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Just finished reading The Thin Veil of London, a book loosely concerning the great Arthur Machen, and a companion to a walk I went on a couple of Sundays back. Elements which could have felt like am-dram instead felt like they were genuinely ruffling the surface and some Thing might chance through at any moment, as we walked streets I'd never seen within ten minutes of where I've been working for two years. And Machen's grandson was there, now old enough to resemble the great man's jacket pictures. Truly an experience to treasure.
Other London adventures:
- Victoria Park, which I have passed but never entered, finally visited. Would be lovely if it didn't have so many wasps and men who think they're it.
- The Archway Tavern has now become a tiki bar, and not in the half-arsed manner one might expect - there's even an indoors water feature. Also tequila girls and bog trolls. They come with the venue. The night, being loosely glam, had attracted a bafflingly mixed crowd, including some full-on townies and what looked like US-style good old boys as well as the obvious. Most terrifying, though - one man who looked like a seventies TV presenter, and one girl wearing the classic 'sexy school uniform' look. In defiance of all laws of comedy, they didn't seem to know each other.
- I've never sat in Greenwich Park and not faced the view North before. Around the bandstand it feels like another park, less London, older. I like it.

Saw Menswear again on Friday; I say 'again', last time it was Johnny Dean and the Nuisance band, but a rose by any other name would smell as Britpop. When I wear a suit, I can even confuse other nineties indie celebrities into thinking I am him.

I was dimly aware Art Everywhere was coming, but it was very much background knowledge until I glanced at a billboard and thought, hang on, what the Hell are they trying to sell with John Martin's fire and brimstone? And they weren't; it was just saying 'Hey, look at John Martin! Isn't he good?' Second one was Samuel Palmer. I don't go to a lot of single-artist exhibitions, but I've been to see both of them. Approved.

War of the Waleses is, by its dramaturge's own admission, 'sillier and nastier' in its current version that first time out. I can see how the shorter version, with fewer actors, is much better suited to the practicalities of Fringe life, and making any play crueller about Princess Di is fine by me (the new line about her "simpering sedition" absolutely nails it), but I miss some of the Shakespeare resonances lost - especially when it comes to John Major and the vanished John Smith. The comparison of the two takes set me thinking - Major was our Yeltsin, wasn't he? By which I mean, a very long way from perfect, and you can entirely understand the pisstaking at the time, but it was a brief glimpse of doing things a slightly different way before the ancien regime reasserted itself, more dickish than before in so far as that dickishness was veiled around with a new insincerity.

I'm up to the end of Breaking Bad's third season, whose pacing and tone seemed a little off - too often the show overegged the comedy, before slipping into mawkishness when it pulled back from that. Too much old ground was re-covered in the tension between the leads. And then I saw an interview with Bryan Cranston where he claimed that other TV shows were about familiarity, about seeing the same character each week, and nobody on TV has ever changed like Walter White. And I thought, no. Absolutely take your point about most network crap, and even some very good shows, but never say never. Because Babylon 5 had Londo and G'kar, and they changed like nobody's business. So this nudged me back towards my paused rewatch of B5's second season, and I realised, it wasn't just the general principle of a character who changes: Walter is Londo. He's a proud man, feeling his time has passed, staring the end in the face. So he makes a deal with the devil and at first he's thrilled by the power, before realising that he has become something he hates, and there's no way to get off the ride. He even has a conflicted relationship with a younger sidekick possessed of a certain inherent haplessness!
Other television: Justified got a fair few articles this time around about how it deserved more attention, which is more attention that it used to get, but still not as much as it deserves. I'm intrigued by the way other characters were built up this time out, especially among the Marshals - it could almost survive without Timothy Olyphant, I think, not that I'm in any hurry to see it try. The Revenants was good, even if it did cop out a little by going to a second series WHICH HAD BETTER BLOODY ANSWER EVERYTHING. Speaking of cops, French police uniforms suck. I did love how unashamedly Gallic it was in scattering sexy superpowers around the populace. And BBC4 continues to brutally beat down every traitor who ever dissed the holy BBC. Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Burton and Taylor was a suitably meta final outing for their big dramas; just as Cleopatra marked the end of Hollywood's grand era, so this brought down the curtain on BBC4's days of riches (at least, until I rule the world, when the accumulated wealth of the entire Murdoch mob - and the proceeds from sale of their organs - will all go to bolster the licence fee). But they still have their documentaries, the sort of shows other factual broadcasters pretend they're going to make, before wheeling out a load of gimmicky recreations, recaps and silly music. Consider the recent show about Ludwig II of Bavaria; I'm by no means unfamiliar with him, but there was so much here I didn't know. His grand castle Neuschwanstein is the basis for the Disney castle - but I had no idea it was itself a theme park, with modern architecture and engineering hidden behind the scenes, council chambers which were never used - essentially a private playpen. All this was the work of a constitutional monarch conscious modelling his private realm on absolute monarchies - yet at the end they talk to young citizens of Bavaria who acclaim him as too modern for his time. Most broadcasters would be unable to resist a honking noise then, a reminder of the mistake, but BBC4 trusts us to make our own connections.
alexsarll: (Default)
I haven't been up to a huge amount lately; judging by today's sun the time of hibernation may be ending, but there's been a lot more reading and DVDs than antics. Spot of furniture construction for [ profile] xandratheblue (sometimes I wonder if I may have overdone the John Steed-style 'pose as feckless incompetent' bit, people do get very surprised when I'm practical), comedy then pub on Sunday (Michael Legge especially good as the bewildered MC, Steve Hall from Klang talking more about his swimsuit area than I might have wished, but still excellent). I've watched a lot of films, but more on them later in the week, I think. Two series finished and one promising new show started, so let's keep this one televisual.

My hopes for BBC One's new space colonisation drama Outcasts were not high; I'd heard bad things about how the makers didn't like it being considered science fiction, and as a rule that just means someone is making very bad science fiction. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be the hardest SF I've seen on TV...possibly ever. And that's hard in both senses; the set-up is not that far off Firefly, but this is a lot less jaunty and swashbuckling. This is about the hard slog of the early days, the muttered references to how bad things were on Earth, the realisation that humanity is down to a few thousand people and even they can't live peacefully together. A good cast - Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Keats from Ashes to Ashes and Apollo from BSG - but not all of them make it to the end of the episode. I like it when shows kill off major characters unexpectedly, it helps to maintain the sense of jeopardy.

