Wednesday 30 November 2011

Why I love the Harry Potter films

Another guest post on the ongoing subject of films today, this time from Nina, one half of the venerable and brilliant Panda and Crumpet. Nina's essay is entitled "Why I Love The Harry Potter Film Franchise" and has been entered for many school prizes, with great success and a bumper haul of House Points expected, in spite of a potentially risqué conclusion.

Thanks to Nina!

Click for bigger

You can read more from Nina at her counselling blog, I see a Beautiful Future (and I advise that you do).

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Apocalypse Then: A brief history of nuclear cinema

Today's film blog is another guest post, this time by Ian, whom you probably know best from his multiple-award winning football site Twohundredpercent. However, Ian is a man of many other interests, not least nuclear war films. Many is the Sunday morning I have spent with him in his house, in a cold sweat and with tightly-clenched buttocks. AND THEN HE PUTS A NUCLEAR WAR FILM ON, etc.

This post is as exhaustive a guide to anything that you are likely to find on my blog, so I commend it to you highly. Thanks to Ian!

There are, perhaps, no two phenomena more quintessentially of the 1980s as the concept of having a television in the kitchen and films about the Soviet Union and the United States of America using Western Europe as the board for an apocalyptic game of backgammon. It is, therefore, probably no great surprise that I was in the kitchen of an opulent house in Radlett (while my parents had a French evening next door) as the city of Sheffield was blown to smithereens before my twelve year-old eyes. Threads, the BBC's 1984 docu-drama about an imagined World War Three remains the high water mark of this ghoulish genre, but films about our apparently impending annihilation have a considerably longer history than a mere twenty-seven years.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that story-tellers of any persuasion reflect the time during which they are writing as much as shape our opinions. With this in mind, it is perhaps no great surprise that the grandfather of this genre, the BBC's seminal 1965 film The War Game, should have been made within three years of the Cuban missile crisis. By the standards of the time, The War Game was bleak, bleak material. Set in Rochester, it depicted the before, during and immediate effects of a nuclear attack on Britain, with a variety of talking heads putting arguments - some reasonably coherent, others as mad as a box of frogs - for and against the nuclear deterrent.

The War Game suffers a little from the limitations of the time during which it was made. The modern viewer, weaned on lavish CGI and the constitutional right to see blood and internal organs in (soon not to be) living Technicolor, may feel let down by a relatively slow pace and a singular lack of mushroom clouds. None of this is to suggest that fans of the macabre will be completely disappointed, though. Some of the bomb's victims look suitably mournful and char-grilled, while the film's finale – which is more about the breakdown of societal norms than the after-effects of enormous exposure to radiation - is likely to sear itself into the consciousness of anybody that sees it.

Curiously, the back story behind The War Game is almost as interesting as the film itself. It had been due to be broadcast as part of the BBC's The Wednesday Play series, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the American nuclear strike on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, but was pulled by the corporation on the eve of broadcast, with on the grounds that it was "too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting". This didn't, however, prevent the film from a limited theatrical release and it subsequently collected an academy award in the best documentary category in 1966. The BBC finally got around to showing it to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, during the summer of 1985.

The 1970s were a period of detente for the superpowers, and accordingly film-makers turned their attentions elsewhere. By the beginning of the 1980s, however, the thawing of relations between east and west had taken on a decidedly frosty feel again, and it was time for the media to start articulating - some may prefer to use the word "feeding" here - the very worst fears of its viewers, and considerably beyond. Alongside such paranoid hokum as Red Dawn (in which a group of teenagers repel a Soviet invasion of the motherland with an armoury that largely consists, initially at least, of twigs and moss) and WarGames (in which Matthew Broderick almost kick-starts the third world war by trying to play chess with a military super-computer), two behemoths of the genre surfaced.

First up came The Day After, a serious attempt to address the great “What if?” of the early 1980s from an American perspective. Produced and broadcast by ABC television, The Day After is set in Kansas City, Missouri, and follows the travails of a group of families in the Mid-West of the United States of America as global apocalypse kicks off around them. The film packs a lot into the first twenty minutes, with the political background to the film being crowbarred in through a series of overheard radio and television broadcasts as the main characters are introduced. The characters discuss the impending crisis with a peculiar detachment, as if the dread scenario could never affect them. Such an insular attitude is, perhaps, unsurprising in the Mid-West of the United States of America, even though European viewers might be surprised by the apparent unconcern of the film's main characters over the fact that Western Europe is already being reduced to a pile of irradiated rubble.

By the time of the nuclear attack takes place, the loosely-linked assortment of characters have been fully identified, but it is here that the film starts to go off the rails. The special effects as the bomb hits are poor, and the inevitable absolute terror of the strike feels watered-down, as if someone at the network cut down the after-effects of the bomb itself. Indeed, it is possible that this was the case – the original plan was for the film to be four hours long and broadcast over two evenings, but the final version ran to two and a half hours and was shown in one sitting – and storyboards were drawn up for an extended version of the film, but this was never shown. It is now understood that ABC censors insisted on considerable cuts to the original film before they would allow it to be shown. Criticism that The Day After makes the after-effects of a nuclear strike seem more survivable than they would have been is a valid one, and this is a feeling that cannot even be counterbalanced by the - admittedly morbid – sight of Steve Guttenberg losing most of his hair from the effects of radiation sickness.
Still, though, The Day After provoked a debate in the United States of America at a time during which it was important to have one. In Britain, however, we would have to wait a further year for the same, but when it came, it came with the full force of a ten thousand megaton explosion. Threads was, as The Day After had been in The United States of America, a reaction to a broader political situation. The stationing of cruise missiles at Greenham Common had brought the issue of nuclear disarmament in Britain to the top of the political agenda (the Labour Party had unilateral nuclear disarmament as one of its key policies in its “longest suicide note in history” 1983 General Election manifesto), and it was timely that the BBC should revisit a subject that they had been too troubled to broadcast almost two decades earlier.

Written by Barry Hines (who had previously written "A Kestrel For A Knave", the novel upon which the film Kes was based) and directed by Mick Jackson (who went on to produce the 1992 Whitney Houston vehicle and snore-fest The Bodyguard), Threads was based upon three significant artifacts of the Cold War - Protect & Survive, the much-ridiculed 1980 government pamphlet which advised the public on how to best prepare for a nuclear strike, Operation Square Leg, a government home defence exercise which was intended to try and establish what the effects of a nuclear strike on Britain, and QED: A Guide To Armageddon, a 1982 documentary which sought to explain the effects of a nuclear attack upon London, whilst also demonstrating how utterly useless any attempts at civil defence would likely be. Jackson described the film as an attempt to create a “workable visual vocabulary for thinking about the unthinkable”, and to say that he succeeded would be something of an understatement.

As with the aforementioned films, Threads starts in a soap opera-esque style, the story of a young couple, she pregnant, moving into a flat together in Sheffield. Their two families are from different social classes – hers is middle class, while his is working class – and there is a stilted meeting between the two, with the news (presented by Lesley Judd of Blue Peter, of all people) playing on the television in the background. Yet all the time, the machinery of war is moving in the background. Television, radio and newspapers begin to intrude into the foreground of every scene in which they appear. A dispassionate voice-over explains the machinery of war slowly and inexorably grinding into place. The story cuts away to an unrelated sub-plot, the story of a hopelessly ill-prepared council worker charged with putting the government's emergency measures into effect.

