alexsarll: (pangolin)
Very nearly went a whole calendar month without seeing any gigs there, which is most uncharacteristic. Just managed to avert that on January 31st, courtesy of Desperate Journalist at the Monarch, whose Friday nights were once Nuisance &c, and are now hip hop nights for tiny children in very few clothes. It was well Polanski. The next night, Joanne Joanne at the Dublin Castle, which has not changed, nor is it ever likely to; and since then, Gene covers at Nuisance and the newly-expanded Soft Close-Ups. Which is to say, I'm back in the swing. Earlier gigs I never got round to writing about include Dream Themes in Kiss make-up, the McDonalds (who are apparently not a novelty band), or Untitled Musical Project's drummer having some kind of meltdown at their comeback show. Alexander's Festival Hall have gone pleasingly 'el, and [ profile] exliontamer's third band, Violet Hours, make the best musical use of 'The Waste Land' I've heard since the late nineties, when it was incorporated into one of the few bits of DJ mixing I've ever appreciated.
I've also been to more Daylight Musics than usual. Somewhat to my surprise, it really suited the Penny Orchids - when they're a little quieter, in a much bigger space, the nuances of the sound get much more room to affect, especially when [ profile] hospitalsoup takes lead vocals for the first time I've seen in far too long. The festive Festivus show was also a joy but, as ever with Daylight Music, you don't half get some odd stuff turning up on the bills. When it's a man playing Philip Glass on the massive organ, that's a joy. But it might equally be someone like We Used To Make Things, a large band who are half brilliant (a suave brass section, a black Rosie the Riveter with an almost holy voice) and half terrible (four Mumfords, one played by Robert Webb, plus a singer who appears to be the horrible result of the realisation that Bobby Gillespie = Bee Gee).

Aside from gigs, there's been X-Wing and arm-wrestling, brunch and - most of all - Bruges. Which really is, as a wise man once observed, a fairytale fucking town. Some of its sillier museums (plus the one thing we wanted to see while changing trains in Brussels) were closed due to our visit being slightly too off-season, but we could still see the Belfort and the Bosch, canals and churches, the windmills and cormorants guarding the perimeter from the modern day. It's remarkable how it can be so mediaeval and yet still alive; you'll see a wall decorated with memorial medallions, assume they're all centuries-old, then look at the dates and realise that while some are, others come up to the 1990s. Yet still the continuity and style are maintained. In that sense it feels far less stuck in its own past than an ossified city-that-was such as Paris. I can also see exactly why they're filming Wolf Hall there; accordingly, it made for the perfect holiday read. But of all its strange and marvellous sights, the most remarkable must be the Michaelangelo sculpture. Not because it made its way outside Italy in his lifetime, but because it's a woman who actually looks like a woman. Madness.

Viewing: Anchorman 2 and Hobbit 2 are both much what you'd expect from their predecessors, and of course that works better for the former than the latter, which is still fundamentally a mess. There's simply too much happening, and too much of that jars with the original story even if it's ostensibly part of the same world. The abiding impression is of those stories which, in trying to make the most of a shared universe, instead simply draw attention to its cracks, and leave you wondering why Superman doesn't sort out all those non-powered crooks in Gotham. On the other hand, I also watched the first American Horror Story and while that's likewise wildly overstuffed with characters and incidents, the effect is much less queasy - simply because they were always conceived as parts of the same whole in the way the Necromancer and comedy dwarves so clearly weren't.
alexsarll: (crest)
So that was Christmas. Wondering whether to take the decorations down today or tomorrow; will Sunday evening or Monday morning have its inherent melancholy more heightened by the task? There were moments when I felt suitably festive - a binge of spooky BBC festive classics and mulled cider, seeing the Covent Garden lights and the miniature (but still pretty enormous) London made from lego in a walk-through snowglobe, the afternoon party with so much booze and so many small people one could barely move - but it always seemed to dissipate again. I suppose the late getaway, with the added stress of the transport Christmapocalypse, was always likely to shred that careful accumulation of misty goodwill.

I don't appear to have updated on my general movements since mid-October, either. Homerton, for instance, turns out to have some OK pubs and bars now, even if they are fuller still of beards than other areas of East London (the Islamic Republic possibly excepted).
The Museum of Childhood - wonderful, if it didn't have so many live children on the loose. Lots of toys one remembers fondly, at least one I used to have and knew even at the time was a bit shit, but the item that transfixed me most was that fabulous mother=-of-pearl Chinese diorama, like blue-and-white porcelain's pattern somehow brought into fragile, solid life.
My year's ticket for the Transport Museum has now expired, but I did manage to get in a visit without the Cthulhuchild who - fond as I am of him - does just tend to want to play on the trams and buses. Whereas solo, I can look at vintage posters and disused typefaces and letters from Victorian commuters, which for some unaccountable reason are things of no interest to toddlers.
The Inns of Court in autumn are fabulously autumnal. And do me the service of saving me a trip to Cambridge, because they feel so much like a college I never quite got around to visiting, and so the nostalgia is less pointed than if I went back now to one of the ones I did.
The Earl Haig Memorial Hall in Crouch End has finally opened up, its imperialist trappings intact, but now host to all manner of entertainments for the slightly-less-manic-than-we-were local. Perfect timing, really, given all the attention its namesake will be getting this year.
Lance Parkin, my favourite Doctor Who writer, launched his very good biography of Alan Moore, my favourite comics writer, with a live interview (and film screening, and so forth). The footage is here, though I've not listened to it myself in case I am too embarrassingly audible as the one person thoroughly amused by the line "What can Brian Lumley teach us?"