Primeval used to be good at that too. This series, not so much, even though the protagonists have suddenly developed a quite uncanny ability to go on missions without adequate back-up, then drop their guns. Since ITV attempted to cancel their one good programme - for showing up everything else they produce, I assumed - it has got visibly cheaper, not in terms of the monster CGI (still great) but in terms of what seems a hurriedness to the writing, and a weird emptiness of the sets. They've saved a ton on extras, but ended up with something that feels a bit too much like Bugs, if anyone remembers that. But if nothing else, it's the only TV drama I've spotted which has any interest in demonstrating the evils of PFI.

But for really getting through the main cast, since Oz ended there has been nothing to equal Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I'm not surprised they're following it up with a prequel, because there really aren't many characters left to follow into the future except Spartacus himself, and Andy Whitfield is too ill to resume that role, poor bastard. And of course prequels have their own problems, because you know who's going to make it. So this may turn out to have been essentially a one-off - but what a one-off. Looking back, even in the earlier, sillier episodes the big theme was there, and that theme was the real trickledown effect. Not the happy, fluffy right-wing fantasy where we all get rich off the very rich's spending - the real version, where the moment's whim of someone higher up than you can up-end (or simply end) your whole life. Again and again, person A suffers simply because B has just had a row with C. And especially when B literally owns A, that can be fatal. Even when they don't, a catastrophic cascade can still result - but the indignities and worse, the difficulty of love or friendship, of being unfree are powerfully drawn. And where the corny old film of Spartacus used this haunting horror of slavery to praise the American Dream, to show how much better things are nowadays, the TV show is made in darker, wiser times. It knows that, unless there happen to be a couple of oligarchs watching, the audience are slaves too.
alexsarll: (Default)
Get Smart amused me - much as the original series did, when that was repeated during my childhood, because in many respects my tastes have not changed much - but even by his own recent standards, Terence Stamp was really 'phoning it in.

As it starts to feel properly autumnal, it's good to have seasonal events as a bulwark against the cold and the dark. Last night was a delayed Hallowe'en ghost walk, and even though I thought I knew the Covent Garden area very well, it's honeycombed with so many alleys I must have passed unwittingly. Half of them have a haunting, and half of those are William Terriss, the spectral version of those celebrity slags who'll turn up for the opening of a crisp packet. And on Friday, [ profile] darkmarcpi once again hosted a fireworks viewing from his tower, London laid out before us with its competing displays like a happier, sparklier version of Beirut - even if the gas main that was up around the corner was too much of a spoilsport to do its festival bit and join in.

Whenever I've listened to Mitch Benn's 'Proud of the BBC', I've been watching the video, and it's been a heartfelt anthem, a rallying cry. Until Saturday, when I was walking through the dark and heard it for the first time on my headphones. And there, in isolation, it had me on the edge of tears. Especially when my MP3 player's alphabetical play followed it up with Morrissey, and specifically 'Interesting Drug' - "There are some bad people on the rise..." And indeed there are. I worry for the BBC. Hell, I worry for all of us. I was on route to Dalston's Victoria, a local pub full of old black dudes playing dominoes, who seemed bemused rather than upset by the arrival of Bevan 17, their fans and various other bands for a gig in the back room. Odd place, but I like it. Then over to the Lexington for a birthday downstairs, which was the most crowded I've ever seen it, plus occasional visits to Glam Racket upstairs, where the innards of eviscerated Kermits were emulating snowdrifts. The next day was backing vocals for [ profile] augstone at [ profile] keith_totp's studio, before which Aug got mistaken for a homeless by one of the cast of Doctors, whom the young ladies were accosting even though he was stood right by the unmolested Victor Lewis-Smith. Young people today. As for the recording itself...well, Bolan recorded there, and Bowie made Scary Monsters, but really it was all just preparation for Sunday. Links will doubtless follow once the beast is unleashed.
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One of Lynne Featherstone's opponents in the election is now standing as an independent. He was meant to be standing for the Libertarian Party, but the party rules were getting in the way.

"And how could anyone expect him to solve the thing when half of everything seemed to be broken, and half of what was broken was still beautiful." I've finished the third book of Daniel Abraham's Long Price and even beyond my usual reluctance to plough straight through a series, I'm going to need a break, because that was quite the most harrowing thing I've read in a while*. It must have taken a deep and inhuman ingenuity to so brilliantly construct a series in which every character is sympathetic, and everyone loses. Each novel in the series is a little crueller - though no less beautiful - than the one before, and while this need not necessarily carry through to the last book, I don't think the title The Price of Spring bodes well. For the meantime I've embarked instead on Michael Chabon's essay collection Maps and Legends, which ties in rather well with BBC4's current maps season, treating the map as a general metaphor for a way of seeing rather than anything so simple as the route from yours to the shops. I wasn't too enamoured of Power, Plunder and Possession, the Sunday series which seems to rather milk these ideas, but the daily Beauty of Maps strand is excellent, and comes at a good time for me because when it's not the Indelicates on my headphones at the moment it's normally Swimmer One, and as they say - "When all of this is underwater these maps will be all that's left, so we should try to make these maps beautiful." But then, I find most maps beautiful, except the really crappy ones you get on venue websites and the like.

Good Bright Club last night, and I'm not just saying that because beforehand they gave me a burger and a pint in exchange for my opinions on proceedings (I mouth off on the Internet for free and yet you're still prepared to pay for my musings? Awesome). Could have done without the poor woman who was covering Brian Cox territory while, crucially and tragically, not being Brian Cox, but otherwise I enjoyed the speakers, and while Rufus Hound may not have had a great deal of sea-related material, he was extremely funny nonetheless. Plus he likes Garth Ennis, which is always a good sign.