The money shot – the explosion of a nuclear weapon over Sheffield – is largely made up of stock film and is possibly the weakest part of the film, but it is as the fallout starts to settle that it comes into its own. Unlike The War Game, Threads doesn't end a few hours or days after the bomb drops, and unlike The Day After it doesn't pull any punches in its depiction of the aftermath of such an attack - "Threads makes The Day After look like A Day At The Races", wrote one reviewer at the time. Statistics flash up on the screen, giving estimates of the number of nationwide deaths. At first, the survivors seem very alone, as if the world has ground to a complete halt around them. Over time, however, society starts to regroup, although by this time a nuclear winter is starting to set in. The audience is left to assume who has died and who has survived, and Jackson fast-forwards years into the future, showing a world that has been blown back a thousand years in time by the destruction of its infrastructure. “In an urban society”, says the voice-over at the start of the film, “everything connects. Each persons needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable.”

While The War Game, The Day After and Threads make up the holy trinity of the genre, there are a couple of others that are also worthy of a mention. World War 3, a 1998 film made by the German television company ZDF, cleverly pulls apart contemporary news reports of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attempted Soviet coup of 1991 to stitch together a vision of a world in which a hard-liner ousts Mikhail Gorbachev and deals with the attempt to liberalise Eastern Europe in a somewhat different way, but stops short of dropping the bomb itself. Meanwhile, Countdown To Looking Glass, a made-for-TV film from 1984, attempts to run as a series of news broadcasts as a banking crisis precipitates a clash between the superpowers in the Middle East, only to ruin itself with a sub-plot that looks and feels like a series of out-takes from Days Of Our Lives.

The moment for the nuclear apocalypse film, it seems, has passed. While big budgets will now be spent on dystopian visions of the future, these have tended in recent years to be focussed upon natural disasters – Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and so on – or upon that very twenty-first century paranoia that has come about thanks to the threat of terrorism and its hysterical coverage in the press. Yet these films were important. They informed the public – mostly reasonably accurately – of the science and likely chaos of the use of atomic weapons, and provided that “workable visual vocabulary for thinking about the unthinkable” of which Mick Jackson spoke when describing Threads. That they scared the living daylights of twelve year olds in 1984 and retain the capacity to traumatise three, four or five decades on is a testament, not only to the skill of the film-makers concerned, but also to the absolute horror of their subject matter.

You can watch Threads, should you wish to, here.
You can watch
The War Game, should you wish to, here.
You can watch
The Day After, should you wish to, here.
You can watch
World War 3, should you wish to, here.
You can watch
Countdown To Looking Glass, should you wish to, here.

Films you haven't seen: Robocop

I've never seen Robocop. Well, I hadn't until last night, when the powers that be on Channel 5 decided to try and give me an idea for my blog. They're all regretting that now.

Robocop is one of those films, very much of the zeitgeist of the 1980s. It's duly become so much more than a film: a cultural reference point, videogames, toys - the whole schmeer. But I'd never seen it. This is always dangerous for films like that. You're already so aware of it that there's a danger the film won't live up to it or that it will appear to be a parody of itself.

SATIRE. Now there's a thing. There's a word which I've always seen applied to Robocop. I was sort of expecting a coruscating commentary on the issue of police brutality and the rule of law. However, that simply wasn't there. The satire exists instead in the outer cosmos of the film - the news reports, the glimpse of how big business influences society. At the centre of the film Robocop, I would have argued, is philosophy. I think that Robocop could well have been written by Alan Turing.

All the elements are there! Can robots dream? Can technology acquire a consciousness or a conscience? Are virtues and morals programmable, self-evident in nature or must they be acquired experientially? These are some high-grade degree-level philosophical posers.

Perhaps the ultimate satirical element to the film - and maybe one which was unintentional - is that for all of the near-future science fiction shenanigans, the whole narrative lurches awkwardly towards conforming to traditional generic codes. Of course Robocop has a female partner, she provides both a love interest and a cop buddy. Towards the end, unmasked and looking like Richard O'Brien's head attached to a Dyson, Robocop is anything but Robo. It begs the question, dare anyone risk a completely mechanical protagonist? When even Johnny Five manages to acquire sufficient soul to campaign for suffrage in spite of being made out of Meccano, you have to wonder.

Still, for all of its PHILOSOPHICAL SHORTCOMINGS, I found Robocop to be a highly enjoyable film. I particularly enjoyed the wonderfully exaggerated and graphic scenes of violence and death throughout - another of the films satirical elements that really work. The irresistible convergence of Hired Goon and Massive Tank of Toxic Waste was particularly magnificent. Such a shame he died (exploded) - he was only two days away from retirement (starring in his own B-movie franchise).

That's the strength of films like Robocop, and why we need more like them. It works on numerous levels. On the one hand it had me reaching for my university notes and reading lists to re-address the thorny issue of the Mind-Body problem. But before things got too Cartesian on my ass, someone got massively killed. In a cocaine factory. A factory! These exist. Even Gilbert Ryle would have gotten caught up in it, and old Gilb was a hard man to please. Especially after he crashed his car into all that toxic waste. Why can't there be more films which present significant ontological discourse with a side dish of grenades and PAIN?

Are modern action films dumbing down? None of this would have happened if Baruch Spinoza had written The A-Team.

Monday 28 November 2011

Films which change your life

Today, another excellent guest post. Your author this time is Fran, who writes the brilliant blog about craft and life Skulls and Ponies. Fran's chosen subject is a film which changed her life. Thanks to Fran!

When dotmund asked me to write about a film that had impacted on me in some way I was very excited! It’s a great credit to film makers all over the world that a two-hour interaction between people portraying a story about something-or-other on a digital screen can effectively change your life. I know that sounds terribly melodramatic, but it’s true. Whether it be a beautiful love story that helps shape the way you view relationships (*ahem-all-teen-movies-ever-ahem-10-things-I-hate-about-you-ahem*) or a horror film that leaves you terrified of turning the light out at night; it can change how you choose to interact with the world. For me that is an amazing ability. It’s like a super power.

The film I’m going to write about is one that really fucked me up for a while. It got under my skin and became almost an obsession for about three months of my life. The film in question is not a gooey love story that had me searching for my soul mate, nor a tense thriller that made me afraid of my own shadow. This film not only educated me about a real life event I, ashamedly, had no awareness of but it gave me such tremendous hope for humanity whilst at the same time making me inextricably sad. The film is Hotel Rwanda.

I saw Hotel Rwanda in the comfort of my own living room in 2007 and cried throughout the entire movie. I wasn’t just crying because of the horrific content but crying because it showed how one man, one actual real life man, showed such immense courage and bravery despite his world literally falling apart.

The story is that of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman, who ran a prestigious hotel in Rwanda. Despite death on his doorstep every day, and constant bribes to the Hutu military to even stay alive he continued to take in and shelter Tutsi refugees. He took in about 1200 refugees in total - saving all of their lives.