The slightly too pat, but still moderately fun, revenge-on-idiots comedy God Bless America appears to be the only film I've seen in ages, until I finally got round to Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa last night. Which was...quite good? Fairly amusing, surprisingly engaged with the very real plight of local radio in the 21st century, but not half so side-splitting as I'd been given to understand. There was also the Doctor Who anniversary, of course, which for all the furious initial back-and-forth on other, more rapid-response sectors of the Internet, seems to have bred a fair degree of consensus. With which I agree: 'The Fiveish Doctors' was amazing, ditto An Adventure in Space and Time bar Reece Shearsmith. The Day of the Doctor was a stunning achievement in making concentrated fanwank a coherent and exciting show for die-hard and casual viewer alike, which made the saggy mess of The Time of the Doctor all the more disappointing. But thank goodness it all came right at the end, and hurrah for Capaldi.
alexsarll: (default)
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: (crest)
So. Last night I saw Hugh Grant and Newsnight's Michael Crick at close range. The former does a proper Clark Kent act when not in public, such that you initially think 'That guy would look like Hugh Grant if he didn't have those rubbish glassesOMGIT'SHUGHBLOODYGRANT!' In other words, Lois Lane is still a bit of a dolt for taking so long to catch on. Michael Crick, on the other hand, looks exactly like Michael Crick. And I saw them because I was at the Labour History Group, where floor-crossing MP Shaun Woodward, veteran journalist Peter Kellner, and a man named Neil who confusingly used to mind Neil Kinnock, were talking about the 1992 election, and why John Major surprised everyone by winning it. Turns out the whole idea about Kinnock's unelectability is an after-the-fact myth, certainly not matching with what was believed within the Tories at the time, or the polls then - even if some of the life-long Labour members still thought, with hindsight, that it was at least in part a fair assessment. Instead, it was specific tactical mis-steps which undid Labour, particular moments of luck which boosted the Conservatives. And the feelings towards John Smith were, to put it mildly, not as nostalgic as I'd expected. But apart from the Hugh Hefner-like image of Robin Cook in his dressing gown on a train (because I've suffered it, so now you must all suffer it too), the main thing with which I came away was the general consensus that both Kinnock and Major were fundamentally decent men, who had a good deal of respect for each other. How alien and long-ago does that sound now?
This talk was, of course, by way of a 20th anniversary post-mortem, but was nonetheless handy in its proximity to [ profile] perfectlyvague's rather good War of the Waleses, Which was officially summarised as "KDC's modern take on a Shakespearean history", though I would describe it more as a Shakespearean take on modern history. Not least in resisting the temptation to do recent politics as an impressions show* (sorry, Michael Sheen, but it has got tiresome). So 1992-7 is held up to the light and rotated, different facets seen - 'Honest John' Major becomes a tragic hero, Diana (not even blonde, but still perfect) recalls Oedipus at Colonus as she feels her mere humanity falling away, and the press magnate declaims and schemes with the earthy evil one expects of the classic malcontent. Not every character can be reinvented, of course - the horror of Blair is still too fresh for him to be played as anything but the loathsome shill he always was. If I go and see friends in plays, then it's because they're talented friends, yet still I don't expect to come away thinking more than 'that was promising, and scenes X and Y, or character Z, was very good'. But this, this was something properly special.

Otherwise: two front-room Edinburgh previews, Who is Nish Kumar? and Stu Goldsmith: Prick. Both good, but the latter more to my taste, not least because I was the audience target for the section on men's misconceptions about lesbians. The return of Black Plastic, now in a Dalston club which if it only had some dry ice would look like the nightspot from an eighties film, and which would seemingly rather you take in a 9/11 Truther sticker than chewing gum. The Melting Ice Caps back to the solo setting which suits David's songs best, and a new White Stripes-style live line-up for Philip Jeays. Plus shadow puppets from another act I suspect I wouldn't find terribly interesting without the shadow puppets.

*There was a Camilla Parker-Bowles lookalike, but she was only in the audience, so that's OK. Well, except maybe for her.
alexsarll: (Default)
The headline would have to come out of order, and that's my stand-up/lecture/thing at Bright Club on Tuesday, which seemed to go down pretty well. I'm sort of tempted to put the text on here, because I can't see when I'm ever likely to need to give another comedic talk about Emperor Frederick II, but you never know...

- Paul Gravett giving a talk at the library about graphic novels, and slightly fluffing it. The guy is very smart, and engaging, and he knows his stuff, but he pitched this wrong. Too much of it was miserable autobiographical project after miserable autobiographical project and yes, that's exactly the way to get a reading group or broadsheet literary critic on board, but not this audience who were already reading comics. It's not the way to get the general public interested, either. Even if you don't want to talk about superheroes (and I can respect that, if only as entryism) then talk about Scott Pilgrim, Shaun Tan, The Walking Dead, the renaissance in crime comics, Bryan Talbot. Talk about the real variety in comics, not just the various settings from which people can extrude navel-gazing yawnfests.
- Runebound, which like Talisman takes place at the exact point where board games start to become simple roleplaying games. Yes, I am a geek, what of it?
- Spending more than an hour in the Camden World's End for the first time ever, and feeling very old, but strangely at home. I love that London, with all its infinitely diversified tribes, can still have somewhere that feels like The Indie Pub in a provincial town.
- [ profile] thedavidx's Guided Missile special, with the birthday boy covering Adam Ant songs, and the Deptford Beach Babes, and Dave Barbarossa's new band (nice drumming, shame about everything else), and Black Daniel whom I still don't quite get even though I was in the mood for them this time. Plus, the return of the 18 Carat Love Affair! Now a slightly looser, rockier proposition, a little less eighties. Not a transition of which I have often approved, but it suits them.
- Realising that not only had I finally, definitely found De Beauvoir Town, but I was drinking in it. Then going home to be disappointed by Boardwalk Empire, which I will still doubtless finish sooner or later, but which I am no longer cursing Murdoch for nabbing. Not to worry, there are still plenty of other things for which to curse him.
alexsarll: (Default)
Just when the prequel webisodes and the first half of the series opener had me worried that the new series of Primeval was a bit straightforward compared to the inspired lunacy of last series, that skating so close to cancellation had them scared - they had the character played by Hannah from S Club distract a totally enormous and temporarily non-extinct dinosaur by playing 'Don't Stop Moving' really loudly at it. Excellent. But it still feels very odd that the only exciting original programming on TV all week is two hours on ITV1.