*Albeit with the small problem - for a Londoner at least - that the capital of the looming Galtic empire is situated to the West and called Acton. It's hard to be scared of Acton.
alexsarll: (seal)
The best first story any Doctor's had. The second best first episode any Doctor's had. Moffat finding another thing kids are scared of and showing why they're right, but how it doesn't matter because the Doctor always comes back. And coming back so wonderfully cavalier and quick-witted and...Doctorish. I half-feared that I was so hyped about this that I'd be disappointed but not a bit of it. Hell, I'm even watching Confidential for the first time in years. And Ashes to Ashes is back too, and showing no sign of the fatigue which set in on the second series of Life on Mars. This is why the BBC is one of the greatest things in the world and any politician or media baron who dares gnaw away at it deserves to die in the gutter where they belong.
alexsarll: (gunship)
Because he has nothing better to do - it's not as if we're in an economic crisis and the pound is at an historic low against the Euro or anything, after all - our Beloved Leader has joined in the chorus of moralising hysteria directed at Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. Because politicians love to knock the BBC for being so terribly mean to them, and all the rest of the media loves to knock the BBC because it's better than them, and worst of all the BBC loves to knock the BBC because like everything else that is good and noble in our culture, it is currently beset with a crippling overdose of self-doubt and consequent belief in the virtue of self-flagellation. And so one of the few institutions of which Britain can still be rightly proud takes another hit as the jackals circle. I mean, have any of these shrill nonentities actually read the damn transcript? (NB: many purported transcripts available are woefully incomplete. The Times, for instance, with all the fidelity to truth one expects from a Murdoch rag, omits the 'Satanic Slvts' (NSFW, obviously) line - either because they were too stupid to understand it, or because it would militate against the impression of slurred innocence they're trying to summon re: Sachs' granddaughter. Not that I have the slightest thing against burlesque performers, you understand - but treating a suggestion that one such might have done the sex with a man in a manner befitting similar suggestions levelled regarding a small child or Victorian princess does seem rather bizarre).


- Andrew Sachs cancelled on them. He was not a random victim. It is acceptable to leave voicemail for someone who belatedly cancelled on you in a tone which might be considered poor form on other voicemails.

- Andrew Sachs is only famous because he was happy to play the whipping boy in Fawlty Towers; he can hardly start standing on dignity now. Cf Stephen Fry on fame, specifically the differences between his own and Nicholas Lyndhurst's.

- And this one is the clincher: IT WAS FUNNY. Even without the voices of Ross and Brand, reading a bad transcript that's supplied for purposes of damning them rather than making me laugh, even overwhelmed with anger at the absurd storm around it all, I was cracking up. They made a comedy show; they engaged in nothing more dangerous than the use of harsh language (and even that was not as harsh as the coverage would have you think); they made people laugh. They offended some other people, for sure, but as we should all know by now, offended people are the very worst people on the planet.

As far as I'm concerned, Ross and Brand are both due a pat on the back if not a raise, and everyone who has objected can piss off to somewhere with a suitably deferential press for their tender sensibilities - Saudi, say, North Korea, or Iran.
alexsarll: (Default)
As of Thursday evening, I'm heading off to Ireland for a long weekend. I will likely be away from the Internet as well as London; if all goes according to plan, I should be returning to both late on Sunday, and then out on Monday to see Los Campesinos! live for the first time - anyone else planning on attending that? Meanwhile, am mainly emptying bottles of eg bubbles in order to transport <100ml of shampoo, facewash &c. I really would take a slightly increased risk of being blown to smithereens over all this faff.

As with The Sarah Jane Adventures, it was only through iPlayer's 'you may also like' smarts that I learned of the existence of The Scarifyers, in which Nicholas Courtney (basically playing the Brigadier) and Terry Molloy (basically playing a cuddly, ineffectual Davros) ally with Aleister Crowley against the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. It's neither as funny nor as thrilling as I think was intended, but still, it does have the Brig! And through its outro I also learned that Paul McGann's Doctor will be back on Radio 7 in a six-part adventure from this Sunday. The title, and whether it's already been released as by Big Finish, were not divulged, but I know from the excerpts that I've not heard it.
And speaking of the Cthulhu Mythos - you might thing that investigating the 'ghost peaks' of Antarctica is about as Mountains of Madness as it comes, but just to make sure, read down the article. Read down to the bit where one of the scientists explains how these mountains should not be, how "it's rather like being an archaeologist and opening up a tomb in a pyramid and finding an astronaut sitting inside. It shouldn't be there." Then lose 1d6 SAN.

Far too often I hear from the semi-literate that a given deck-monkey has "literally blown the roof off the club" or a particular slice of vinyl "literally set the club on fire". Saturday's Seven Inches/Penny Broadhurst/New Royal Family Show did end with the club at least smouldering; even if causality cannot be proven, that leaves them well ahead of the pack.

I didn't think it was possible, but I find myself feeling as if I've had enough Stephen Fry for the moment. Perhaps it's just that his tour around the USA launched over the same weekend as Simon Schama's American Future: a History; I get very picky when multiple things seem to cover the same ground (consider how much less forgiving I am of Heroes now it's not only overlapping comics territory, but screening in the same weeks as No Heroics). This is the sort of stuff Schama does best - big ideas, neither yoked too much to specific camera-friendly events nor floating off into the swamp of spurious Adam Curtis generalisations. It's what first drew him to me back with Landscape and Memory. The only problem is that as he tells us how the US has always had a tension between an optimistic belief in perpetual abundance, and the cautious counsel of realists, he is operating on a BBC far too awed these days by the false idol of 'balance'. So he can select clips which hint that Obama is a wise man and McCain another dangerous snake-oil salesman, but he can't say as much, only make vague references to the importance of this election. It's still worth watching, but I hope that once the good guys win in November (please gods), it can be repeated in an extended, re-armed version.

Kenneth Branagh would appear to be confirmed to direct the Thor film if he's cancelling other engagements. If anyone can handle it so as to make Thor sound Shakespearean, as against the ghastly Renaissance Fair approximation with which the ever-incompetent Stan Lee burdened him, then it's probably Ken. Still, after Stardust I think the loss of Matthew Vaughan remains unfortunate.
alexsarll: (bernard)
That was a good week off capped by a great weekend; starting with Pimm's and Peep Show, moving on via Greenwich and Ealing, then lounging around in the local park yesterday. We even got to contribute some local colour to a hip hop video, sitting around on the grass looking middle class with a picnic hamper and plenty of wine while the chap behind us lamented the gun culture on London's streets. The setting seemed slightly incongruous, but his lyrics were fairly conscious so I can only surmise that it was deliberate, pointing out to the kids on Green Lanes that rather than shooting each other, they could just go and sit on a tree stump like he was. Good luck to him.