In 2007 when I watched this film, I had absolutely no idea this atrocity had happened. In 1994 I was only 10 years old but it shocked me that someone like me, who is educated and (somewhat) intelligent and aware of the world could have no idea this even happened, even in retrospect. Yet even at the time it wasn’t well publicised. When the footage of the mass murders going on in Rwanda finally did hit the national news, neither Europe nor the US chose to intervene. The whole of Rwanda had only 300 UN peace keepers (who were not permitted to attack) to defend them. Over one million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. One million.

I think anyone who has seen this film would probably struggle to shake it off, but I just could not get it out of my head. At first I wanted to educate myself about the genocide, so I spent hours and hours reading up on it. I then discovered the film was based on a book called “An Ordinary Man” by Paul Rusesabagina. I bought the book immediately reading it cover to cover. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened and how it had happened and how the UK had done nothing. I would talk about it all of the time, to anyone that would listen. I wanted to know if other people knew about it and if they did how it wasn’t consuming every minute of their waking day like it was me.

This went on for months. Eventually I managed to claim my life back and stop thinking about it quite so much but I don’t for a second regret watching the film. I am so very glad I did and I am glad it consumed me for those 3 months because I needed to know. I needed to see, I needed to be educated, as did the world. Maybe this is an extreme example of the effect a film maker can have on his/her audience, but hopefully a poignant one. That film is imprinted on my brain forever and I am glad.

I want to leave you with just a few excellent and thought provoking quotes from the film:

Jack: [after Paul thanks him for shooting footage of the genocide] I think if people see this footage, they'll say Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners.

Pat Archer: [Red Cross Volunteer relaying the last words of an orphan slain by the Hutus] Please don't let them kill me. I... I promise I won't be Tutsi anymore.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Statham Sunday part two - Violence in movies

Statham Sunday continues with this excellent guest post by Betsy. She's a noted Stathamologist, so heed her wisdom.

Thanks to Betsy!

Violence In Movies
(or: A Love Letter To Jason Statham)

I love films. I watch films a lot. I love DVDs, because it means I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want, and I have a lot of DVD box sets of TV series, but I have a lot more films.

This year my other half decided to watch the IMDB top 100 war films, and blog them all. I haven't been watching them with him, but I have seen a few films I wouldn't otherwise have chosen to watch, and they weren't all bad. That said, some of them were abysmal.

My own taste in films is awful and I don't care. I love films that other people seem to think I should be ashamed to love, but I'm not. I own films that people seem to think should be sold in a brown paper bag, but I not only bought them in broad daylight but I watch them regularly and love it.

One of my many movie related downfalls is Jason Statham.

His films are always ridiculously violent, often visually veering to the extremes of contrast in either shades of grey or blindingly bright colours. The Jason Statham films that I own are Crank, Crank: High Voltage, Snatch, The One, Death Race and The Transporter. I have seen, but don't yet own, Blitz, The Expendables, War, Transporter 2, Revolver, Ghosts of Mars and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

These films serve to fufill a very specific entertainment urge, which I like to call “something stupid and violent that will make me laugh”.

I can always, always watch something stupid and violent that will make me laugh. And if a film is stupid and violent enough, it will always, always make me laugh. Not just if it's stupid. See No Evil Hear No Evil rarely raises a smile, it's just not my kind of thing. And not just if it's violent, much as I love Jodie Foster and as moving as The Brave One is, it's not exactly laugh-a-minute material.

The thing about violence is that in real life, it is disturbing and upsetting. There are certain types of violence that I can't handle in fiction either. I can't watch films that contain any kind of portrayal of rape or sexual assault, be it shown or implied. However cleverly it is filmed or edited, and whatever the message, I don't want to see it or be told about it. I know it's something that happens, but I think it is amongst the worst things that happen in the world and I don't need a director to tell me how awful it is. I get it. I left the room during Requiem For A Dream when the junkie girlfriend starts selling herself for drug money. A reminder that this kind of thing happens in real life, and not particularly rarely, took away any desire I had to be entertained and made me run outside in case I vomited. A strong reaction, I know, but it's just the way I am.

Jason Statham doesn't do serious violence. I've seen him kill and injure people with guns, knives, a car, a hurley and his bare hands, I've seen him do serious damage, minor damage, physical damage, property damage, damage to space and time and damage to the American accent. But he only hurts the bad guys. If he hurts a good guy, you get to see his remorse. If a good guy gets hurt by someone else, you get to see the vengeance.

And it will be violent.

And it will be stupid.

And it will make you laugh.

One thing to remember about stupid violence that makes you laugh is it very often involves some form of martial arts. Jason Statham is very good at martial arts, and his fight scenes involve lots of spinning and jumping and whirling, throwing things and hitting exactly what he was aiming at. It's satisfying to watch. But that's not the limit of his abilities.

In Death Race, Jason Statham teams up with an opponent to flip a massive evil truck and destroy all the evil soldiers within it. In Crank: High Voltage he beats the crap out of Corey Haim (god rest his soul) for sleazing on his girlfriend. In Blitz he beats up a gang of would-be car thieves in the very first scene. I don't even think it's his car they're trying to steal. It's ridiculous and it's awesome and it sets the scene perfectly, because you know what he's capable of, and you know how far he'll go.

Because what you know about Jason Statham in all these films, and by Jason Statham I mean whatever character he's playing, because I refer to him as Jason Statham the vast majority of the time and rarely remember the names of his characters, what you know about Jason Statham in these films is that to some extent, in some way, he is the underdog. Jason Statham never plays the millionaire businessman, or the suave sophisticated spy, or the happily married family man. Jason Statham is the minimum wage manual labourer whose family is murdered by a man in a ski mask, or the underground boxing organiser who owes a favour to the mob boss, or the man locked up for something that, well, to be fair he probably did do it, but he's probably also keeping the heat off his brother, or boss, or family friend.

Jason Statham never plays the man who does violence for the fun of it. Jason Statham plays the man who is forced into violence but, luckily, happens to be very good at it. And you're happy that he's good at it, because he is avenging his murdered family, or biting back against the mob boss, or getting what's owed him on his release from prison.

I don't know what Jason Statham is like in real life, I've obviously never met him. From the blooper reels I've seen on my DVDs he seems like a laugh, and I know he doesn't take himself too seriously. Have you seen Crank: High Voltage? He's built like a brick shithouse and he used to be a diver, competing in World Championships and forming part of the British National Diving Team. He's somehow pretty and not pretty at the same time, rough around the edges as if he's made up of ugly features but put together it works out well, like if someone managed to make a good likeness of Julia Stiles out of a Mr Potato Head game. I know hardly anything about his private life, only really that he used to go out with the woman who played Sarah Connor in The Terminator TV series, and of course Kelly Brook left him so she could go out with Billy Zane.

Kelly Brook is a fucking idiot.

Jason Statham, I love you.

Statham Sunday part one - On the suspension of disbelief

Flim 2012 continues today with two posts around a single theme - Jason Statham films. It takes a special type of actor to have an entire genre named after him. He is that type of actor. This morning, mindful of the fact I'm rapidly becoming the guest editor of my own blog, I'm going to do this post about the importance of good faith. This afternoon, an excellent guest post by Betsy, entitled "A Love Letter to Jason Statham". For all non-believers, this will surely be the day when the scales fall from your eyes.

