Posts from 2nd September 2003

Sep 03

One of the many smart ways that Memento works its gimmick

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One of the many smart ways that Memento works its gimmick (and it’s a shame that a film that tries so hard to transcend will always be “that backwards film”) is that it produces the same effect in the hero and the audience by opposite means: Leonard is frustrated because he doesn’t know what’s going on, and we’re frustrated because we do.

Tom’s Top Twelve

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Tom’s Top Twelve this week is very much the Richard X Tribute Edition. All week I’ve been playing 80s records, to the point of making Isabel complain: I now think this was subconscious preparation for hearing Richard X. Often in comics or science fiction the heroes visit a world where the Roman Empire, or the British Empire, or some other Empire never ended. The Richard X album is like this – on Earth-X the 80s never ended, and there his record is simply a compilation of No.1 hits played, sung and bought by people who are all in our-world fact Richard X.

It’s a very Freaky Trigger sort of an album. In fact it’s the album we would probably make if we made an album. (Since we won’t and can’t we’ll have to compile one instead.) (Watch this space.) Richard X is an unglamorous fellow with a scraggly beard and a love of pop music. He’s old enough to know all the Human League records and young enough to have Javine’s phone number. I like him enormously and might do even if I met him.

The other records on the list are all pop, usually more, occasionally less. If you download any of them you should at least find yourself entertained for four or five minutes. This is all pop ever offers upfront: the strange case of Richard X, who loved pop so much he turned into it, is proof that there are sometimes secret clauses in the deal.

It must be getting on for fifteen years ago

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It must be getting on for fifteen years ago that my good friend Daniel wrote “…on some days I listen to just one song, once”. That song was “Stumble” by Emily, still one of the greatest records I’ve ever heard. I’ve often wished I had Dan’s discipline. These days, through the curse of the CD walkman and too many train journeys, I’ve developed the habit of listening to one song countless times trying to get inside the thing, trying to hear it in different ways.

In all the recent talk about the post-punk of the early eighties, everyone seems to have focussed on the fiery and the funk-infused, while no-one’s been on about the quiet (and perhaps more pop) route out of punk. So it’s good to see John Carney taking a look at that stuff in two parts over on Tangents, sensibly placing Vic Godard bang at the centre where he belongs.

This last weekend, on train journeys bookending a punishing combination of hospital visitation and absurd celebratory drunkenness, two songs made it to repeat mode, both from The Pines‘ EP, “True Love Waits“. “MGM” sounds like it’s been ripped from the pages of “High Society” or something, an acoustic ambitious ambiguous bickering showtune duet backed by guitar and shaky egg. Hart would have been proud of “I always said that you put me in mind of a movie star / I never said which one…”, and the twist at the end of the song.

Better still, if anything, is “I See Stars”, a complicated simple song of devotion which coasts melodically along until it runs aground on the chorus. The chorus has no clear rhythm or structure, an actual real unchained melody, punctuated by uncertain spaces. Pam’s voice, too, manages to be simultaneously perfect, pure and flawed. This is an extraordinary record, easily fit to stand alongside those strange, semi-silent masterpieces by the Young Marble Giants or EBTG or Weekend from twenty years ago and more.

Of course, I must have listened to “Stumble” a thousand times, too, which is why my copy is now more or less worn out. With a CD you don’t pay that price. I wonder if that’s a good thing?

Dual stories, historical hokum

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Dual stories, historical hokum. I have a feeling that the literary establishment would not consider The Sacrifice Stone by Elizabeth Harris in the same sort of exulted breath as The Athenian Murders, but it plays the same kind of game. In story one we have the tale of a Mithraist Roman centurion who becomes the protector of a young boy who later is matyred as a saint in southern France. In the modern day we have a historian and his sister investigating the life of said saint and recent miracles involving him with ghostly goings on. It is a decidedly lumpy book.

The problem with dual narratives is that unless you balance them very well, one story overpowers the other. I found myself rushing the roman story to find out what was happening in the modern day, thinking that the historical stuff was mere background (it wasn’t). Alternating chapters become frustrating, you lose the rythmn of both stories. And then, half way through my allegiances switched. Suddenly the Roman narrative, with its religious details and more melodrmatic story dominated. Also partially because the modern day story was so purient. This book was released in 1996 but we were still suposed to be congratulatory about our female lead being a scientist and being independent. Oddly the modern day story seemed less convincing.