I'm not quite prepared to go with the 'best superhero film ever' plaudits - for me Burton's two Batman films and Singer's two X-Mens are still to beat - but yes, Iron Man is extremely good. Given this is Marvel's first in-house production, there was a lot riding on it. Obviously, if comics writers are being asked to the set, consulted on the script, bringing the benefit of their experience then the end product is more likely to appeal to people like me than it is when the Hollywood studios start fiddling. But that's not going to do us a lot of good in the long run if the general public stays away. Fortunately, Iron Man appears to be making obscene amounts of money - which not only means that Marvel are likely to continue with this strategy, but that a similar fidelity is likely to roll out across other comics films. And I don't mean fidelity in the unthinking 'no organic webshooters' sense - but fidelity in spirit, not making changes for change's sake. spoilers )

On my wanderings last week, I managed to fill a few gaps in my comics collection - those last elusive issues of Warren Ellis' Excalibur among them - but I think my favourite finds were a few Dreaming issues. The Dreaming is widely, and for the most part rightly, remembered as a bit of an atrocity - the post-Gaiman Sandman spin-off which flailed around for a while before being turned into the ultimate unintentional Vertigo self-parody by execrable goth Caitlin Kiernan. But before it lost sight of its anthology remit, they got a few stories from better writers, among them Peter Hogan. Peter Hogan is one of those mid-period 2000AD writers whose American career never quite took off - John Smith is the other great example. I'm not going to claim him as a great writer, at least not on this evidence; his stories are a little too pat for that. But they also show great charm, a deft wit, and a better grasp of the unique atmosphere Gaiman conjured for The Sandman than anyone else who's played with those toys. At the very least Hogan should have had a career as a sort of lieutenant to Gaiman, the Millar (as was) or Waid to Gaiman's Morrison.

"I don't want to live in a country that emasculates the BBC," says Stephen Fry. One of England's great treasures defending another; if only there were some reference to or endorsement from Alan Moore it would be three for three.
alexsarll: (crest)
Withnail & I cast, director reunited for self-indulgent but fun radio show in which they talk about the making of the film. Bit of a disconnect for those us who now mainly associate Paul McGann's voice with Doctor Who audios.

The only downside of weeks off is not having 52 of them a year. Have been contentedly moseying around London, reading in parks, being inexplicably good at bowling and watching others prove somewhat disappointing as trappers. Only the North so far - from Golders Green to Barnsbury, but even that has so much in it (Arthur Machen knew that London was a sort of infinity, even if he was hampered by not having the word 'fractal' yet and having to talk around it); I think I'll head West later, that being my terra incognita and my having no plans today past the haircut.
The MP3 player is really coming into its own on these wanderings, too - whether it's Stars on the nightbus, or Beirut and St Etienne in the sun. Not Los Campesinos! so much, though; they were my most-played for a while, but since I got them on the DLR as we emerged from the Bank tunnel and into the sunshine pre-Tubewalk...well, that was just too perfect.

Finally saw Robin Ince last night; I realise I'm a couple of years behind the comedy curve here but he's bloody brilliant. And before the gig, our new leader cycled past the venue. It may have been for the best that none of the acts saw him.

Another day, another attempt to undermine the BBC - this time by claiming that Head of Fiction Jane Tranter is some form of localised Stalin, intent on asserting control over all BBC drama and comedy output. Nobody seems to have noticed the key flaw in this scenario; almost every piece of British TV fiction worth watching comes from the Tranter empire, and it's not as if there's a uniformity among them. A little too much emphasis on 'feelings' and 'human interest' in shows which should be about something more interesting, perhaps, but that's endemic across UK and US TV, so I'm hesitant to blame its expression in BBC programming on one woman.
alexsarll: (seal)
And with the line "You used to care about people", it became clear that 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' was an anomaly, and we should still expect anything written by Chris Chibnall to suck. Once boring, boring Gwen and her even duller husband started trying to *breed*, it was just beyond the pale. Can we have the alien parasites back please? The main amusement came from the name of the puny human who'd gone missing: Jonah Bevan.

Yesterday - possibly even after I'd heard the sad news about Anthony Minghella - I was looking at Arthur C Clarke articles on Wikipedia, wondering which of his books I should read next. I had it pretty much narrowed down to The Fountains of Paradise or Imperial Earth, depending which one I found first.
Maybe I should stick to reading Wikipedia entries on authors I don't like.
The other obituary which caught my eye recently saddened me less, simply because I had no idea the Duchy of Medina Sidonia still existed, let alone that the most recent holder of the title was an anti-Franco sapphist. But now I know she was around, it's a shame she's not anymore; she sounds splendid.

Was it Chuck D who described hip hop as the black CNN? He does talk some right cobblers, so probably. But bearing that in mind, consider rapper DMX's thoughts on presidential hopeful Barack Obama:
"What the fvck?! That ain't no fvckin' name, yo. That ain't that n1gga's name. You can't be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fvck outta here."
And this from a man trading under the name 'DMX'.

Anyway, did anyone see The Things I Haven't Told You on BBC3? Of the pilot season so far, I don't think it made quite such a wonderful hour of television as Being Human, but I can see this one as maybe making for a better series. The vampire/werewolf/human set-up has been done so many times now that even with a good writer and engaging leads, you're always going to be dancing perilously close to cliche. But Skins meets Twin Peaks? That's newish.
alexsarll: (howl)
Isn't today meant to bring the worst storm in 20 years? I'm looking out the window and seeing gently waving branches, non-storm-clouds and patches of blue sky. Meteorology: it's like astrology except that you get taken seriously by people who don't read the red-tops.

Last night I saw The Vessel, Eddie Argos and company go glam. Well, I say that - it was actually one of the more subdued outfits I've seen Vessel wear, but Eddie's jumpsuit was quite something. Paranoid Dog Bark: top fun.