I love Crank and Crank: High Voltage. They are astonishing, brilliant films. They are also terrible. Two of the most stupid, pointless films ever made. Crank: High Voltage might actually be the worst film I've ever seen. I love it. You should love it too.

There are some people who do not subscribe to the "so bad, it's good" school of thought. I am not one of them. Of course, I accept that some films are just bad. So irredeemably awful that no light can escape the surface of their black heart. Sliding Doors being the ultimate example. Crank and Crank: High Voltage are not. With a perky combination of profound self awareness and magnificent futility, they manage to break through to the other side.

Seriously, they do. If you want to get poncy about it, you could say that they so extend the elastic of their supposed generic conventions that it snaps, leading to the creation of a whole parallel set of semiotics required for the successful reading of what the film is trying to do. However, that's a bit high-fallutin' for a film franchise where Jason Statham shags Amy Smart in public to save his life. Twice. So instead, let's just say that it's complete unbelievablity, wilful stupidity and grinding pointlessness make you laugh and make you happy.

If you argue that action films shouldn't do that, I say you should untie the apron strings a little. Just go with it. Enjoy it. Suspension of disbelief is absolutely vital to the enjoyment of so bad they're good films.

Never is this truer than for Crank and Crank: High Voltage. In Crank, Statham is injected with a McGuffin of a drug which stops the heart unless it is continually pumped full of adrenaline. If you can't get past that, then you're going to have serious trouble with the Red Bull-chuggin, public porkin, drug-sniffin, epinephrine-shootin, car-crashin, boner-poppin lunacy which ensues. With a bit of good faith, though, this becomes a tapestry of good things. And after all, it's a film. If films were meant to be true to life, they'd be hours of crushing disappointment followed by a poo break.

If you didn't enjoy Crank, then you're going to HATE Crank: High Voltage, where Statham's heart has been actually physically replaced with an electric pump which needs to be continually electrocuted. Yes, the friction from wild public sex on a race course is sufficient for this, why not. And yes, he ends the film on fire. Who cares? He ended the first one falling out of an aeroplane to his certain death.

If you start asking questions of a so bad it's good film, even stop to question it for a single second, you need to abort the procedure. Watch Trois Couleurs Bleu instead and thoughtfully stroke your beard. Without good faith during films like Crank and Crank: High Voltage you would surely go insane. Anyone with even a basic working knowledge of US-UK immigration law, for example, would no doubt question how Chev Chelios manages to survive working as a freelance hitman without a visit from the IRS or the State Department, and that's before he even sets himself on fire. Maybe he's an illegal immigrant. In which case, keeping your head down and not chucking two up your girlfriend in public would be the way to go?

But there you go. Maybe Crank is not real. But that's OK. It's good for things not to be real. Especially when November sucks this hard.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Film blogging for people who don't like films: a five-point guide

Today's post is written by 5olly. At the end of 2009, mindful of the fact he generally actively avoided watching films, 5olly set himself the challenge of watching the IMDb top 100 films in 2010 and blogging about each one. It didn't work. So for 2011 he's been doing the Channel 4 top 100 war films. This is going better. But I'm not convinced he likes films yet. Or blogging. In spite of this, it's fair to say no-one blogs quite like 5olly.

Here's his five-step guide for anyone thinking of attempting the same sort of project. Thanks go to 5olly!

5ollymund Meatburger (Popular Film Blogger):

Yeah. You should do what I do. Cos what I do rocks! When I say 'it rocks', what I mean is it sounds like it rocks, what I actually mean is 'it's shit'.

5olly's Top 5 List of How to Watch any Top 100* Films List.

* When I say list, i mean a Top 100† Movies list from the interweb

And when i say Top 100, I mean Top 100 (IMDb Channel 4 War Films, 70's Porn Films)

They're all equally hard to watch. Except the ones that make you hard.

1. Get a hobby.
Everyone needs a hobby, and some people already have a hobby but still feel they need one. If you feel like you need to watch IMDB's Top 100 movies, you definitely still need one. (A hobby)

2. Enjoy writing bollocks.
Personally I hate films, but I like writing even less. If you feel the same then don't bother.

3. Assume that people you know will be interested in what you've written.
This is always a trap. Some of my friends like shit that I hate.

4. If you're worried that people you know won't be interested in what you've written, then make sure that people you don't know are intrigued enough to not ever bother coming back again.
I heard this wisdom at a Tory Conference in Greece.

5. When not using double negatives, always try never to use the correct amounts in each sentences. NOT!
If you can't hold your penis in one hand, then hold your hands together with someone. Then you can't hold your hands together with your penis in someone.

One of 5olly's ideas for next year's film blogging project is, as he mentioned, 1970s porn films. I know I speak for all of us when I say I really, REALLY, hope he does this.

Friday 25 November 2011

Films which take you to another time and place

Doing a series of film blog posts is all very well and good but I can only talk about the films I have seen, which would make for a fairly blinkered selection. So I've asked some of my friends and favourite bloggers if they'd make a contribution too. Today, Lolly from Panda and Crumpet talks about the films which transport her to a different time and place. Big thanks go to Lolly!


I'm not really aspozeda write about why I don't believe in watching films that are so bad they're good, so instead I'm going to have a sit and a bit of a think about my favourite films that take me to another place or time. Because that sort of thing is my favourite. Escapism. Being totally sucked in. Far away places. Long times ago.

Last Year in Marianbad (1961)
This film is so beautiful, glamarous and disorientating. Set in a confusing and dreamy limbo world within a Baroque hotel interior, with outfits designed by Coco Chanel, whenever I watch this I get sucked right in to the picturesque ornamental gardens and palacial bedrooms, and also, confusingly, the video for Blur's 'To The End' which parodies it. The thing that I really fall in to though is the narration. Monotonous and repetitive (and French), I spend days walking around with an inner monologue narrating as I effortlessly swish my way through neverending corridors, sculpture gardens and hedge mazes (or "Willesden Green" as some people pronounce it).

eXistenZ (1999) (and Videodrome (1983))
Ongoing existential nightmares and losing touch with reality are me. But that's also sort of about the very idea of watching films, in a way. And the way we interact with technology, which is obviously what both of these films explore. Life is confusing. I have a massively overactive imagination and lose my way in it a bit, forget what things have or haven't happened or may or may not have been said. Multiple realities, dream worlds, existing in all of these different places and exploring them.... mmmmyes please.

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) (2007)
Not the cheeriest film in the world. A concentration camp may not be the ideal place for a spot of cinematic escapism, but aside from this story being true and captivating, and however much bacon I may eat, there are some bits of my family history that I am consistently compelled to get lost in. I have always been fascinated by the little pockets of smaller stories surrounding WW2. I'm always delighted, in a very odd way, to watch films like this with people who have had much less exposure to the history and events of the Holocaust. Being sent to schools where we watched Fiddler on the Roof, Schindler's List or Europa Europa (another absolutely amazing film by the way) as 'special treats' has softened the blow of the scenes in The Counterfeiters where men are marched through the snow in leg irons. Shrugging these things off of the screen because I know they happened to people not so far removed from myself, whilst others wince and gasp, somehow adds to my experience of me feeling lost inside these stories, like they are somehow part of me.

