politicians nervously assessing the Soviets' lead in the space race, and Nixon’s ‘kitchen debate’ with Krushchev. Via a plot borrowed from Borges, the focus shifts to Hitchcock himself, and a weird encounter that may or may not have occurred during the filming of The Birds. We never forget we’re watching a movie, as we’re shown Hitchcock’s body double and vocal impersonator getting into their stride; were Dick and Nikita playing their parts as well?

L'Enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot appears to be a more straightforward proposition. It’s a documentary about the efforts of Clouzot (best known for The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques) to make a movie about paranoia and jealousy within an apparently happy marriage. The 1964 shoot was a catalogue of disasters: Clouzot didn’t get on with the female lead, Romy Schneider; his habit of waking up his colleagues in the middle of the night with new ideas alienated the technicians; the fact that the artificial lake that was central to the story was due to be drained 20 days after shooting started only added to the pressures. Things got so bad that the leading man, Serge Reggiani, walked away from the film; his replacement lasted a matter of hours; and then while he was filming a Sapphic dream sequence on a boat, Clouzot suffered a coronary, and the whole project was put on ice. The film was eventually made by Claude Chabrol, 30 years later.

The inevitable comparison is with Lost in La Mancha, about Terry Gilliam's doomed attempt to film the Don Quixote story. But the footage here has added resonance, because many involved in the project – including Schneider, Reggiani and Clouzot himself – are dead, adding an extra layer of poignancy to the sense of missed opportunities. And, great as my regard is for Gilliam, he never used blue lipstick as shorthand for a dream sequence, did he?

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s comeback, Micmacs, is less obviously *about* film, although there are numerous nods and winks: the hero Bazil (Dany Boon) is seen mouthing along to the (French dubbed) soundtrack of The Big Sleep; a security guard does an excruciating De Niro impression; there’s a neat reference to Jeunet’s own Delicatessen, and even to Micmacs itself (via film posters).

But there’s also an implicit reproach to modern Hollywood. Micmacs is essentially a warped superhero movie, in which a band of outsiders pool their talents (contortionism; arithmetic; making stuff out of junk) for the common good. They’re not really freaks; but, because this is Jeunet, they look far uglier – far more like us – than the ravishingly beautiful mutants of the X-Men franchise.

Micmacs is essentially the story of how Bazil, who lost his father to a landmine, and very nearly his own life to a bullet, takes revenge on the rival arms manufacturers he holds responsible. The immediate comparison is with another comic book adaptation, Iron Man, which essentially comes down to a final battle between a good arms dealer and a bad arms dealer (see Chris Morris’s Good & Bad AIDS sketch); whereas Jeunet damns them both. Which may be politically naïve (think Boy George’s analysis of military malfeasance) but does make for better cinema.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dead Kennedy

From the Telegraph obituary of Ludovic Kennedy:
Indeed he never really lost a certain aristocratic contempt for television and dismissed as ludicrously self-important the views of those television executives who believed that “a thing said simultaneously to 15 million people will carry more influence than something said privately at a pub or dinner party or picked up elsewhere in the course of the day.”
I suspect he never got the hang of Twitter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It’s real but it ain’t exactly there

Caught me a bit by surprise, as it’s not meant to be out till next month, but my new Leonard Cohen biography appears to be available from Amazon UK.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Feasting on Stephen

...and the next time someone suggests that poorly argued, badly written, self-indulgent blogs are debasing culture and making it harder for conscientious, thoroughly researched journalism to get a look-in, just refer them to this.

Jondrytay, Anton Vowl, Charlie Brooker and Michael Deacon weigh in, as do many others.

Eventually, Moir apologises, but misses the point. Her worst sin isn’t the snide fag-bashing that’s been a staple of the right-wing tabloids for decades. It’s the standard of her journalism that stinks; and it took the derided Twitterati to point it out.