Checking out the week's TV schedules, there are only two things I want to see on terrestrial - and they both start at 9pm on Thursday. Nice work there, BBC. OK, most of the other stuff turns up on terrestrial within a week of its Freeview airing, but others never will; I'm not even sure I want to watch Tin Sandwich, Anyone? - A History Of The Harmonica, but bless BBC4 for making and showing it. I definitely do want to watch the final part of their Worlds of Fantasy, though I had definite issues with the second episode, about Tolkien and Mervyn Peake. The timeline the programme suggested, particularly coming after the previous episode about the child hero, has Tolkien applying his academic mind and singlehandedly crafting the fairytales and children's stories into modern fantasy. I overemphasise slightly - but still, where was the acknowledgment of Lord Dunsany or James Brance Cabell, cultish figures now but pretty big back in the (pre-Tolkien) day? What about the pulp authors? Sure, Clark Ashton Smith is all too easy a figure to overlook, but everybody's heard of Conan so some brief nod to Robert E Howard, please. Perhaps most important of all - isn't it worth mentioning that Tolkien was a key figure in making fantasy a genre, and that before him someone like Hope Mirrlees or Sylvia Townsend Warner could write the odd book we would now class that way in a career we wouldn't? What frustrates me is not even leaving these writers out of history; I'm used to that. It's that even if you do know about them, Tolkien still achieved something unique and remarkable, and I'd have loved to see the opinions of some of these talking heads - China Mieville, say, or Dianna Wynne Jones (Toyah Wilcox less so) on what exactly that something was. The closest I can come is to say that there's a solidity to Middle Earth, as against the more fabulist fantasy of Tolkien's predecessors and peers. It's not a fairyland; its rules are not so very different from our world's.
And that brings us to the real elephant in the room - Tolkien's influence. The talking heads were all happy to claim a Gormenghast influence, but Tolkien was discussed more as shaping the whole form than as a personal guiding light. Understandably, because Tolkien's a bit like The Doors: great, but anything taking him as a direct influence, sucks. Good fantasy draws on that earlier tradition, or Peake's phantasmagoria; the crappy sagas clogging up the shelves owe Tolkien. The only way anything good ever comes from that road is in opposition, turning on the debased tropes of Fantasyland with the wit of a Terry Pratchett or the savagery of George RR Martin. the solidity of Tolkien's subcreation inspired mere stolidity; he was a genius whose great work unwittingly turned a whole field into mush for decades.

Great Grant Morrison news: Seaguy 2: Slaves of Mickey Eye is go! The interview (containing links to previous parts) also contains indications of a possible reconciliation with Millar, and news that there's still no progress on reprinting my favourite comic ever, Flex Mentallo. Remember that next time you wait for the trade.
In other comics news, I just tried to read the first issue of Pax Romana. The set-up sounded good (Vatican vs islam Time Wars), the art style's interesting, and I think the script's probably OK - but I couldn't get in to it through the lettering. I've never held with the idea that the letterer's doing his job if you don't notice the lettering - not noticing Todd Klein or Dave Sim's lettering would be a terrible waste - but I think this is the first time lettering has killed my interest in a book. Though maybe it doesn't help that I've just finished the best papal comic going, Kirkman's Battle Pope.
alexsarll: (Default)
Does anyone else have a Zen Stone MP3 player? Mine is misbehaving slightly, and advice would be welcome.

Never would have expected to attend two clubs on two consecutive nights in 2008 which both played 'Dub Be Good To Me', but it's nice to see Norman Cook's finest hour getting some limelight again after all that Fatboy Slim unpleasantness. Lower The Tone on Friday was, I think, the first time I've ever been to a predominantly lesbian night except for some of the better Stay Beautifuls as against gender-mixed gay nights like Popstarz, Pink Glove &c. Not wishing to stereotype or anything, but I'm not sure I've ever been to such a couply club - however, this was friendly coupledom, not insular coupledom, so it still worked as a club in a way I'm not sure such a couply straight club ever could. Good venue, too, and I'm not just saying that 'cos it's walking distance for me. Though that does help.
And then Poptimism last night, at which [ profile] katstevens' History of Bosh set caused me to bosh myself half to death and thus remind me why I never go to proper dance music clubs. Ow.

Foolishly, I had hoped that one bulwark against the neo-puritan attack on alohol might be supermarket competition; they'd never be able to impose the sort of rationing they clearly want if they're relying on Tesco and Sainsbury's to share consumer information. Insufficiently devious of me, of course; what do retailers like more than an excuse to set up a cartel? And while the government normally fights (ineffectually) against such behaviour, it's about to hand them a morally sanctioned cartel on a plate when it comes to alcohol. Apparently "the price of alcohol in shops has halved in real terms in 20 years" - by which they mean that it has remained stable. So in our apparently prosperous society, where everything else from bread to fuel bills has been rising at enough of a rate to wipe out any real increase in purchasing power, one thing has failed to keep pace - and it's something which helps people numb the pain of the world our proud masters have made. Clearly that can't be allowed to continue.

Even before they start in with Mad Men tonight, BBC4 continues to come up with odd little gems; Caledonia Dreaming, for instance, a history of Scottish music from Postcard to Franz Ferdinand. They did their best to re-examine some of the less fashionable stuff, but while I was already coming round to The Proclaimers and Deacon Blue, and can now see some merit in Hue & Cry, two of the bands they looked at will always remain beyond the pale: Wet Wet Wet and Teenage Fanclub. Had no idea how involved people like Deacon Blue had been in independence campaigning, either.
Also, the first World of Fantasy (still up on Iplayer, but I'm not linking 'cos it's been misbehaving for me today), on fantasy with child heroes, which gets points for going outside the usual suspects and doing some very good stuff on Alan Garner. Puzzled by the Susan Cooper omission, but maybe the Dark Is Rising film put them off. Which by all accounts would be fair enough.
alexsarll: (manny)
There seems to have been a certain amount of point-missing as regards the excellent first episode of Ashes to Ashes. Even the estimable [ profile] freakytigger seems to take at face value Alex Drake's assumption that it's all happening in her own comatose brain - but if she's just creating this from her own reading of Sam Tyler's file, then she wouldn't know - as we do, as Ray tells her - that Sam went back. All the evidence suggests that Gene Hunt's world is real (for a given value of the word) and persistent. And as for the fears that it will be impossible to follow through the potential weirdness of the story on a prime time, mainstream show - bear in mind that the moral of the final Life on Mars was it is better to commit suicide than live in the modern world. I had feared a lame retread with more sexual tension; instead, they seem to be making exactly the sequel they needed to make if it was to be any more than a mere franchise-stretcher. And, one which gives them a perfect excuse to go crazily OTT because we no longer need to even slightly believe this might be the 'real' version of the past era rather than some kind of policeman's Valhalla in period dress.