I suppose they are in a way. The strokes of luck and fortune that led to me or my parents or their parents even being born; The story of my great uncle escaping Europe by foot after attending Hitler's Olympic Games; Anne Frank's bookcase; Tattoos on forearms; And Adolf Burger's life-saving typographical skills. I love this film for being German, too. It feels somehow balanced differently. You become completely part of this life by watching the twists it takes.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Classic typical Wes Anderson. All the ingredients you need are there. Colours. People with no real job. Vintage/timeless outfits. Bill Murray. People trying to 'find themselves'. And most importantly, Jason Schwartzman. Oh, Jason. Ahem. Anyway. Yes. You've probably seen this so I shan't bang on about the sublime directing, or the crafty set production techniques that went in to setting most of the film on a train. This film takes me to India. It puts me on the train with the brothers. It's so immersive. I have watched this film so many times - in fact I'm probably going to watch it tonight now - but it leaves me feeling the same way EVERY time. That I must go somewhere. Explore some things. Explore myself. Reconnect with my family. Write some stuff on my typewriter. And also marry Jason Schwartzman.

Gainsbourg (2010)
I'm really surprising myself with how recent these are. I fucking love Serge. I even love the imaginary posthumous (mmm, hummus) Serge who inhabits my twitter timeline with talk of his balls and swearing about politics. Joann Sfar did an amazing job of bringing his massively long graphic novel to big-screen life. You feel like you're sneaking around next to Serge as a child, as a young crooner, as a sleazy revolting brilliant old dog, like you're sat next to him, like his ugly cabbage-headed alter-ego which haunts his reflections and moments of insecurity. PARIS. I bloody love Paris. I LOVE FRANCE. I must go, immediately. And smoke! I need to smoke ALL the cigarettes. And eat pickled cucumbers with my Jewish grandpa. And paint and fuck and speak French and be a disgrace.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Films which teach you about yourself: The King of Comedy

Martin Scorsese is good at films. I have not seen all of his films - my brief flirtation with THE DIRECTOR as THE AUTEUR only lasted as long as I realised that films with massive, angry, genetically engineered, vengeful sharks are normally directed by a wide range of people - but I know he is good at films because I consider three of his films to be the most important films in my life.

Like many DISAFFECTED YOUNG MEN, I have found a lot of solace in these films, and a lot of understanding of myself. I am nothing if not a stereotype. However, whilst the majority of attention is focussed on the other two - Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) - I want to talk mainly about the third: 1983's The King of Comedy.

I think finding yourself through Taxi Driver and Raging Bull as a MAN, or even a MAN'S MAN, is far mor glamorous. But sadly The King of Comedy is far more me. This isn't necessarily such a bad thing: John Hinckley Jr. found himself through Taxi Driver's troubled protagonist Travis Bickle and ended up sending spunk and turds and wee to Jodie Foster and then shooting Ronald Reagan.

No, you have to be true to yourself, and in truth, I am Rupert Pupkin.

If you are not familiar with The King of Comedy (and I really, REALLY, must stress that you should see it, it is magnificent), it stars Robert Di Niro as a nobody, Rupert Pupkin. Pupkin, a talentless but dedicated autograph hunter and student of fame, is obsessed with American talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). He dreams and fantasises all day about he and Langford being friends and peers, about himself being the new king of comedy. In the end he concocts a kidnap plan in order to get himself some coast-to-coast airtime for his fabulously average stand-up act.

I don't want to relate to Rupert Pupkin. But I do. I see in him everything about me that I find squirmingly embarrassing and undesirable. Pupkin is a fantastist, incapable of seeing anything but the end goal, blind to the individual steps you need to take to get there. He is so dazzled by his own perceived brilliance that he's lost sight of his crushing mediocrity as well as losing sight of himself. I see me in everything Rupert Pupkin says, thinks and does, and it worries me every single time.

Well I see me right up until he takes the proactive - and ultimately successful - step of kidnapping his hero and holding him to ransom. I suppose the dangerous thing about the film is that it could be seen to teach such deluded fantasist nobodies such as myself that to follow one's maddest ideas is the solution. The fact that it does not, I think, is due to the strength and depth of Di Niro's performance. Di Niro makes Pupkin undeniably loveable but also bewildering, amusing, frustrating, annoying and pitiable. His loveability is shot through with a sure knowledge that it cannot be sustained. Pupkin is a charming, but hollow and undesirable, man.

In learning about myself from The King of Comedy, I decided I really have to also try and learn FROM The King of Comedy, too. Dedicate myself to Pupkin avoidance. I think the key lesson I try and take is to never forget yourself and your own limitations. Part of that is accepting that I will always be a daydreamer, whose brain runs away with him in elaborate wonderful ideal-world scenarios. But equally, a part of that is accepting those for daydreams being all they are. The kindness and patience shown by much of the supporting cast - constantly beset with maniac fans like Rupert Pupkin and Masha or the wild ego of Langford - is I think the true aspirational element to this film and the one I try and take away.

I just hope that I remain able to see, and understand with such brilliant clarity, both sides of that coin in the same way that Scorsese and Di Niro do. The King of Comedy is, I think, my favourite film of all time. It's not the easiest film to watch and consequently, nor is it the one I see most often. But it's always the one which leaves me filled with the most wonder. I love it. And coupled with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, it's more than sufficient to forgive Robert Di Niro ANY number of Meet the Fockers-style family comedy film catastrophes (although personally I think he was magnificent in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle).

Tomorrow: Lolly from Panda and Crumpet on films which take her to another time and place.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Flim 2012

As my bewilderingly loyal readers will know, earlier this year I did a series of posts about favourite albums and the favourite albums of my friends and fellow blogging machines. I love albums. But they're not the only way in which you can enjoy music.

Films are different. They are not something you can particularly enjoy by having them on in the background, or expect to receive the same gratification watching one scene as you would by seeing the whole thing. They are something which require a bit of commitment and engagement, the desire to sit down and concentrate on it and it alone until it's finished telling its story.

For me, winter and particularly Christmas time are prime film watching moments. Over the Christmas holidays I will be making a list of all the films on which I really ought not to miss, as I have been doing since I can remember. There've been fairly meagre pickings in recent years - the last real bonanza was about 10 years ago, when the BBC ran a huge series of the films from the Universal Studios horror canon - but there's usually at least half a dozen films which I've not seen before, that rarely come up, or that will surprise me if I give them the chance. Last year I promised myself I would try and watch as many films as I could and I'll be doing the same thing this year. Probably whilst drinking port and eating chocolates.

I weigh 415lbs.

To accompany this, I am going to be trying to do a series of posts on this actual very blog about films. Good ones, brilliant ones, ones which change you, awful ones, grindingly awful ones, BRILLIANTLY awful ones, sad ones, ones that take you out of time and place, ones which you can watch again and again. I hope that I will also be able to get some guest authors to share their own thoughts, to produce a wide-ranging series of recommendations and stories. And there won't be a review in sight. I have rashly also said I will try and provide illustrations for these posts, which was a monumentally daft thing to say but it would be good so I will try and do that as well.

I hope we'll all enjoy it and that it will encourage you all to watch as many films as possible, instead of other boring winter activities like whatever the hell it is you people do whilst I'm sat at home in my pants watching films.