It is not a great book (though it is hands down better than ‘The Reckoning’ my other holiday light read), but it does have some interesting stuff to say about Roman’s and religion that I did not know before. It is a case in point though where with dual storytelling that one strand starts strong and seems to run out of steam while the other one takes over.

It is also a book with the most alcohol in it I can remember. In the modern day story, whenever our lead character does anything, and I mean anthing, she instantly goes out for a drink to celebrate, comiserate, take the air. This of course is thoroughly understandable to me, yet its presence felt almost forced in the book. And oddly the chapters I enjoyed the most I read in the airport, with a drink.

A relaunch for

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A relaunch for Stylus which should see it further shake off its (sometimes justified) rep as a kind of Pitchfork Junior. Under the scarily young and eager Todd Burns it’s always had a slightly broader focus than Pitchfork, paying a lot of attention to back catalogue albums as well as new releases, and stressing features as much as reviews. It’s generally been less high-handed than Pitchfork too – but on the other hand the writing on Stylus has often lacked character, something that (like or dislike it) you can’t say about PFM.

The attractive redesign might help get some new readers, and the newer contributors might help keep them. Dave Q, of ILM notoriety, is going to write stuff (his first piece, on Roky Erikson, is up already) – Cozen of ILM is on the writing list too. Recruiting talented mavericks like this, and giving them free editorial rein, should help give Stylus the distinctive identity it’s previously lacked.

When I think about going out to eat

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 168 views

When I think about going out to eat in the abstract, I have no trouble at all imagining myself to be the bold provocative food-pioneer who will eagerly try the most forbidding thing on the menu: viz the legendary “fish lips and duck webs” on offer in one of the Chinese places in Lisle Street. Though obviously I’m only the “pioneer” here in a very subjective sense – they decided to prepare and cook it, and doubtless consider anyone who thinks it “forbidding” to be parochial in the extreme. Anyway, the sad fact is, these days, when I actually arrive at any given place, I invariably have something I already know I’ll enjoy – and the only time in my life when this wasn’t so was when I was still casting around trying to find what this was.

The lead character in Cypher is called Morgan Sullivan.

Do You SeePost a comment • 499 views

The lead character in Cypher is called Morgan Sullivan. So pleased was I with the Preston Sturges nod that I was more than willing to suspend my higher critical faculties as this film tiptoed around territories usually inhabited by films whose credits include the line ‘Based on a book by Phillip K.Dick’. Unlike films usually based loosely on a merest smidge of a Dick concept, Cypher is an impressive little sci-fi potboiler that works with the auidence rather than against it. Sure the plot revolves around the old bait-and-switch with the lead characters identity – but at least here it is not an excuses for Arnie to punch someone or Tom Cruise to have a rocket pack fight. Here with have a tightly packed film which has one central idea and tells a great story with it.

It is also joyously the most scattershotly derivative film I have seen since Brian De Palma made The Untouchables. There is a lot of Hitchcock here, big nods to North By Northwest but there are cobbled nods for Speilberg, Kubrick, Gilliam, 50’s sci-fi films, 30’s sci-fi serials – you name it. This is all good, because the majority of the film coasts along nicely with its own very original look. It is a film of two halves, and the art direction signposts this. First half its all a bit baffling, and the cold austere sets flag this. The audience just wants to know what the hell is going on. Second half, when we are probably a step ahead of the lead character, it turns into a much more human paranoia thriller, colours splash in and things feel a lot more conventional. This use of visual language helps the audience along, something Vincenzo Natali probably learnt when making Cube* – colours make a big difference.

In the centre of the film though is another great turn from Jeremy Northam. He is in every scene, and there is a lot of tricksy acting going on here. As the tone shifts, as his character shifts, he makes a natural progression.Remember Arnuld in Total Recall, where his happy suburban Doug Quaid did not seem that markedly diffferent to his beefcake secret agent Doug Quaid. Happy suburban Arnuld does not convince full stop. Northam instead does jittery, nervous, dull and then also does smooth, sauve and driven. Lucy Lui is in comparison under used but compliments him perfectly.

Two more things about Cypher before I sign off. It is often very, very funny (the really, really sci-fi bits near the end of the film throws every cliche at the screen in a joyously silly way). Best of all is the films Maguffin. The film revolves around the obtaining of a special data file and with all its nods to Hitchcock and classical Hollywood film the audience is lulled into thinking that of course it is so important that we will never actually find out what it is (nothing is THAT important). Well something is that important, and we find out what it is. Entertainment.

*It is also possible he knew this all along.