So, New Year's Eve. I've not been to anything but a house party since the Islington Bar glory days of Stay Beautiful, or to anything which required public transport for nearly as long, and I think maybe I had the right idea. I like Bevan 17, I like the No Fiction resident DJs, I even liked the odd singer-songwriter/accordionist/beatboxer opening act who seemed even more out of place than I was as they did a surprisingly good cover of 'So Long, Marianne'. But the crappy 8 bit duo in between who spent 15 minutes fiddling about as though it was going to make them sound any less piss-poor, and the Whip's DJ set of headache electro, and the boozed-up populace of Kilburn who just wanted somewhere to get lairy, and the hordes of mad-eyed partyers on the Tube of whom half seem only to go out on this one thanks. I'm still not sure if I was actually ill or just in some form of existential shock, but having only had two pints while out, by 2am I was in bed, and on New Year's Day I felt considerably worse than if I'd been overdoing it round a friend's house the night before as per usual. But I do like the way the unusual shape of the weeks this time round has stretched out the holiday season - it has less of a direct effect on me than on a lot of people, but the sense of a proper extended break, almost of carnival, is contagious.

Mark Gatiss' history of horror reminded me that years back, m'learned colleague [ profile] dr_shatterhand had recommended I watch seventies Brit horror The Blood on Satan's Claw. Gatiss brackets it alongside Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man as 'folk horror', and I'd agree with the first half of that; as far as I'm concerned The Wicker Man isn't horror at all, but an Ealing comedy by another name. This, though...this is definitely horror. Sometime in the early 18th century*, somewhere in the English countryside, a demonic relic is unearthed and the village children's games turn sinister. Very gradually, at first, yet it's still terribly sinister, and I love that - it reminds me of Arthur Machen's 'The White People', or the final Quatermass, or Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss from before his Mythago books got dull, when they still captured all the strangeness and terror of myth. What could have been a Merrie Englande fiasco is instead just grotty enough and grey enough to feel like the real countryside on its off days, as the diabolic forces bubble up from beneath.
(Added points of interest for Doctor Who fans: sh1t eighties Master Anthony Ainley plays the vicar, and sixties companion Zoe aka Wendy Padbury is the centrepiece of a ritual gang rape scene which, alarmingly, was apparently pretty much improvised on the spot)

*The blurb says the 17th, but a Jacobite character toasts James III, so no.
alexsarll: (crest)
I've now read a second of the 33 1/3 books, charming pocket-sized guides to classic albums. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society wasn't quite as good as the excellent one on the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen, in part simply because it was covering more well-trodden territory, and without the same access to the prime mover, necessitating a certain amount of speculation and Kremlinology. Similarly, as much as I love the albums in question I don't feel any real need to read the entries on Unknown Pleasures, or The Velvet Underground & Nico. But some of the others which deviate a little more from the Mojo-style canon look like they could be fascinating - The Magnetic Fields, Nas, DJ Shadow, Belle & Sebastian. And a forthcoming volume promises to look at Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine. Now that, I suspect, will be a good read.

Had a mini-adventure around the City yesterday, following Surround Me: A Song Cycle for the City of London by Susan Philipsz. One location was broken, another was full of inept skaters, but the other four were magical; madrigals and rounds sung as if by the stones of deserted yards. Plus, of course, the City at weekends can be quite uncanny anyway, scattered with public art and deserted shops; it's all a little post-apocalyptic, and when you find St Dunstan's, the ruined chapel turned idyllic grove, it moves from the merely eerie to the positively mythic.
One puzzle of which I was reminded when we finally found a pub that was, albeit briefly, open - why do places which stock Grey Goose vodka always have it turned on the shelf such that it reads Grey Goo? Not appetising.

As the nights get darker, the TV schedules get fuller. Last week brought the return of The Sarah Jane Adentures and Hung, the start of Mark Gatiss' BBC4 history of horror, and the very promising-sounding 12th century epic Pillars of the Earth. Which, alas, turned out to be utter crap. The wreck of the White Ship with Henry I's only son aboard was a good place to start - but the quality of the CGI would have shamed Knightmare. They then managed to fit a startling number of historical inaccuracies into about a minute:
1) The ship hit a rock and sank. Those aboard were almost all pissed, but there was no fire.
2) There was a survivor, a Rouen butcher named Berold.
3) Matilda was not an adorable poppet playing at Henry's feet when the news arrived. She was 18 and had been in Germany for years what with being married to the Holy Roman Emperor.
I mean, they might as well have had the messenger arrive on a Segway. The suggestion of a conspiracy I could forgive as an invention for dramatic purposes - Stephen did get off the ship before it sailed, which looks suspicious, though even I don't think he sabotaged the ship because he was a sh1t, but he wasn't that sort of sh1t. And then the dialogue was all so bloody instrumental, inhuman...even with Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane in sinister mode, Donald Sutherland and Van Gogh from Doctor Who, I didn't make it to the first ad break. What a waste.
alexsarll: (howl)
Have abandoned the whole 'last two weeks' comics idea, because after a month we're round again to mostly the same titles and I would say mostly the same things. But I will mention that in the back of one was a preview of what I believe to be Jonathan Ross' first comic after many years as a fan and advocate. Turf looks rather gorgeous, as you'd expect from Tommy Lee Edwards (last seen on Mark Millar's 1985, but the writing's not letting it down either. It also looks promisingly kitchen sink, not in the sense of 'drama' so much as 'everything but the'. From a mere five pages, it looks as if it's going to be a Prohibition-era New York gangster story. In which one of the gangs is vampire. And then an alien spaceship crashes into Manhattan.
(No idea why talking about gangsters should seem like it naturally leads into this, but another reason I'm glad the weather has cheered up is that lately I've really been getting into Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, and if it were still raining all the time, that might have been the end of me)