Elsewhere on the Beeb, Torchwood seems to be settling in to good episode/bad episode alternation this series. After an excellent episode about From Hell-style ghosts and timeslips, whose opening made me take it for the PJ Hammond contribution (who knew Helen Raynor had this in her after the New York Dalek atrocity and 'Ghost Machine', the episode so bad it almost made me drop Torchwood?), we get 'Meat'. There's a good idea at the heart of it, but it's just used as the kernel for a big frothy mass of human interest. Here's the problem with 'human interest': humans aren't very interesting. People who don't get that can sod off and watch the soaps. The Doctor is more interesting than his companions. Jack Harkness is more interesting than Gwen. But Hell, even Gwen is more interesting than her boring bloody fiance. I refuse even to use the character's name, he doesn't deserve it - but the one decent storyline to do with him was the one where Bilis Manger killed him. Now, if someone else could do the job - and properly this time - I'd be much obliged. Or Bilis could do it himself; I thought they'd maybe blown a good recurring villain too soon at the first season's end, but one of the new books, The Twilight Streets, brings him back and makes clear that he's still a viable proposition. It's a pretty good book in general; bit slashy in places, and the ending makes no sense, but even then I suspect it's the sort of nonsense which would pass fine were it being shouted on screen, rather than down on the page in black and white. And it has lots of pleasingly, infuriatingly enigmatic hints about past teams, about Archie in Glasgow and Torchwood Four, and about Jack's mysterious past (and future?). And yes, OK, it has some mentions of Gwen's idiot fiance, but he's never allowed to unbalance the story into tedious domesticity. Hell, even ITV's answer to Torchwood, the now rather patchy Primeval, gets this bit right - whenever they have a love story it gets 'Sound of Thunder'd out of the timeline, or the outsider who supposedly fancies one of the team turns out to be an evil spy, and then we get back to a very wet Hannah S Club kicking a mutant seal's face off.
While we're around the Doctor Who universe - I've often wondered if I'm being unfair when I unfavourably compare respectable literary authors to the better Who writers, particularly Lance Parkin. After all, it's not like-for-like; Parkin has an advantage just from the subject matter. Well, the Guardian helpfully published a story by the award-winning AL Kennedy whose emotional core is some stuff about Doctor Who. So now I can compare fairly, and confirm that the feted Kennedy would make a passable third-tier Doctor Who writer.
alexsarll: (howl)
Couple of BBC radio shows of possible interest: a documentary on Banshees and Magazine guitarist John McGeogh, with contributors including Howard Devoto and, as of tomorrow, one about the mighty HBO, with Stroud Green Road habitue Aidan Gillen taking part. I should also have mentioned the Paul Morley programme about celebrity culture, but forgot after the first part, and the second wasn't nearly as interesting.

It's worth seeing Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow simply because it's a script that gives two great character actors a lot of opportunities to have a whale of a time shouting good lines at each other. But that's not necessarily to say it's a good play. Mamet is much better at writing men with men than women, so in the second act, when it's Goldblum and Laura Michelle Kelly, everything sags rather. I don't know her - apparently she's mostly done musicals - and I wouldn't say she's a bad actress, but she doesn't grab the attention like Spacey and Goldblum do - though with the material Mamet gives her, can she really be held to blame? If you want to consider this play as a story, not a vehicle, I think it's fundamentally flawed.
Summary of plot:
Spacey wants Goldblum to make a prison blockbuster starring a hot property actor. But should Goldblum instead make a film of apocalyptic Great American Novel The Bridge?
Flaws in plot:
- The Bridge is rubbish. We hear plenty of excerpts, and I'm not sure whether Mamet has deliberately written it as a parody of the sort of impenetrable toss which a certain type of critic loves, but that's what it is.
- Apparently the problem with filming The Bridge is that it's about the end of the world, and Hollywood doesn't like films about the end of the world. Is this play set in some bizarre parallel universe, or just incredibly dated? If the latter, what period would that be? Because I am hard pressed to think of any long period without a big doomsday film. If anything, The Bridge sounds like a rubbish version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the big-budget film of which is already in development.
- Goldblum has just been promoted - he's about to make his first film as co-producer. At no stage does anyone suggest hey, let's do the prison blockbuster and *then* make The Bridge! Even though the blockbuster already has a script, while The Bridge would need rights bought, an adaptation commissioned...a delay, in other words, during which Goldblum can easily cement his position with the more commercial film.
Nonsense, in other words, but entertaining nonsense. Much like the power ballads night I attended afterwards at the new Monarch, which used to be the Misty Moon and before that the Chalk Farm Road Wetherspoon's, and as such shouldn't work at all as a venue, but sort of does.

I can't imagine why Woolworths could ever find its market position threatened when it's selling such well-conceived items as the Lolita bed for young girls. Which reminds me rather of Alan Moore's comment re: Lost Girls that "It's a stick and a carrot combined, that for the purposes of commerce it can flood your mind with the most licentious ideas and imagery but woe betide anybody who actually finds themselves in this inflamed state and responds. Because then they are a dirty, filthy person who responds to p0rnography", and makes me want to write something about Lost Girls, which I started reading during its abortive serialisation 13 years ago and eventually got to finish a couple of weeks back, on what happened to be the night before the More4 broadcast of Chris Langham's apologia. The problem is, I'd still feel fundamentally uneasy because I would be blogging about p0rn, an unease only emphasised by how many words I'd have to deliberately mis-spell to avoid blocking the friendslist of those people who read LJ in monitored workplaces. We're none of us quite free, are we?
alexsarll: (magneto)
As wonderful as those 'all my friends are here and all my friends are drunk' moments on a crowded peak-time dancefloor can be, I think my favourite bit of a lot of nights is near the end, when everyone who's left on the dancefloor just keeps going, wringing every last drop of fun out of the night. So yeah, Don't Stop Moving: ace. I love pop music. And after a very quiet week, I needed that. Will be out again tonight, at Feeling Gloomy; that's more for the first band (Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring) than the club, but now I've found my dancing feet again, I wouldn't be surprised if I stayed.

