Posts from 15th August 2003

Aug 03

It’s All In The Mind

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It’s All In The Mind is a good blog I only found today – I read this entry on Auden and Rilke just after I’d written the Lene review below. Few are fonder than I of queasy middle Englishness but I see what he’s getting at – (simplifying monstrously) youthful experiences and reactions are never simply youthful, they remain possibilities for the rest of your life. That’s part of why it’s absurd for people to suggest that adults shouldn’t listen to pop music: I’m still glad other adults do, though.

LENE NYSTROM — “It’s Your Duty”

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Some of the other pop logs have been talking this one up and they’re quite correct. Lene Nystrom used to be in Aqua and now songwrites for Girls Aloud among others: “Duty” could have fetched good money on the pop transfer market but she’s kept it for herself and it should pay off. This record has everything – eurodisco’s love of a simple melody and a party atmosphere; the pro-girl spirit of the Spice era; the jerky, crunchy beats Cheiron hit with; the fake sherbet guitar sound Girls Aloud use. Oh, and Aqua’s smart. cheeky lyrics.

It’s also not, I don’t think, aimed entirely at kids. Lene is lowish profile, and the song is about office naughtiness and the power of young women over middle-aged men. OK, it’s ‘about’ that – it’s more about it being your duty duty to shake your booty booty, so the kids will buy it too, but I still think the prime market is the emergent adult pop audience. They – we? – had a laugh at Pop Idol, loved Kylie’s comeback, thought the GA singles were manufactured but “to be honest, they’re great songs”, and are wriggling free of the orthodoxy that it’s a bit lame or pervy for grown-ups to like bubblegum. It’s only a hunch, but I think Lene knows about this market and is aiming squarely at it.

Will it work? I would guess a Top 20 hit and no higher for the single release, and then a lot of compilation royalties. Download the song anyway, though – it’s marvelous.

I know its my problem, not the that of the author

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or publisher, but I always assume debutantes to be female. It is the fault of the publisher that Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook has a picture of a woman on the cover. Whilst there are a few strong female characters in the book, it is quite clearly the story of Vladamir Gruskin, Russian immigrant, in post-communist Eastern Europe running pyramid schemes and basically fleecing all and sundry.

This is a stab at the loveable bounder novel, which fails because it spends far too much time trying to make the hero quirky and loveable. He only gets to Prava – the main setting of the novel – halfway through after a number of rather pointless scrapes which are supposed to illuminate Vladamir’s character but are just attempts to set up the quirky stall. The book is not really interested in the ethical side of Vlad’s pyramid scheme – its fine that he is fleecing dumb Americans. You get the feeling that the move into dealing horse tranquilizers is supposed to mark a further moral downfall, but since nothing in the writing indicated this, we just take it as another piece of hokum. The chapters were about the right length to read on the bus, and the supposed insight into Russian Jewish immigrant psychology is initially tempting. There is no depth to the novel though, it is as misleading as its own cover. Vladamir is not the kind of debutante I was expecting, and as handbooks go this is not exactly instructive (and you would need bloody big hands too).

There is a point during the new print of Mr Hulot’s Holiday

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There is a point during the new print of Mr Hulot’s Holiday currently screening in London where there is a slight frisson of fear amongst the audience. Is this going to be subtitled? It is an interesting question – much is made of Jacque Tati as a silent comedian, and indeed most of his comedy comes from the intricate (some say too intricate) pratfalls he sets up for himself. The dialogue there is often exists merely as a counterpoint to Hulot’s own silence, or murmurings – a technique stolen wholesale by Rowan Atkinson for Mr Bean. The first, non-subtitled, exchange of dialogue makes us fear we are missing something. Later in the film when the subtitles kick in, we realise we are not. Especially when the Rutherford-lite Englishwoman turns up.

This does bring in the idea of a subtitler trying to work out what is worth translating. Because whilst it is a a film based almost wholly on physical comedy, it is anything but a silent movie. The earsplitting volume of Hulot listening to music, the bangs and crashes of the fireworks not to mention the whimsical score all use sound as an important part of the effect. Films were never silent anyway, the clack of the projector, the musical (music-hall?) backing were omnipresent in what we now refer to as silent film. The Renior was recently showing Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. Posters on the way into the cinema explained that they would be playing a quiet musical score to accompany the film as “some patrons film watching a wholly silent film oppressive”. Odd choice of words, but an interesting idea. I saw The General Line by Eisenstein last year without any sound at all – and whilst the film itself is oppressive in a didactic way the lack of sound was trying.

I learnt to swim at Shrewsbury baths

Pumpkin Publog3 comments • 987 views

I learnt to swim at Shrewsbury baths when it was still an old Victorian pool, all red brick and high windows and cool shadow. In maybe 1970, they knocked that down and built a modern glass palace, a lot bigger, with seats for spectators and a championship diving board and a gleaming plastic-surfaced caff where you could look through a huge internal window out over the deep end. The best bit of a visit was always the caff, after the swim: it was the only place in town that you could get tomato-flavour crisps, for one thing – I don’t recall the make, not the canonic Smiths or Golden Wonder though – and also there were those excellent long, flattish sausage rolls where warm flaky pastry and delicious greyish sausage seem just about to liquefy. I don’t remember what I liked to drink: I hated all forms of fizzy pop and I’d generally swallowed about half the pool anyway.


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Duck – tremendous as crispy pancakes, a bit dull as a massive chunk of meat. Just a warning.