Otherwise, I've spent much of the week out East, one way or another. Not East London - I've gone no further that way than Stroud Green Library - but the Orients of the imagination. At said library, for the talk I plugged on Monday, John Man (who turned out to be a very dapper local gent) explained how he'd been researching the site, and talking to architects, and he was now on course to rebuild Xanadu! Except when you traced back Coleridge's "stately pleasure dome", it turns out to have been a sort of bamboo marquee. The only nearby river, not called the Alph, is unmolested by caverns measureless to man, and is in fact a rather sluggish stream - imagine the New River minus the plastic bags. I was happier with the fragments of Coleridge's opium dream.
The week's main prose reading, meanwhile, was Daniel Abraham's A Betrayal in Winter. Having realised how mined-out the pseudo-mediaeval crypto-Europe is as a setting for fantasy, Abraham has instead created a wonderfully ornate echo of the Orient (it helps that he's extremely good at writing smell and taste, and this is a world which smells a lot more of green tea than blood and iron). He has constrained himself to one outright fantastic invention - this is a world where a poet who describes a concept well enough may conjure it into life as a spirit to do his bidding - but in this book the main mover is the fratricidal succession customs of his ruling class. In fact if not in principle, plenty of our own world's monarchies shared this, and even now something not dissimilar is pretty much enshrined in corporate life (the very occasional outright appeals to this are the book's only weak moments). The dehumanising effect of this, and by extension of any society which founds itself on unbridled competition within formal parameters, are brilliantly delineated; characters make bad decisions through the terrifyingly inescapable gravity of their histories and their situation, not because the plot requires them to do something stupid. This contrasted with the much-praised The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I read a week or two back. There, when one character doesn't call the police, he's not calling the police because otherwise the book would have no denouement, so he temporarily becomes a headstrong idiot. Here, you're always *wishing* a character would make a different decision, while knowing that realistically, they can't.
Finally, I watched Miyazaki the Younger's Tales from Earthsea, in which an Easterner takes a resolutely non-Western fantasy...and transplants it to the timeless Europe his father created. I suppose in manga the Japanese look Western anyway, and Sparrowhawk is at least slightly swarthy, so it's not quite as egregious as the whited-up live action version of a few years back. It is, however, a bit of an unwieldy mess. Where I remember le Guin's books, or at least the original trilogy, being quite profound in their concept of the world's Balance - and where Miyazaki senior's films often advance something similar in a way which seems implicitly right, here it just comes across as the mystical hippy b0ll0cks common to third-rate anime. There are moments of beauty, to be sure, but overall it's too long and too dull and too generic. I hope he may learn and one day be worthy of his father's crown, but for now I can only be glad dad didn't quit film-making after all (not that I've seen Ponyo yet).

A rant

Feb. 26th, 2010 12:01 pm
alexsarll: (marshal)
In spite of London Transport's best efforts, I made it to the Good Ship last night in time for Lullaby Oscillatrix, and The Icebergs, and The Angry Bees, three very different new musical adventures involving my endlessly creative chums (OK, 'musical' might not be quite the right word in the case of the Bees). And the faff en route did at least mean I could pretty much finish off Anna Minton's Ground Control en route. It's a book I've been trying to read in public not just for the normal reason of it being nicely pocket-sized, but also as my own small rejoinder to the situation it describes in which, as that review is headlined, "they sold our streets and nobody noticed". The current government has encouraged councils to privatise public space, to sell off assets which were bequeathed to local communities in perpetuity (if not legally, then morally, this is clearly theft), to design cities in accord with unproven and pernicious theories. There's so much here I didn't know. Just one example: since 2004, compulsory purchase orders no longer need to show public benefit in any terms other than monetary ones. Needless to say, the idea that said money will benefit the public relies on our old favourite, trickledown economics - because in the short term it's going straight to the developers. Shameful. Also, it would seem, inescapable. This all took place under a nominally Labour government, which is shameful and ludicrous, but it's not as if it would be reversed by the admitted Tories, and I no longer even have any confidence in the Lib Dems.
In 1821, John Hunt was imprisoned for an article describing MPs as "Venal boroughmongers, grasping placemen, greedy adventurers and aspiring title-hunters...a body, in short, containing a far greater proportion of Public Criminals than Public Guardians." Obviously a lot has changed since then; now MPs realise that prosecution only makes martyrs and the system ticks over nicely if you just ignore how much the public hates the whole damn pack of you, so critics can make high-profile TV dramas like On Expenses which essentially advance Hunt's point over an hour of docudrama (the usual disclaimer admitting that some details have been compressed then turns around and reminds us that "mostly, you couldn't make it up") with a fine cast including Brian Cox and Anna Maxwell Martin...and nobody bats an eyelid, and MPs complain that they can't be expected to travel in standard class with the proles, and they use slave labour in breach of the minimum wage laws they passed themselves, and we head towards an election which is once again going to beat all the records for low turn-out because nobody's fool enough to believe any result would accomplish anything, especially not after we saw that even if we had a genuinely inspirational politician like Barack Obama - which we clearly don't - then, like Obama, he would probably be incapable of achieving anything if he got in, not with the system arrayed against him.
alexsarll: (bill)
Saw two of my favourite bands over the past few days - also, incidentally, the two bands I think of whenever some fool asks why young bands aren't addressing the issues of the day. Any time you see such a diatribe, remember the options: the writer is unaware of The Vichy Government or The Indelicates, and hence too ignorant for anything he says to be worth attention; or else the writer could not understand their lyrics, or did not consider them sufficiently political because they made no mention of 'Tony B Liar more like', in which case he is too stupid for anything he says to be worth attention. Both bands are confident enough that their sets were pretty much stripped of the old favourites, and both are creative enough that it barely registered because the new stuff is at least as good. Where matters diverged was in the support. The Indelicates had England's finest chanson man, Philip Jeays, solo and even better that way, wowing an incongruously young section of the audience; a particularly melodic and vaguely Springsteen incarnation of Keith TOTP & his etcetera; and the increasingly lovely Lily Rae. Vichy, on the other hand, were lumbered with one Joyride. Given they caused only sorrow, and stayed in one place (the stage) when we really wished they'd depart, I wondered whether this name might be cause for a Trade Descriptions case, but apparently not. Ripping off The Fall and the Mary Chain as ineptly as I've ever seen, and that's saying something, they managed to be thoroughly rubbish in spite of having one member in a Girls Aloud t-shirt and a song with the chorus "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do".