Scroll about 3/4 of the way through this one, past the comics-related content (which is fine and all, but not relevant to my point here) and you'll find some very interesting stories about the Hillary Clinton campaign's tactics - to wit, using exactly the same sort of dirty tricks which gave Florida 2000 such a bad name. Except in a party's internal contest it somehow seems even more dishonourable.

Another London venue bites the dust. Turnmills, like the King's Cross establishments which died at New Year, really wasn't on my personal going out map - I went there precisely once, to see Drinkme. But I could still see that they had something decent and distinctive going, and so it saddens me to learn that the Easter weekend will be their last, and that "The most important reason is of course that the lease is nearly up and the landlord wants to develop the site". This whole city's being turned into 'luxury flats' and 'retail developments', and if the process isn't checked then nobody will any longer have any reason to live in the flats or shop in the shops because London will have been stripped of the attractions which drew the people here in the first place. The problem being, yes, any individual property owner will make more from a bunch of flats for brokers than he will from a grotty venue. So every owner has to hope that the other owners will take a financial hit in the name of culture, while he gets to cash out.

Mostly I've been upset by the BBC's self-flagellation over its 'phone-in 'scandals'. As against ITV's deliberate and fraudulent profiteering, which was criminal and should be treated as such, the BBC just cut a few corners - yoking the two together does the BBC a grave disservice at a time when it's already under more than enough threat, and plays into the hands of Murdoch and his ilk who would love to see Auntie fall. Which said, if a BBC scalp is needed then how's about we lock up Jo Whiley and throw away the key? In her case, I'll make an exception. And then let's start digging for any non-compliance from Moyles; if he's left the smallest i undotted or t uncrossed, I say we display his head on a pike on London Bridge.
alexsarll: (menswear)
Drinking in the City earlier. I get a little uneasy in the pubs 80% full of straight men who really want to be alpha male. But when I'm in said pubs, and I go to the loo, and find ads from a campaign on the benefits of shaving your balls - well, is it any wonder that what little gaydar I ever possessed has shorted out?

EastEnders' creator has died, which doesn't really interest me except that apparently he also worked on notorious expat flop Eldorado. As did Doctor Who co-creator Verity Lambert, who died last week. Is there an Eldorado crew serial killer on the loose? And if so, why now? Perhaps he was banged up thirty-odd years ago, had to sit through the whole series because his cell-block daddy loved it, and has decided to seek revenge now gaol overcrowding has seen him released?

Wednesday's Goonite bands, in brief:
Arthur And Martha: reminiscent of Vic20, which is always good. I miss Vic20.
Monster Bobby: much better than you'd expect from a Pipettes associate. Very short songs, a welcome attribute in a support act. Although one of them is about Facebook, already mentioned by A&M. Calm down, dears.
Monday Club: very good at what they do, so far as I can tell, but what they do is sound like the Throwing Muses, whom I never really understood.
Brontosaurus Chorus: still lovely, but I still find it weird owning my friends' voices on vinyl. Digital, I'm accustomed to - but while I normally have no truck with vinyl fetishist nostalgia, here a sense of it being more 'real' somehow kicks in.

Not that there are many signs of life in Myspace these days, but it's still seldom a good sign when one of the last moving inhabitants lumbers into view intent on eating your bains adding you to their band's 'friends' list. A rare exception this week came when I got a request from The Attery Squash, whose synthpop wonder 'Charlie Brooker Is Right About Everything' I heartily recommend. Because he is, you know. Well, except 'Love and Monsters'.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
If you like stories of bands disintegrating - and who doesn't?- you *must* watch BBC4's Hawkwind - Do Not Panic. It's on tonight, but will doubtless crop up many more times as is the BBC4 way. I mean, yes Spinal Tap and Dig! are good, but does either of them feature grenades? I rather think not. And you don't need the least interest in Hawkwind's music to appreciate it; I only knew 'Silver Machine', though I do now find myself interested in learning more. I love BBC4.

Londoners may have noticed that the place is awash with scouts at the moment - some big anniversary bash in Essex is to blame, I believe. What puzzles me is how much the uniform has been liberalised these days. When I was a kid scouts still looked, y'know, like scouts - but they finally seem to have taken notice of their own motto and Been Prepared for the mockworthiness of that outfit. Now they seem to be able to wear whatever they damn well want, so long as they have that daft little neckerchief business on top. Meaning one sees it accompanying multiple facial piercings, on top of a Clash t-shirt, on top of a bloody Slipknot t-shirt. Oh, and on girls, of course. I wonder which of them has the ghost of Baden-Powell weeping most.
The irony of the redesign being, of course, that now I am older and wiser I can see that having that many scouts on Oxford Street in oldskool uniforms would have been really cool and looked like some form of paramilitary takeover.
(This reminds me of another chap I saw the other day - an old Sikh dude dressed entirely in orange, the turban too. I'm not too up on Sikh beliefs, so have no idea whether there's any religious significance to this, or whether he just thought orange looked good on him. If it was that, fair play to him, he was right)

And yes, I'm sad about Tony Wilson dying, and about not being the Briton to win £35m on last night's lottery, but that aside I seem to be in a better mood than I have been for a while. The benefits of a good night's sleep, I suppose - and that in spite of The Shield and Fell right before bed. As regards the former - it amazes me that someone as reliably fvckwitted as Shane nonetheless managed to find a wife even more stupid than himself.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Between the weather, pies, tiredness and the general lull which afflicts every club one month or another, a bit of a subdued Poptimism - but still good to see everyone after what seemed like far longer than it can actually have been. On the way there, I wondered how a station as demographically promising as Pimlico (nearest the Tate, for heavens' sake) can be so unpromising to advertisers as still to have advance posters for season 2 of Green Wing in pride of place. Whilst there, I wondered if there had ever been a J-pop cover of 'Turning Japanese', and if not, why not? And on the way home, I wondered whether I had a) stuck it to Tescopoly with my antics or b) made a drunken exhibition of myself in the supermarket.
This new regime reminds me of when I first got online; the internet was somewhere between home and out, a way to rev up or cycle down.