I’m not sure if I have ever eaten anything but chips in a Sam Smith’s pub

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I’m not sure if I have ever eaten anything but chips in a Sam Smith’s pub. They all seem to do food; various menus – usually laminated paper – dot their pubs unnoticed until the bar staff come round and whip them away at nine. A slow evening upstairs at the Brickies last night actually pushed us to examining one. Inside would be what – pre-Thai food explosion – would have been standard pub fayre. Fish’n’Chips or Ham, Egg and Chips (prompting the timely how many eggs are in a brace argument*). The high-point of this menu was the food descriptions: an honest statement of the constituent parts followed by a somewhat joyless declarative sentence garnished with the mark of insincerity – the double exclaimation mark.

So Fish’n’Chips : The timeless classic!!
Ham, Egg and Chips : Simple yet delicious!!
Greek Feta Salad: A taste of summers passed!! (sic and quite possibly sick).
I have a new one to replace their Lasagne and Chips: A tasty square meal!! Rather Lasagne and Chips: Dr Atkins would turn in his grave!!

I cannot say honestly that the food on offer made me want to eat there, the sniffiness that eating pub fayre has trained into me suggests that the traditional loving care that Smith’s puts into their pub interiors would also stretch to authentic food. Equally I would worry that rather than using Cheddar in their Lasagne, they might use Ayangercheese. Not to mention the D-Dam…

*The answer to this is dependant on whether you are a thirteen year old girl undergoing orthodontic treatment.


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Kawabata Makoto is a one-man Neptunes, a Timbaland of rock, in his own sphere. There’s a style, a sound, an approach that is his but not solely his, something that stretches out from his own work to everyone else he works with, and he works with about everybody he encounters and likes. And so he collaborates and records and records and collaborates and etc. Another day, another label, a new release. And so. Tsurubami is a trio growing out of an older group that has him, regular Acid Mothers sidekick Higashi Hiroshi and drummer Emi Nobuko doing whatever they want whenever they want; this is the fourth or fifth album (or maybe more) and though it’s all three of them working it’s mostly Kawabata finding that warm/flowing/epic sound on his guitar and letting things get queasy or violent when he wants. It matches the album art pretty well, a blue skyscape above the clouds, hitting heights in an exultant fashion. Rebel Powers is Kawabata, other AMT folks and this particular one-off group’s star guest, one David Keenan, Telstar Ponies leader and current Wire editor. It was recorded back in 1998 and probably was sitting around in Kawabata’s archive until he figured that it couldn’t hurt to put it out, but maybe his first impulse was the best — it’s good but not great, though I suppose Keenan does well enough providing some rhythm guitar while Kawabata creates That Tone as much as he wants to while Cotton Casino occasionally wails in the distance. Still, it’s not quite what it should be, but for every Aaliyah there’s a Justin (though some might reverse that equation).


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Black Caesar

Commentator: Larry Cohen (director/screenwriter)

Perfect. Or near perfect at least. Cohen is half raconteur, half hoary storyteller, all relaxed energy — there’s something truly entertaining about somebody who has clear pride in his work but at the same time makes no pretense about trying to justify his work for the ages. There are a few too many examples of that and I’ll yet get to those, I’m sure, but here Cohen — somebody who the classic definition of a journeyman writer/director, trying whatever works, still writing more than directing these days — reflects on what turned out to be his directorial breakthrough with the air of somebody who just wants to bend your ear rather than let you know just how great and accurate he was. If there’s a running emotion, it’s honest pleasure and satisfaction with a hint of self-amused surprise.

It’s not only that he looks at what he admits was a blaxploitation effort — originally conceived for Sammy Davis Jr, it turns out! — with a frank and honest eye about Hollywood perceptions and biases and sometimes his own assumptions as well. Sometimes it’s truly fascinating, such as his last minute decision to alter the ending of the film — restored here, showing Fred Williamson’s title character getting killed almost like a dog by some local Harlem toughs — after many African American viewers specifically objected to the idea that such a death could occur. Then there’s his many observations on filming on the cheap but good — caught somewhere between a ‘golden age’ of exploitative filming on the run and the indie boom of later decades, he’s a blend of both, knowing his art while well aware of the bottom line. He notes family friends, talks about filming in not only his own house but his mother’s apartment, talks over simple but effective tricks to suggest larger spaces like nightclubs all while working in his own living room. A fine, affable quote: “I like the security of shooting in your own house…it just makes for a nice simple day!”

But then there’s all the trivia — noted make-up/sfx artist Rick Baker? A Cohen veteran, besides the gore here he even went to the trouble of creating a severed ear. The snazzy suits Williamson wears throughout the film? Bought by the actor himself at cheap off the rack places but, as Cohen reports Williamson saying, “Cohen, EVERYTHING looks good on me!” Williamson’s shadowing bodyguards and heavies were actual gangsters in Harlem who Cohen recruited on the spur of the moment not merely to provide a flavor of authenticity but because they could provide protection for location shots. James Brown’s soundtrack? Stevie Wonder was actually approached/considered first — Cohen reported all Wonder was interested with regards to himself was his zodiac sign — before a chance to work with Brown came along. Turns out Brown wasn’t as strict as Cohen would hope in terms of creating music to match the editing of the film but followed his own muse, leaving Cohen to figure out how to edit everything together. A fave bit — where he tells you how in the one scene where Williamson’s men attack the Mafia gathering that it’s not only his house but that, due to a banquet table being shot up, that they were picking turkey out of the lawn for months. Another — when Cohen specifically describes an error involving a trailing sound wire as Williamson walks away from a cemetery, it builds up to the scene itself…turns out either someone changed the frame or edited it out, but turns out the wire error isn’t there anymore. Cohen’s as surprised as anyone else, laughs and says “Forget I said anything!” Now that’s fun.