Just finished Max Adams' The Firebringers - At, science and the struggle for liberty in nineteenth-century Britain, which is a frustrating bloody book. The main problem I had was no fault of Adams' - he overlaps quite a bit with Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder, which I'd not long read. But the comparison does show how Holmes' 'relay race' structure serves him brilliantly, while Adams lacks restraint and tries to tell too many stories at once, breeding confusion and occasional repetition. I was mainly reading the book in so far as I wanted to know more about John Martin, the painter who "single-handedly invented, mastered and exhausted an entire genre of painting, the apocalyptic sublime". I've loved his work ever since I saw his final great trilogy, Judgment, in what is now Tate Britain - it hangs there still, though very badly situated. He was big news in his time, though critical opinion was not kind then and is even less so now; as far as I'm concerned he still sits only a very little behind his friend and contemporary Turner as one of the best painters, never mind British painters, ever. Adams, on the other hand, likes him more than the critics but less than the Regency public. Then, for whatever reason, he has attempted to make this a group biography - perhaps because he was told they sell better now, on which more later. So we also get the other Martin brothers: Richard the soldier (his autobiography is alas lost, so he mainly appears in 'mights'); Jonathan (yes, confusing, but in an age of high child mortality it happened a lot) the religious maniac who set York Minster ablaze; and William, who started as inventor and ended another lunatic, riding around on a self-designed velocipede with a brass-bound tortoiseshell as a helmet, selling pamphlets about how he'd been swindled, a few of the stories true but most sheer paranoia.
Except the Martin brothers are still not enough, so they become a spine for 'the Prometheans', an undeclared, unrealised movement united in their desire to free mankind. Their membership includes Shelley, Godwin, the Brunels, various politicians...or does it? Because Adams' definitin of Promethean ideals seems more Procrustean; obviously most of his posthumous conscripts don't quite fit it, for which they are ticked off. Shelley was too extreme in his declarations, hence unpublishable and useless - but the Reform Bills were too timid and compromised. There is still good stuff to be salvaged from among this historical kangaroo court, but it's a trial.
And then, of course, the publishers clearly told Adams that The Prometheans wouldn't sell, so the title had to be dumbed down to The Firebringers. It's a bit of a mess, but not an uninteresting one.
alexsarll: (menswear)
I've had a couple of serendipitous library finds recently. Having mentioned Seth Fisher a couple of weeks back, I came across the last collection of his work I hadn't read at the weekend. Which meant I had Batman: Snow there to read as the snow whirled down this week. As with his other work, it's only really worth it for the art - who else would ever have given Alfred bunny pyjamas and an expressive combover? JH Williams III is credited as co-plotter, but on this evidence should stick to the artwork too, because I'm still not convinced that Mr Freeze can ever be anything more than DC's second best cold-themed villain.
A couple of weeks earlier, I'd finally found Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, which came out a couple of years back. I've known Rob on and off since school and, unlike some acquaintances whose rise to celebrity status is face-crunchingly irksome (mentioning no names, Rick the Fister) his emergence as a sort of all-weather public intellectual has been as gratifying as it is richly deserved. This wander around Britain in search of wildness - and a definition of what 'wildness' might even mean - was, for me, a much more satisyfing book than his debut, Mountains of the Mind, and I was left wondering why it hadn't been picked up for TV.
So in Saturday's paper, there's Rob explaining how it's been narrowed down to Essex, and filmed, and will be on TV tonight. Which is handy. I also note that immediately afterwards is a show about the different orders of infinity - a concept I can just about handle, except that it's narrated by Steven Berkoff, which seems unduly sadistic.
(The Wild Places was also one of of two consecutive non-fiction books I read to mention Nevil Maskelyne. Not either of the two stage magicians of that name, of whom I am aware through the wartime illusionism and being contemporaries of David Devant, although I can never quite keep them separate in my head - but the Astronomer Royal at the opening of Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder, their presumable ancestor. What a dynasty!)

Also: one of the problems with/interesting side effects of Google Alerts is that you're kept informed of the activities of namesakes. I know an awful lot more than I used to about the fireman Alan Moore, for instance. And today, I learn of a stem cell scientist Alan Moore who is involved with a project called 'Regenesis', also the title of a Swamp Thing collection - albeit not one of Moore's, but the six Veitch issues which immediately followed him.
alexsarll: (bernard)
My hopes were, in all honesty, not high for Are Friends Eclectic? on Friday. It was being held at the Cross Kings (of 'rapey murals' fame) and I've been suspicious of the word 'eclectic' in club names ever since I saw the press for a night which was called simply Eclectic, on the grounds that it played all the different subgenres of drum'n'bass. But [ profile] xandratheblue and [ profile] retro_geek were DJing within an hour's walk of mine so it would have been churlish not to give it a try, and I'm very glad I did. With the exception of one DJ who seemed intent only on playing fashionable young people's music in remixes which removed all the good bits (why does a version of Wiley's 'Take That' without the buzzing noise even exist?) and had the treble up too high, the music was a good selection, and there were soon enough people in to obscure the walls. Well, except the one which had anime projected on it, that was fine, especially the one about the flying turtle rescuing its friends from inside a giant stone turtle on some island with an ancient turtle civilisation. Yeah, I know it's a bit of a hackneyed plot but they did it with charm. Hightlights included:
[ profile] exliontamer doing the best gun action I have ever seen to MIA's 'Paper Planes'.
[ profile] augstone hanging himself from the ceiling with his feather boa during 'She's Lost Control'.
[ profile] steve586 using the same feather boa for a spot of skipping, which since he's already in The 18 Carat Love Affair, and 'Skipping' is also an Associates track, set me off on the idea of him doing a comedy quest in the manner of Dave Gorman or Danny Wallace (except less sh1t) where he literally enacts other Associates song titles, by eg driving a white car in Germany or playing the spoons in the nude.
We then made the arguably ill-advised decision all to pile back to Aug's for wine, American confectionery and singalongs. [ profile] cappuccino_kid was the first to leave, only to find that his door was stuck and nearly have to come back. He managed to kick it in in the end but I was concerned that, being from Belfast, reflex might then take over and he'd try to kneecap the hamster, which would be hard enough sober.
On Saturday, after four hours' sleep, I got up for what was meant to be a lovely walk in the country. Except the member of the party who had suggested this specific walk was 'ill', a story the rest of us soon began to walk. I can hardly complain that the Lea/Lee Valley doesn't even know how to spell itself when I live so close to Har(r)ing(a/e)y, but the directions we had from Waltham Cross station used terms like 'right' and 'left' in ways which didn't really fit the late Soviet concrete feel of the surrounds. Yes, once we found Waltham Abbey it was historically and architecturally lovely, if still rather too actively christian for my liking (even attempting ti claim orthodoxy for the Zodiac on the ceiling). And at first, the riverside walk seemed lovely too. But soon the Tottenham reservoirs were looming on our left (being raised, they essentially look like motorway embankments with the odd life-ring at the top); to our right, a river with no apparent life but the coots, and beyond that, decaying industry. And above us - pylons, diligently following the path. We thought we'd found some signs of rural life with the glimpse of horses ahead, but close up they had upsetting and peculiar growths, which was possibly the last straw (even the horses were out, having moldy bread instead). We bailed at Ponders End - where the only pub seemed to be a Harvester. Cultural tourism ahoy.
Then home via the library for lots of tea, and out again to see the 18 Carat Love Affair, or rather the 14.4 Carat Love Affair, as the bassist was ill (you could maybe subtract further given the fragility of other band members, but the maths would start getting dubious). They were supported by two baffling but keen Japanese bands who had very loud singers; it was perhaps because of this that Steve could barely be heard in the mix when he went for a more subtle/hungover approach. Still not a bad show, though. Headliners Black Daniel were quite something - essentially Har Mar Superstar joining the Dandy Warhols to fill in for a show the Black Eyed Peas couldn't make - but a band like that requires energy, and by this stage I had none. Home again, and bed. Where I pretty much stayed yesterday.

