Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Joy Of Lists

I love lists - and my annual Advent calendar is not much more than me inflicting a list on you dear reader. My own puny bit of cultural imperialism.

This year's list isn't actually one list, it is a conflation of several scraps of paper assembled over the year, ever since I hit on the idea. Yes, my life really is that sad. And that disorganised that I couldn't confine it to one piece of paper. Some time in January I will locate yet another and better version but by then it will be too late.

The rules: no compilation albums (obviously); only one album per artist; it must be music - otherwise I would have to include The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Tomorrow, something for all you cool cats.

By way of a mini-list, the films I have watched in the last three days: Peter Pan (Disney 1953). Not the best of the Disney cartoon classics but nonetheless captivating and charming - 7.5/10; The Parallax View - a thriller starring Warren Beatty, understated and underplotted by the usual standards of these things but it keeps you occupied - 6/10; Interstellar - well what are we to make of this rather sprawling mess of a film which throws lots of science at us, often through Matthew McConaughey in an indecipherable drawl? Well actually I think it's rather good, certainly better than that old turkey 2001: a Space Odyssey. 7.5/10.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Death Of A Popular Art Form: Advent Calendar 2016

Here is an observation that is unoriginal and bellows out my status as a man of a certain age: the dominant days of the long-playing record are gone and should be lamented. Try this for a potted history: the death of the LP

a cultural influencer
At school the truly cool kids carried the album du jour in a Virgin Records carrier bag. Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Yes, ELP, early (its earliness is important) Genesis, these were the coin of cool currency, until of course punk arrived and divided opinions. I lagged behind with my love of the Moody Blues and nostalgia for the Beatles. Best of all were the gatefold covers and the gnomic sleeve notes. A related pleasure was the cheap newsprint of the NME or Melody Maker which grubbied your hands on reading. John Peel, was, I suspect the leader of taste for most of that generation but my own interest in music was piqued by the fabulous Robin Valk on BRMB. He read excerpts from my letter on air and played Haymaking Time by City Boy at my request. I remember the pride I felt when people congratulated me at school the next morning.

I've never been a full-on muso and I can't play or sing a note but the album is a potent part of my cultural makeup. Yet today I admit I listen to my music on Spotify and fall into the temptation of the playlist and pleasures of the familiar. So before I forget these things I am going to use this year's advent calendar to muse on twenty-four albums that move me. They will be in  no order or scheme though I will as usual leave the best to last.

As an amuse bouche (it's not in the twenty-four) I reproduce the inside of the triple gatefold Woodstock album. Now there's a fine pub conversation - good triple albums.

Friday, 25 November 2016

I Spoil You Ambassador

Earlier in the week I gave you Hoop Dreams and today I have watched another great film - The Searchers. This is the film for which John Wayne should really have won his Oscar.

It is at every turn beautifully shot and just as often problematic. What are we to make of Ethan/Wayne's undisguised racism? Is he redeemed in his final rescue of Debbie? Who cares (well actually I do) - just watch it and relish.


Filth is not your average police procedural. It is a torrent of scatology, degrading sex, loathing (self and other) and irresolvable corruption. It is decidedly not for the faint-hearted. It is also quite decidedly brilliant writing. Whether the exercise of Irvine Welsh's manifest gifts should be admired has divided critics, but I fall categorically on the side of the the Scot's admirers.

Stick with the project - at first you fear that you are in the middle of a dark, unlovely and tedious black comedy that intends to overstay its welcome. You would be wrong. The novel builds atrocity upon atrocity and ends cataclysmically. Not for everyone, but for those with the stomach, brilliant.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Keeping My Hand In

If you go all the way back to my very first blog entry, you will find the words of the very eminent and admirable Ian Marchant, the man who set me off down this route. His first rule bears repetition - 'Writers Write'. So this is me, a little damaged by recent events, keeping my hand in. I've been a bit poorly in the head again but it now seems to be under control - thanks, despite all its fallibility, to the NHS, but thanks most of all to the love of a good woman.

But enough of such things. I'm still deciding how to make sense of the whole Trump thing - possibly the best view is that it is western society's postmodern joke upon itself. Who's laughing?

On the subject of bad jokes I could be found last week in The Erdington Players' revival of the stage version of Are You Being Served? If you don't know the original it is pointless me trying to describe its mutiple political improprieties to you, but do go on YouTube and you'll see what I mean. My health meant I enjoyed the process of the production less than the norm but I avoided any pratfall or obvious memory loss and I'm glad I did it. The comic mechanisms are actually quite clever but there is an air of inappropriateness to doing pussy jokes in a church hall. All part of life's rich thingy? Or am I getting priggish?

a film
Two films to report on: one of which will be familiar to regular readers. But before I get to that, what are we to make of Kingsman? This has its tongue lodged very firmly in its cheek as it pastiches Bond et al. The violence had, I suppose, a comic point to it. The language was unnecessarily rich (and yes that is me saying that) but in the end I was suitably diverted by it all. 6/10. But not even vaguely a patch on Hoop Dreams, which can be found hidden away on Netflix. If you have never seen this gargantuan documentary about American high school basketball, please track it down. It is one of the best dozen films ever made. 9.5/10. 
a truly great film

Friday, 11 November 2016

You Can't Stay Silent For Ever, And Sulking Is Such An Ugly Look

Despite all the assurances from my American friends that it simply couldn't happen, there is no going back now - President Trump will be a reality. It does though beggar belief. I will confine myself to the solace of his sounding (for the first time) at least vaguely presidential in his victory speech.

Some interesting figures to conjure with: Clinton will have won the popular vote by in excess of one million votes. Pretty good for a system allegedly rigged in her favour. Trump has won with fewer votes received than 'Loser' Mitt Romney four years' ago.
It's not enough to have every intelligent person in the country voting for me. I need a majority.    Adlai Stevenson
But hey. ho, life goes on. A distraction has been the melodramas of Bette Davis, specifically Mr Skeffington and Dark Victory. Melodrama is not, of course, purely a cinematic genre but it certainly enjoyed a jolly good run as such, not least with Davis as the star vehicle. At the core of technical success of these films was Hollwood's careful custodianship of the image of Davis herself as self-made, self-sufficient, the anti-glamorous if you will. These films are product but they are top-grade product. For collectors of such things Dark Victory includes a portrayal of a harmless lush by Ronald Reagan and a woefully miscast Humphrey Bogart as a stable hand.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Exit October Pursued By A Black Dog

Sometimes and despite our considered views, things are for the best. I find myself finishing October back on my old full diet of medication after another swallow dive off the cliff of normality. C'est la vie.

All of which has meant an awful lot of sleeping for the past week and not a lot else. I'll get there eventually.

I have however managed to catch up on some films I'd recorded so watch out folks, it's opinion time. First up is Went the Day Well, a top-draw, understated piece of British wartime propaganda. These are films made by and about that generation (largely no longer with us) who would have made the German yoke intolerable. They put us to shame. 7/10.

Next up, Return of the Jedi. I've had this one on the stocks for months but after seeing the excellent Force Awakens at the cinema at Christmas, I have been put off watching it. Well, I was right and I was wrong. Right because it lacks the power and darkness of the two earlier films. Wrong because it is by a distance superior to the twaddle of the first two prequels. And much as I appreciate the young Carrie Fisher in a metal bikini, I'm not really sure it advances the story. 6.5/10.

Finally, what I regard as a rather beautiful little film - Stand by Me. It captures the very daftness and important depth of boyhood friendships. As good a tribute to the work of the departed River Phoenix as exists 7/10.