Monday 21 November 2011

All boys like Velma the best

Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon discussing ducks, swans, feeders and the potential for lesbianism in dogs in Queen's Park, Brighton with a very superior class of people indeed. One of them was one of my favourite bloggers and tweety-tweet-tweeters, Mollbird, whom I was meeting in actual real life for the first time. You should definitely read her blog if you don't already do so. Go on. Do it now, this will still be waiting for you when you get back. She once got pepper sprayed in a cinema, rendering a 3-D experience resolutely 0-D. What more do you want?

It's always nice to meet people who you've been following on Twitter, I find, because as I've said before there's very few surprises. Most people are the way they are on the site, and now you've got the added bonus that they can tell you things in longer increments than 140 characters or fewer. I learnt new facts and was able to establish that Moll - who has one of your actual degrees in film studies - shares my passion for films having more sharks in them wherever possible. Hell, even wherever NOT possible. Just get some sharks in, and make sure they're ANGRY. I feel that her opinion was validation of a theory on the filmmaker's art which may otherwise very well have just been the rantings of a complete idiot, like everything else I say.

Another important thing to come out of yesterday afternoon, however, was Moll posing the vital question: which cartoon character would play you in a film of your life? These are the sort of vital questions that I feel are criminally ignored by society at large because they think they are stupid or trivial. But, and I'm not actually joking about this, I think they're the most important things. It's the little, stupid and trivial things that make up life.

Her choice was Velma from Scooby Doo. A lot of my friends answer Velma to that question, in fact. Alice was also there and quickly agreed that Velma was her choice too*. It was a whole world of Velmagic going on. It's a good thing. It shows a sense of humour and wry self-depreciation. It's a sign that they value their depth of character. Velma should be an icon for our times.

I wonder, though, how many women when noting their Velmatic tendencies actually know that when it comes down to that vital Scooby Doo Choice, all boys like Velma the best? Well, all boys you'd want to have anything to do with, anyway. I'd go as far to say that you should be highly suspicious of a man who would choose Daphne over Velma, nor anything to do with a woman who would do the same thing when trying to find a cartoon shorthand to describe themselves.

This is a bold statement, and maybe it's just me. But I really don't think it is. I really HOPE that it isn't, too. I can scarcely imagine the horror of a society ruled by Daphnes and Daphne-chasers. I needn't even bother imagining it, in fact. I just need to watch any of the programmes on ITV2 to show me what that would be like. I think it's horrifying, vapid and materialistic. It's time that Velmas and Velma enthusiasts took back popular culture for themselves. We have nothing to lose but our Scooby Snacks.

By the way, the cartoon character who would play me is Muttley. And I would like a medal, yes.

* I should point out that Alice says I have misremembered this and that in fact she did not make a specific choice. However, I'm trying to construct a sociological theory with help from empirical evidence, so I'm leaving it in.

Friday 18 November 2011

On firefighting

Twitter is a dangerous place for me to be really. With only 140 characters available, getting your point across can sometimes be tricky. Reading between the lines is often imperative. It's unfortunate, then, that this is a skill I really don't possess.

Yesterday my timeline was full of gloom. It was a gloomnami. Having just come out of a big spangly gloom myself, I thought that this was just typical. "Why can't everyone be cheerful at the same time?", I pondered.

When this was pointed out again to me this morning by my friend, it gave me pause for thought. I think that I do spend an awful lot of time taking care of making sure everyone I care about is happy rather than do it for myself. I suppose I have always done it, and assumed that everyone was doing the same thing. It's a characteristic I have inherited from my mother, whose frankly mind-boggling altruism (of course) drives me mad. "Why don't you just take care of yourself first?", I wail, continuing a proud human tradition of being most annoyed by the characteristics in others that are most damning of yourself.

Thing is, wanting the people you love to be happy isn't a particularly bad characteristic. There are worse ones. Racism, farting on all the cans in a supermarket or wiping your bum on the curtains are but three examples. However, when the same people I am trying to cheer are at the same time worried about whether I am happy, it's somewhat counterproductive.

"Don't worry about me" is something of a mantra of mine. And I always mean it. But I wouldn't say I've ever been particularly happy at any point in my life thus far. Neutral is about as high as I pitch for. Maybe it's time for me to worry about me a little bit more. If only because it will give other people one less thing to worry about. And then they'll feel happier.

Big cats

Friday 11 November 2011

Folie à deuxmund

I am not dotmund. Obviously, posting this as dotmund on a blog called "dotmund" doesn't help my cause. Perhaps you found this post by clicking a link posted by dotmund on Twitter. Or via my profile on or on Flickr (both dotmund, in case you'd not guessed by now). But still. Dotmund is not me, either. Not all of me. I don't think so, anyway.

Which isn't to say I wouldn't like to be dotmund. A lot of people like him. He's a bit of a character. Sometimes he says funny things, interesting things. Sometimes he says provocative things, or draws a picture that people enjoy. Dotmund very much exists, but I am not him.

I wish I knew who I was. I don't really understand people, you see. I feel very alone and alienated when I'm around them. But I am quite intelligent, so I've grown adept at blending in. I can talk to people on more or less any subject in more or less any situation. My ability to bluff my way through being a human is a necessity for me, as my greatest fear is being found out.

I suppose dotmund came in as a sort of caricatured version of bits of me I thought would appeal to people. But he's not really me. That is to say, he is but he shouldn't be everything I am. There is a symbiosis in our relationship, of course. Neither of us could exist without the other. Increasingly, however, I worry that my role in this has come down to the bare essentials - breathing, eating, keeping everything in order until the next time dotmund is required - because that's the person people want to see. When I die, I suspect dotmund will be the name on my tombstone. I can't blame anyone for that. But he's not me. I hope he's not me. Or rather, I hope the bits of me he is aren't all there is.

I don't even know who I am any more. Like, I wouldn't even know how to introduce myself to someone. I have so many names these days. Like a well-loved pet. Maybe that's what I am. What I do know is that as soon as someone says "you may know him as dotmund" eyes light up and I get to play at being dotmund for a while.

But I'm not him. I kind of wish I could remember who I really am. But at the same time I'm scared to in case I find that there's nothing there any more.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Read something else

The keen-eyed among you will have noticed a distinct improvement in the overall quality and tone of my blog in the last couple of days, because I've not been writing it. So as not to spoil my batting average, here's another of my occasional round ups of better things to read than stuff I write.

Firstly, long-time sidebar dweller (and as such someone you should already be familiar with), Jessica Harby now has a website for all of her art. You need to see this, because she is really good.

Another long term inmate from my Friends section is Betsy, who now has more blogs than she does legs. This latest one isn't about diabetes or horrible disfigurement, though. It's about other things. Last night's post about stress is properly brilliant and deserves to be read and read again.

My friend Andy, meanwhile, has turned his back on boring old British snacks in favour of the increasingly broad and exciting array of foreign snacks on British shelves as well as any contraband smuggled in on planes hidden down people's trousers. Marvel as a man whose diet used to be 90% vinegar and peas now chows down on a Knoppers.

Last weekend I spent a hugely enjoyable Saturday evening with Bob Manning and his lovely family in his garden, setting fire to things and throwing them up in the air. Luckily it was Bonfire Night and no-one noticed. Bob is raising awareness about and money for MS by getting musicians to record cover versions of the song he wrote, Washington Parks. You can find out all about it here.