The weekend's viewing:
Anatomy of a Murder: Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick star in the Murder One of its day, with a surprisingly frank treatment of rape for 1959. Coincidentally, the Saul Bass* titles were homaged in Alan Moore's 'The Anatomy Lesson', which I reread this same weekend because, in the library, I found the new Saga of the Swamp Thing hardcover which finally reprints Moore's first issue on the series, rather than starting with said 'Anatomy Lesson'. Some lovely page layouts, presumably Totleben's, but you can see why prior reprints never bothered with it.
Around The World By Zeppelin, a fabulous compilation of archive footage and diary readings telling the story of a 1930 journey which, were it fictional, would seem heavy-handed. Our protagonist - an aristocratic English journalist, junior partner to an American. They had an affair a while back, and it ended badly, but feelings remain. In Germany, there are extremist riots against reparations; in Japan, meetings hailing a new age of German-Japanese friendship. Stalin blusters as they fly over the endless wastes of Russia, and they are feared lost after a great storm over the Pacific. Back in the US, alive, the men ignore the Midwest passing beneath them, too obsessed with the novelty of being the first airborne traders in stocks and shares. Thinking about it, maybe Glen David Gold or Michael Chabon could do it justice - but they don't need to, because this film exists. Do watch it.
Sons of Anarchy, which having come from a Shield writer, now brings in a Shield actor - and it's poor compromised old Dutch, playing an ATF agent who's a lot more human than he'd like to be. Oh, this is going to be good.

*I always get Saul Bass confused with Lance Bass, the former 'N Sync member and thwarted space traveller. Checking Wikipedia to see if there's any connection, I see no sign of one, but it does claim that his mother's maiden name was Haddock. Is this true? Because Haddock marrying Bass sounds distinctly fishy.
alexsarll: (Default)
If you're in the mood for something between Flashman and Indiana Jones, I can strongly recommend Peter Hopkirk's Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. For instance:
"He spent three years at Oxford and the British Museum studying classical and oriental archaeology and languages, but omitted Chinese - a gap in his linguistic armoury which was to cost him dear some twenty years later at the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas near Tun-huang."
It's all inconveniently dead camels, monasteries falling into ravines in earthquakes and races with dastardly Germans as Edwardian archaeologists descend on Chinese Turkestan in search of ancient cities lost in the shifting sands of the Taklamakan desert. Which is right next to the Gobi desert, and I'm not sure how exactly you tell where one desert stops and another begins, but the main difference seems to be that the Gobi was considered a bit of a girls' desert in comparison.
There's even a mountain range called Kun Lun, only two apostrophes off the home of Iron Fist - and in this neck of the woods, apostrophes seem to wander quite a bit.

Yesterday, after the Tubewalks, I went to see the Scoop's puppet-laden, song-and-dance take on the story of Jason & the Argonauts, which was played fairly panto-style, and ended in an audience participation dancealong to 'Walking on Sunshine'. They told the audience to stick around for the sequel, Medea, promising it would be "fun". I wonder how many families did that, and of those, how many had any idea what happens in Medea and how many expected more jolly adventures? We'd already seen the harrowing tale of desertion and infanticide on Thursday (Ben says most everything I'd want to about it here), and the idea of having the same cast do both in a double-bill is some flowering of evil genius.
After getting home from that, I'd watched Entourage and We Are Klang on their late showings*, which made for a late start on Friday, in spite of/because of which I had a really productive day. Started with His Girl Friday, because it was too long since I'd seen a Cary Grant film, and what a strange mixture of screwball comedy and film noir it is, with police corruption, corrupt electioneering and suicide all subjugated to the sparring will they/won't they couple. Then finished off a Kate Bush biography of which I'd read two chapters years ago (the writer wasn't great, but even beyond that I suspect she's another of those musicians where the life she lives could never be as exciting as the life implied by the world of her songs). Then sorted out the books on the landing and considered the death of Keith Waterhouse; he wrote a book and a play which I love, and seems to have been basically brilliant fun, so why did I never especially like him qua him, instead just liking those two works in isolation?).
And then, out to Proud. I'd always been fairly certain that Proud would be a dreadful venue, but I seriously underestimated just how bad. It's full of similar tossers to fashionable West End clubs (and similar drinks prices), but here some of said tossers are in Smiths t-shirts, just to remind us how bankrupt the whole concept of 'indie' is these days. 18 Carat Love Affair were clearly getting the same sound mix as all the other bands they put on when they're booking electro-indie by the yard; vocals down (because certainly nobody wants to hear the lyrics of the average electro-indie act), bass up (keep 'em dancing). The bass suited 18CLA, the inaudible vox less so. Once they were done, we fled to [ profile] brain_opera's party which, like any good party, was deeply strange and went on far too late.
On Saturday there were two more birthdays; this was when I started to feel I was maybe overdoing it.