Was I the only person who didn't realise Garth Ennis' John Woo's 7 Brothers was a miniseries until the penultimate issue? And even then I expected two more issues, rather than one. Which is not to do down the ending, or indeed the story as a whole, which I think got Virgin Comics off to a fine start. I'm just surprised, that's all. Well, surprised and looking for an excuse to use Ronald's big line.

Oh look, the government's sticking it to the BBC again. Tossers. (edit: Actually it was the Met applied for the injunction. Ooops) Speaking of tossers, there's a longer piece on censorship percolating, preaching to the converted though it may be. But it needs a bit more work. Baited breath? I bet.
alexsarll: (bill)
Jason Webley fans! Are people planning to see him at Favela Chic in Shoreditch this Sunday, at the Green Note in Camden on Wednesday, or both? Not-yet-Jason-Webley-fans! Fancy seeing the best solo performer since Hawksley Workman, a sort of Tom Waits with an accordion and a closer connection to the human race?

Arguing with 9/11 conspiracy theorists is a self-defeating endeavour; if you refuse to accept what they see as the self-evident truth that an American cabal destroyed the World Trade Centre, then you're obviously part of the conspiracy yourself. The BBC recently showed a documentary debunking the lunacy; inevitably, this has now seen them named as another conspirator*. Not yet realising that the only sane response is to stick your fingers in your ears and start singing 'La La La La I Can't Hear You', the BBC has now defended itself. One item of the defence: "We no longer have the original tapes of our 9/11 coverage (for reasons of cock-up, not conspiracy)."
If you look at the comments on that piece, you'll get a fairly good impression of the sort of frothing insanity which characterises the conspiracy mob; you'll also note that not one of them finds this excuse remotely plausible.
Which means that they don't know anything of the history of how much classic BBC programming is missing from the archives.
Which means that not one of them can be a fan either of Peter Cook or Doctor Who.
Which is yet further proof of their general failure as human beings.

The 30th anniversary prog of 2000AD came out today. It's an incredible achievement, but they've taken the nostalgic side of this too far by including an utterly rubbish prequel to dinosaur-farming romp Flesh - and the whole thing would have been so much more resonant if Judge Dredd: Origins hadn't gone MIA mid-story.

The flu epidemic which followed the Great War killed something like 5% of the world's population - but without being followed by social breakdown or general chaos. So if bird flu gets its socks on, and accomplishes something similar - well, that's got to do a lot of good for the human carbon footprint, hasn't it? Which must be vastly preferable to the likely apocalyptic consequences of climate change. Help Us, H5N1 - You're Our Only Hope.

Have just been tooling around Hell as Beta Ray Bill, nicking enormous flaming swords off giant demons and using them to do over their mates. This entirely made up for the upsetting stuff with the clowns and the dodgems earlier, and has left me in an extremely good mood.

*At the last count the number of conspirators required would practically put them in the majority across the US and UK; added to the normal psychological flaws of the conspiracy obsessive, that desperate, childish need to believe that *someone* is in control of the world, the 9/11 mob must now be feeling terribly left out.
alexsarll: (savage)
It is at once testament to the genius of PG Wodehouse, and slightly annoying, that even his golf stories are worth reading. I spend most of them baffled as to what is actually meant to be happening, and it would be so much easier if I could just skip that section of his work - but if I did, I would miss lines like: "Attila the Hun might have broken off his engagement to her, but nobody except Attila the Hun, and he only on one of his best mornings."

"One of our goals is to improve the atmosphere of the IWC, which has become one of confrontation, and to improve dialogue," says Japan, as part of its efforts to officially resume commercial whaling (the mendacious 'scientific' programme they already have is apparently insufficient). Of late the West has proven terribly susceptible to this sort of talk, as in the widespread and muddled belief that we must above all things be tolerant for its own sake, even when that involves tolerating poisonous intolerance from others. Compromise and communication are not intrinsic goods; certainly there are conflicts born of misunderstanding, where dialogue and compromise can help, but there are others born simply of an irreconcilable conflict of interests - see also Iran, which Ahmadinejad claims is "trying to find ways to love people" while it engages in Holocaust denial conferences and plays a game of nuclear brinkmanship. Whether he's being devious, or speaking sincerely from his own foul perspective, is pretty much academic; in any dealings with him, or with the whalers, compromise is the Devil talking.
The tragedy being, of course, that on the other hand we don't seem to have the capability (much less the will) to stop either of them by force.

I'm not especially bothered that no 'big names' are in the running for the Chair of the BBC Trust - it's a new job, so why shouldn't a new face rather than an established player be right for it? What does appal me is that "The list of 23 [candidates] is believed to include [...], improbably, John Beyer - the successor to Mary Whitehouse as head of broadcasting standards lobbyists Mediawatch."
The only context in which such a name should be associated with the job is within one of the questions on the entrance interview:
Q: One of the heirs to the accursed mantle of Mary Whitehouse, long may her shade be molested by jackals, bleats priggishly that you are showing programmes about something other than the wonders of the fifties and family values. Do you:
a) Keep it puerile, announcing at a press conference that he doesn't like programmes about sex because he is a sad, lonely virgin who can't get it up, and also smells, IDST?
b) Hire a private investigator to dig up any and all dirt on him?
c) Get one of the IT department to remotely download kiddyfiddling images onto his computer, then anonymously tip off the police?
d) Cut the subtlety and just have the prick taken out?

Billy the Sink's Stray Toasters is a Hell of a comic, in all senses of the word. He's always been a remarkable artist with a particular gift for capturing fractured minds, decaying cities and feverishly twisted sexuality, but when he's writing too this gets turned up to 11, because now the story is nothing but his strengths. Which could make for a lazy, comfort zone piece of work, except that he seems also to have delved even further into the dark, keen to explore every nuance of his specialties. Like his pupil and now peer Dave McKean's Cages, this is one of those happy examples of an artist turning writer and showing a gift for that too - but alas, like Cages it also seems to be a one-off.

January 2016



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