I mentioned I See A Beautiful Future last week, but I'm going to do it again, both because I think it's developing into a really fantastic site and also today it's got a song on it and everything.

If you'd prefer to just gawp at something in wonder, my friend Lolly - who the memory champions reading will no doubt remember wrote Wednesday's post about her favourite albums - has finished uploading her photographs from her American road trip between LA and Las Vegas last month. She is an amazing photographer, so these are amazing photographs.

Finally, I have to admit defeat and confess that this last link is something I did write. However, it's worth checking out the rest of the blog as well, because it gets a lot better after that. Mental Spaghetti.

While we're all about me (boo) here's a handy guide I made to some aspects of Twitter etiquette which are seemingly being forgotten or gleefully ignored. By dicks.

My favourite albums: Fran

Another guest post today. This time it's from my friend Fran. Fran is 27 and lives in Brighton, which is an excellent place to live. She is also the author of her own excellent blog about life, craft and creativity, Skulls and Ponies. You should definitely read it.

Fran's (no particular order) top 10 is as follows:

1) A Perfect Circle - Mer De Noms
This album is my everything. It’s the one. My true love. My soulmate. As much as I love Tool, I have always preferred APC. This album lifts me up when I’m feeling down, comforts me when I’m feeling wallowy and never fails to make me smile when I’m feeling good. It’s perfect.

2) Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
I used to listen to this album with my Dad in the car. My parents divorced when I was 4 so I spent a lot of time in the car. I used to play ‘Leather’ on repeat. Bit weird as the lyrics open with ‘Look who’s standing naked before you...’ but I was a kid. I didn’t care about the words. The music connected with me and still does.

3) No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom
I loved, loved, loved this band so much when I was younger. From about the age of 11 I just thought they were the best thing ever. The first time (and the only time) I saw them was at Brixton Academy. 17, young, naive, terrified of London. With Gwen Stefani’s new pop career I could easily shy away from claiming they are one of my favourites but they are. It was a close tie between Tragic Kingdom and their self-titled album but T.K is just still so very very brilliant.

4) Between the Buried and Me - Colors
So up until very recently I was massively into metal, hardcore, screamo, prog etc. It’s only in the last few years I’ve started to like indie and folk! BTBAM’s songs are just stunningly beautiful. They ebb and flow and tell you a story. White Walls is the ultimate track with an epic build that then suddenly crashes into destruction. Glorious.

5) Jeff Buckley - Grace
Maybe I shouldn’t admit to this one? I mean it’s a bit of cliche really for anyone my age, but it’s the truth. This album is undeniably amazing. The vocals are what make it. I’ll say no more than that.

6) Modern Life is War - My Love, My Way
Melodic hardcore at it’s best. I understand this probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but man this album is just fantastic. MLIW (sadly no more) just had the best lyrics, and every song is so full of passion. My favourite is First and Ellen with the last line ‘So scrape your heart up from the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. Keep your faith in the path that's growing narrow. Kill the doubt inside your head. We overcome. We push ahead.”

7) Deftones - White Pony
I think it’s fair to say this album is a little dated now in terms of sound, but I still adore it. Deftones were one of those bands that when I first heard them I hate, hate, hated them. I couldn’t get it and then one day BAM! I just completely got it and understood what all the hype was about. It was like it just clicked. I love Passenger - it also features Maynard James Keenan (Tool, APC)

8) Faith No More - King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime
I love Faith No More and have done since I was a kid. I never really knew anyone who was as into them as me until I met my friend Dan (who is one of best friends) and it was the basis of our friendship! 2 years ago they did a reunion tour which Dan and I leapt on! When Dan was 15 he had a ticket to go see FNM but they broke up before he got chance to see them and was completely gutted. Seeing them at Brixton was an emotional experience. The very next morning we got on a bus to Download with all our friends and got to see them the very next night.

9) Lit - A Place in the Sun

10) The National - Boxer
My very indie boyfriend got me into this band. He likes a lot of the same music as me, but also is a massive indie boy. Before we got together nearly 2 years ago, we had been friends for a while (having met at Uni). When we first got together he made me a playlist and Fake Empire was one of the tracks on it. I thought the lyrics were “We are half away in a facon pie”.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

My favourite albums: Lolly

Hello blog fans. This is my 300th post, incredible huh? In order to properly celebrate I decided to get someone else to write it for me and resurrect a feature from earlier in the year - favourite album lists. For listalbumblog fans, you'll no doubt be pleased to hear that there will hopefully be one or two more of these in the near future. For the dissenting voices, I suggest you go and read Silvio Berlusconi's Facebook page until I'm done.

Today's list is from my friend Lolly. Lolly is 29 and is very much one of those Londoners, having been born and bred there. It's also where she lives now, if you can imagine such a thing - although she has also spent time living in Leeds, Brighton and Melbourne, Australia. Lolly is one half of the excellent Panda and Crumpet, so you can read more of what she gets up to there if you want. I sincerely advise that you do.

Here is Lolly's list:

1 - Expecting To Fly, The Bluetones (1996)
I've written a lot about The Bluetones and the impact they've had on the past 15 years of my life on my own blog. It had to be the first one I wrote about. When I first heard Slight Return on the radio I knew they were MY band. It sounded like how I wanted everything I ever wanted to listen to again to sound. I've spent half of my life (bloodyell, I know, right?) seeing them live, until I stood next to grown men sobbing at their final show last month. This album is perfect. Tales of calm melodic heartbreak follow jingle-jangle magical indie-pop. It never sounds anything other than wonderful.

2 - London Is The Place For Me, Trinidadian Calypso in London, 1950-56
This album captures so many brilliant social and historical gems - every song is like a whole world in a little story: getting lost on the Underground, city-wide celebrations, racial tension and cricket. Everything on here is still so relevent today and my WORD it sounds amazing on a sunny day.

3 - I Lucifer, The Real Tuesday Weld (2003)
Stephen Coates is an extraordinary man. Writer, performer, artist, musician... He's created an entire mythology and cast of characters out of his undying love for London, it's history and secrets. The band's body of work is huge. This album in particular acts as a sort of soundtrack to Glen Duncan's excellent novel of the same name, which incidentally, is in my list of top 10 books. AND he got the entire idea (and name) for the band because of a dream he had. Which is wonderful. And inspiring. Good shit.

4 - Substance, New Order (1987)
Well, I mean, come on. Obv.

5 - Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian (1996)
Properly timeless, if you ask me. Which you are. Does the same things to my ears and brains and insides as it did when I first heard it. Although best reserved for lazy Sundays (on vinyl, natch) now rather than jumpy CD whilst sobbing over unfinished GCSE art homework.

6 - The Best of Kid Creole & The Coconuts (1990)
Camp and brilliant - so 'of its time', and way before MY time, really, but I properly discovered them after watching the brilliant film Downtown 81, where Jean-Michel Basquiat wonders around downtown in NYC, and stumbles in to a live Kid Creole performance. I love his glam gang of Coconuts, his 1930-40s style, the whole thing is a hilarious innuendous Latin carnival and I bloody love it.

7 - Tellin Stories, The Charlatans (1997)
I was 15 when this came out. So it instantly meant a lot. Still does. And if you don't follow Tim Burgess on twitter then you're missing out on some of the best imaginary morning coffee on the internet.