PS: Another angle.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Breaking glass

I’m not a big jazz person. But I heard Ornette. I couldn’t afford to go in, but I heard him through the window.
–Lou Reed in this month’s Wire
But isn’t that the best way to hear him? And I mean that in a good way.

Monday, October 12, 2009

No, I’d never heard of Trafigura either

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights... The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament...
But for how long can such an injunction be effective these days? Go here. And please pass this on. Carter Ruck can’t sue the entire blogosphere. Although the idea doubtless gives the buggers a collective erection.

PS: It’s gone Stateside.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Turn me on, dead man

To Tate Britain, to see the Turner brand of conceptualism. No, not the eager foursome vying for the eponymous prize (Roger Hiorns offers processed cubes of cow brain - has molecular gastronomy at last found the artistic kudos it has always craved?) but that other Turner. You know, dead bloke, bit splodgy. Good at sea, couldn’t do trees, clouds a bit hit and miss.

Apparently, in 1832, Turner asked his friend George Jones what subject he’d chosen for a forthcoming exhibition. Jones said he was depicting the Biblical story of the Burning Fiery Furnace; Turner then asked for the dimensions and materials. And with the same subject matter, the same medium (oil on mahogany), even the same size of board as Jones had used, he came up with something better:

Arrogant? Obviously. A stunt? Yes. Remind you of anyone?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Gore blimey

More YT fun: an old friend’s plug for his book, Way of the Barefoot Zombie. Reminds me of my favourite joke when I was about nine (“Mummy, I hate Granny’s guts...”) Wonder if I should do something similar for The Noughties. But what?

Happy Friday

Recent posts have been a bit dyspeptic. For the weekend, two things that made me smile:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The value of nothing

If you were to mention to grown-ups: ‘I’ve seen a beautiful house with pink bricks, with geraniums on the windowsills and doves on the roof...’ they would not be able to imagine such a house. You would have to say to them: ‘I saw a house worth a hundred thousand pounds.’ Then they would exclaim: ‘Oh! How lovely!’
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (1943)

The accident happened in full view of other parents dropping off children at the £8,775-a-year Russell House School and Day Nursery in the village of Otford, near Sevenoaks, Kent.
Daily Mail report on the death of a three-year-old, 7 Oct, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009


The CoolBrands 2009/10 supplement that came with yesterday’s Observer does seem utterly self-defeating. For a start, there has to be a variant of the Groucho Marx rule; any cool adhering to a brand would surely be stripped away by appearing on such a list. And even if that weren’t the case, would you accept the findings of an ‘Expert Council’ including the likes of Trevor Nelson, Sadie Frost and someone who describes himself as “an impassioned digital media visonary”?

PS: Elsewhere in the paper, one of Ms Frost’s former husbands is quoted as saying, 30 years ago:
A cultural identity is a great outlet for people's frustrations. Kids have always spent what little they have on records and haircuts. They’ve never spent it on books by Karl Marx.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Lager shouting

I’m looking at one of those promotional things that’s bigger than a leaflet, but smaller than a magazine – any marketing people out there will be able to advise on the approved name for them – intended in this instance to educate us in the all-round loveliness of San Miguel beer. There’s a distinctly Hispanic flavour about it: a competition to win a trip to Valencia; a few tapas recipes; and, just in case we don’t get the message, a reminder that San Miguel will help us to “take some time to sit and appreciate the taste of modern Spain.” Spain, of course, being shorthand for a certain flavour of laid-back sophistication; city breaks rather than package fortnights in Benidorm.

Except that San Miguel isn’t really Spanish. It comes from the Philippines, which in the British, lager-swilling consciousness is more about domestic servants, corruption and shoes. Moreover, if one considers the memories the Filipinos have of the times when Spain ran their affairs, selling a beer from the Philippines under Spanish colours is a bit like selling the glories of Guinness by using images of Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Noughties media overload

Not only does The Noughties now have its own blog, it’s also invaded Facebook and Twitter as well. Roll up, roll up.

We discussed MySpace, but... naaah.