*Not content with pushing Entourage later and later, this week ITV aren't showing it at all; it's being bumped for Katy Brand's new series and forgettable Tom Cruise flick The Last Samurai. They really are intent on rendering themselves entirely worthless as a channel, aren't they?
alexsarll: (bernard)
The last Torchwood: well, I suppose it had its moments. Spoilers ) And then after, the trailer for today's new Who. Speeches about what the Doctor is get me every time. Or at least, they used to, but while at least Tate wasn't screeching these lines, nor could she make me believe them. I'm still going to watch it, obviously. But without any hope of enjoying the experience.

I'm currently halfway through two novels which have a brilliant handle on the quiet desperation of life in the first decade of the 21st century. One of them, Friction, is by Joe Stretch, the young frontman of the quite good band (we are) Performance; it came out last month. The other is 40 years old - John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar.
Friction is Michel Houllebecq if he were twice as good, and minus the po-faced self-importance of the Gallic intellectual cliche. The anomie, the corrosive effect of glossy magazines, the deadening social assumptions are all laid bare with a merciless scalpel. And nimble phrasing, too - in discussion of the modern fondness for comedy, he describes the era as 'pissless'. Which took me a moment, Or consider: "Nowadays, opting out of social occasions is a form of self-mutilation." Best summation I've yet seen of the tension felt when one opts for a QNI. Or consider: "We have arrived at some poorly signposted junction in Earth's existence, when people can do little bar pay their rent and sit at tables, order drinks and chew Italian bread to mush. Who is remembering all this?"
Brunner, on the other hand, predicted the barely-suppressed hysteria of the big picture. Like anyone who gazes into the future, he's a little off in places; he's managed to get RSS aggregation and fake interactivity down, for instance, without realising the computer and the TV would merge. But if you had shown him the modern world, he'd have taken maybe a day to grasp it, and there's few enough people who live here of whom that can be said. In places, the problem is simply that his dystopia is too optimistic - he assumed that somewhere past the six billionth Earth human, even the core of the Catholic church would accept the need for birth control, nevermind the US government - but the overall tone, the resource shortage, the slow collapse; he saw it all coming. The gang problem causing so much woe in London? He foresees and explains it almost in passing, showing how it's the natural consequence of putting territorial mammals in an overcrowded environment. A prophet who should have been heeded sooner.

I would not yet make any claims for Marvel Comics' Secret Invasion event as Art, but as a big superhero comic about stuff blowing up, it got off to a very good start. Moderate spoilers )

Another good Clockwork Comedy on Tuesday; Carey Marx and Parsnip the teddy have such a wonderful way with the Wrong. I also liked the drunk Jewish girl* and the low-key storytelling guy (though I felt so sorry for him when he thought that so many people were laughing that it must all be a dream), but the video shop chap - not so much. You can't do geek humour and get the details wrong. If you were that into 300, you wouldn't keep calling it The 300. If you want to be Batman, you'll know that (regrettably) he doesn't kill. And above all, if you read Doctor Who Magazine you'll know it's not been Weekly in years.
Besides, what kind of film buff prefers video to DVD? DVD is the ultimate geek medium.

Today's random historical peculiarity: Strasbourg's 1518 'Dancing Plague': "Hundreds of men and women danced wildly, day after day, in the punishing summer heat. They did not want to dance, but could not stop". Many died. Puts the panic about Killer Rave Drug Ecstasy into perspective, doesn't it?

*Yes, I know, quelle surprise.
alexsarll: (bernard)
...though I did drink rather too much at the weekend, and I am emotionally devastated by the conclusion of The Wire season 4 which, like the book I'm reading about occupied France, seems rather too applicable to the wider world. I remain flabbergasted at the stupidity of offended people (you should all know the Brooker link by now): cf complaints about last week's Ashes to Ashes being inappropriate broadcasting in light of the Suffolkator's trial, even though the episode's substance was precisely the unfortunate prejudices which hamper investigation of crimes against prostitutes. See also: "protesters are claiming the pictures [of Mohammed on Wikipedia] have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims", even though the pictures are by muslims, albeit rather more civilised ones from 700 years ago. Roll on the reformation, eh?

Oh, and comedy last night: vair good. Even worth changing trains at Paddington for, though next time I would strive to avoid that bit.
alexsarll: (seal)
Looks like tomorrow's the final Fosca show; a shame not only in itself, but because that's a second band this year with whom [ profile] hospitalsoup won't be playing a London farewell show. Which said, I can definitely appreciate Dickon's reasons, and if anything the knowledge of an ending makes me look forward to it even more than I already was.

Which reminds me, the final episode of the show I'm at last prepared to call Jekyll was possibly the best of the lot (especially the really-quite-obvious-once-you-realise-it-take on what emotion Mr Hyde represents; I think it was only having Alan Moore's LoEG take on the character in the way that stopped me spotting it sooner). And The Shield, as ever, managed to find a whole new level of Hell to which it could descend. But the Take That Star Stories? I wasn't convinced. I think the mistake was in having Gary Barlow do the voiceover, as against a generic voiceover guy with a pro-Barlow agenda. I can't see how that change alone was enough to kill it for me; perhaps the ensemble had changed too, or they lost a writer? But as if a switch had been thrown, I just wasn't amused anymore.

If puritanism really had no part in the smoking ban, and it was purely a public health issue, I look forward to the imminent ban on the relevant printers in all workplaces.