8 - Dig Your Own Hole, Chemical Brothers (1997)
After being convinced that boys with floppy hair and guitars was the only way for me, I was really shocked when my teenage girly boy-in-band-loving self couldn't get enough of this album but it's SO DAMN GOOD. It's just genius. I don't need to say much about how important and different and great this was and is. You know.

9 - LA Woman, The Doors (1971)
Jim Morrison's last album. The first thing my dad ever bought on CD (because his LP had been damaged. By me). Curious as to what all the fuss was about when I had decided to decorate that poor record, I made sure that this was also the first CD I ever stole off my dad.

10 - Songs the Lord Taught Us, The Cramps (1980)
Spooky and loud and innovative and just a little bit comedy. Bloody brilliant bit of psychobilly. I stayed in a Cramps-themed trailer in the middle of the California desert this year, and just realised I've not listened to this since then. Best go do that then.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

If this sounds corny switch it off, I don't care

As my friend Fat Amy's Facebook page quite correctly points out, "there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure". Now, whilst her 78-stone frame may be enough of an argument against that, I can think of another case which in many eyes stretches the plausibility of that statement to the absolute limit: Dexys Midnight Runners.

I think Dexys Midnight Runners are horribly overlooked. There's little doubt that their thorny relationship with the music press right from the start has a part to play in their reputation over thirty years on. However, I think their biggest sins - the things which stop them from enjoying the same respect and re-evaluation afforded to their contemporaries - were the fact that they were successful and that they meant it. One is enough of a faux pas in British society. To manage both is enough to get you chucked in the sea.

The first Dexys album - Searching for the Young Soul Rebels - remains their most critically well-received and respected, shot through with the immediacy of the punk movement and the 1960s soul records that sparked it off. Their third, Don't Stand Me Down, is such a beautiful, majestic thing that I frankly don't care if no-one else has ever heard it. All the more for me and all the more special as a consequence.

But what I want to talk about today is how much I love their second album, and the one which still informs much of the derision surrounding the band to this day - Too-Rye-Ay.

A brief history lesson. Kevin Rowland, the leader and lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners, is a pretty interesting character. Driven and motivated to follow his creative impulse to the brink of complete madness, he presided over the total collapse of the original brass-driven, soul-infused Dexys Midnight Runners line up. By 1982, he was rebuilding the group with a new look - the dungarees thing was probably a mistake in hindsight - and a new sound, influenced increasingly by Celtic strings. Intent on avoiding the infighting and creative tension of the first line-up, Rowland made it perfectly clear that Dexys was HIS band, to the point that Too-Rye-Ay is credited to "Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners" on its cover. By the time Rowland went to make Don't Stand Me Down, all of this new Dexys 38-man line up bar guitarist Billy Adams and violinist Helen Bevington had left the fold.

Rowland's impossible, unachievable, creative visions are, nevertheless, what set Too-Rye-Ay apart for me. Here is a man who doesn't care what he does to himself, anyone else or his future prospects in chasing the sound in his head now. Rowland has spoken about dreaming about the live shows and the sound of the band, how they would manipulate the audience, grab them and push them back down. Such was his focus, indeed, that half the songs on the record are fundamentally about the band themselves because Rowland's horizons didn't stretch far beyond thinking about that at the time.

The sound, though. The sound. It's the most extraordinary thing - completely overrun with tension without ever losing its soulfulness. Ignore the dungarees, the inward focus of the lyrics, Come On Eileen being number 1 for 15 weeks. Just listen to it with your ears. I defy anyone not to be carried along by it, or even with it. As a testimony to and a record of one man's personal vision and total self belief, it is little short of completely intoxicating. It is an utterly thrilling, compelling, pulsating piece of work. So there.

I'm going to wear a tea cosy on my head for the rest of the day to celebrate.

Friday 4 November 2011

On the impossibility of communicating using communications technology

I'm no good at communicating with people via the communications technology. Not properly anyway. The astute amongst you will already have noticed that there's an irony to this statement. But bear with me.

I'm not an old stager in many things, but on the internet I am getting there. It all began back in the mists of 2003 on October 28th, when I joined B3ta. I've seen some things since then, I can tell you. More importantly I've been active non-stop ever since on all kinds of forums, messageboards, blogs and whatever the hell sort of thing Twitter is. I've seen stuff come and go. Nothing can happen within an online community these days which doesn't leave me raising a weary but amused eyebrow and just carrying on.

One of the effects that all this time on the internet has had - and beyond a shadow of a doubt its most positive one - is the number of new friends I have made. You can't hide forever on the internet. The real you will always come out eventually. It's a great way to get to know people.

Ironically, however, it can be more of a hindrance than a help once you turn that pixelly friend into a flesh and blood one. For me personally, at least. Language is vague. Words can be imprecise. Non-verbal communication, general mood and tone are so important, frighteningly so, in fact. Even the good old-fashioned telephone pulls up short, and of course there are new ways to keep in touch being devised every single day. Each one of them is a tiger trap for the likes of me. There's just no substitute for being there. I find that it can be pretty hard to always keep pace. Which is a sugar-coated way of saying that I go insane.

Twitter, email, mesageboards and even instant messenger are one-way conversations. You have your say and then you wait. And wait and wait, sometimes. People go away, they have technical problems, other things might come up. They may just not want to talk. Whatever happens, it's talking by installments. Moods change, situations change, and the person who gets back to you may be in a very different mindset to the one you initially communicated with. And, of course, the reverse is true.

Conflict resolution has never been a strong suit with me. But this pathological desire I have to make sure everything is alright RIGHT THIS SECOND is spectacularly ill-suited to the online world. Imagine a caveman hammering away relentlessly with a bone on a rock trying to make it be what he wants it to be and you've pretty much pictured the way I go about trying to "solve" or "cure" things online. And of course, it's about as effective. Actually, no, it's LESS effective, because neither the bone or the rock are going to feel it or end up getting hurt.

You may not always get what you want from actually sitting down with someone and talking to them, but what you will always get is closure and a sure idea of exactly where everything stands, from words plus gestures and expressions, intonations and postures. Well, it's what I always get. If you don't then you may be even more muddled and messed up than I am, which is almost certainly not a good thing.

I love the internet and talking to people on it. But I think I occasionally need reminding that it's just a tool. Something which helps one to keep in touch. It's not a substitute for any kind of relationship. Recently I've not done so well at remembering that and as such I've lost a lot of the spark and frivolity which makes people want to talk to me in the first place. I truly hope that I've realised this before I've lost any friends.

People who complain the internet is just a load of people talking trivial nonsense and doing nob jokes are missing the point. It's the trivial nonsense and the nob jokes which are what give life its colour and what brings people together, more often than not to just discuss trivial nonsense and do nob jokes. I've seen what it's like, and BEEN what it's like, to be sucked into the world of Internet - Serious Business and I don't like it. Dotmund 2.0 is sometimes a maddening person to know, even to the point where you wish you didn't.

The next time anyone sees me near a computer or a mobile phone (or even a wireless telegraph) with a furrowed brow or a worried expression, feel free to hit me with a bone. Big one. Out of a mammoth's leg.


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