There are plenty of depressing periods in world history, but the worst are the ones which manage to be incomprehensible as well as miserable. I've just been reading up on the Hellenistic Age; like the Carolingian era, it basically consists of a great emperor's heirs squabbling over his legacy like particularly vicious jackals - and all having the same bloody names while they're about it. So various Philips, Alexanders, Ptolemys and Antigonuses make alliances with one against the other, shift allegiance the first time they see an advantage in it, and generally make one despair for coherence as much as humanity. Things reach a low point - by any definition - when one particularly obese and unpleasant Ptolemy throws over his sister-wife (and brother's widow) Cleopatra for her daughter Cleopatra, this union producing three further Cleopatras, who soon get into the family spirit with a rare enthusiasm for sororicide. This is all a couple of generations before the Cleopatra (VII) with whom we chiefly associate the name, of course - and before we get there we encounter the charmer Mithridates, responsible for the Rwanda-style massacre of 80,000 Romans in Asia, and who managed by practice to render himself so immune to poison that he eventually found himself with difficulties committing suicide. Oh, and did I mention that all those famous slave revolts - you know, Spartacus and company - well, whatever you may have heard, they weren't actually against slavery per se. Hell no, however would society function without slaves? They just didn't feel that they personally ought to be slaves.
Frankly, the whole bloody mess makes Rome feel like an especially restful outing for the Mr Men.
alexsarll: (bill)
Just returned from Sidmouth, a thoroughly charming little coastal town from which one can see the wreck of the Napoli. It's actually strangely charming, listing out there; I think they should set up some kind of floating, sloping restaurant. Also, the Devonian cliffs - not only are they a most evocative shade of red, but if you pick up one of the chunks that's fallen off you can crush it with your bare hand. Which, for bonus fun, leaves you with a Red Right Hand!

Now that Girls Aloud have done 'I Predict A Riot', and Lily Allen 'Oh My God', all we need is a decent version of 'Every Day I Love You Less And Less' and the Kaiser Chiefs themselves can be safely edited out of history. 'Cover version? Nah mate, don't know what you're talking about.'

After many interruptions (somewhere around five novels and one biography, plus a few short stories), I finally finished Hugh Kennedy's The Court Of The Caliphs. In many ways the decline of the Abbasids is Gibbon all over again, with Turks taking the role of the Pretorian guard. The caliph who first brought them in, though - what a piece of work!
"When Mutawwakil succeeded to the caliphate, he ordered the abandonment of investigation and discussion and debate and everything which people had enjoyed in the days of Ma'mun, Mu'taism abd Wathiq. He ordered submission and the acceptance of tradition. He ordered the senior scholars to expound traditions of the Prophet and teach the sunna and generally accepted opinions."
He also had some quite gleefully horrific proto-Stalinist purges of his supposed opponents, and instituted the first systematic discrimination against Jews and christians - making them wear yellow.
In more recent islam news: former Jihadi "has no truck with the idea of Islamophobia, which he dismisses as the squeal of an Islamist leadership pleading special favours". If only the left could grasp that simple concept too, eh?
alexsarll: (magneto)
Gosh had sold out of the issue of Captain America where he dies by lunchtime, apparently. And that limiting people to two copies each, maximum. Part of me wishes the would-be speculators could have been given their head; I love the rare occasions when bad form really is its own punishment. I was in there for 12 comics, but Cap wasn't one of them; it's sad that so few of the people lured there by the chance to be in some indefinable way Part Of The News would have thought to pick up The Authority or Phonogram or newuniversal as well or instead.

Avril Lavigne's 'Girlfriend' achieves the hitherto unthinkable in being more fundamentally repugnant than 'Sk8r Boi', a song which has much the same effect on me as watching two spiders fighting. At least the earlier song, in its clueless way, was trying to manufacture an outsider, placing Lavingne as the rebel done good. But this...lyrically, it's Pussycat Dolls' 'Dontcha' but naffer (whether the description of the rival as "so whatever" is intended ironically or not, it's painful). And the video, with no apparent attempt at ambiguity, shows Lavigne and her cronies bullying the geeky girl whose boyfriend she wants to steal. And this is being held up as cool, by an act I'd thought aimed at the victims rather than the bullies? Quite appalling. I caught this monstrosity on E4 while setting the video; before and after I was listening to the Indelicates' 'We Hate The Kids'. Chance juxtaposition though this was, you couldn't hope for a better illustration of the Indelicates' argument that pop has gone irretrievably rotten, become just another arm of the voracious amoeba that is the Spectacle.
But what's worst of all is that the conclave of mad scientists who must be behind the whole 'Avril Lavigne' project have succeeded in making this one rather catchy.

The Court of the Caliphs is a bittersweet reminder of a time before the Mongols ruined everything, when the muslim world was arguably winning the civilisation game (if I had the misfortune to find myself in the late eighth century, the Middle East would be one of the more tempting neighbourhoods - certainly a long way ahead of Western Europe or Britain). Even the jihad against the infidel as practised then seems more like an annual promenade, engaged in with passion but no real animosity; at worst it was the era's footballism. There is the strangely familiar period where a civil war leaves Iraq prey to lawlessness, kidnapping and general devastation (though all without a Westerner or Zionist in sight), but that aside it's mostly wine, (harem) women and song.
Perhaps the most interesting section is that on Harun al-Rashid, the caliph made famous by the Arabian Nights. Turns out those tales don't really gel with history as we now know it, not even as exaggerations thereof. His adventures and ceaseless wonder among the exotic secrets of Baghdad? He didn't care for the city, and made several half-hearted efforts to build an alternative capital. His sidekick Jafar? Well, Jafar was the treasured vizier for much of his reign, it's true - but Haroun ends up having him brutally executed and posthumously dishonoured for no very clear reason. Despite his renown, Haroun's whole reign comes across as a series of false starts, mis-steps and thwarted efforts.
Which sets me thinking of Neil Gaiman's take on Haroun in the Sandman story 'Ramadan', where Haroun sells the magnificent Baghdad of the tales to the King of Dreams, in order that it might live forever. Assuming that Gaiman knew the historical version as well as the 1001 Nights (which I think fair, for he does seem to know almost everything) then this gives the story another layer. For when the deal is concluded, and Haroun wakes in the shabbiness of the real Baghdad...well, if you found yourself in the mundane shadow of the glorious, fabled city you once had, you'd want to get away from it, wouldn't you? And if your loyal companion, the sort heroes have, was suddenly replaced with a flawed human who nonetheless had his name and a certain coarse resemblance - you might well come to find yourself angered by him in a way that didn't make sense to the outside observer. So as well as a tribute to the Arabian Nights in particular and the power of legend in general, Gaiman's written an explanation for the rather dispirited reign of the factual Haroun.

So, in the absence of B-Movie, what's going on this Friday night? Or shall I just have a QNI and be up bright and early for the Tubewalks (start: Cally Road, 2pm)?

January 2016



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