Posts from October 2003
What’s The Time Mr Wolf was one of my favourite playground games as a youth. A creeping up on the bad guy game, there was a delicious moment, when whoever was playing the wolf would shout “Dinnertime” and the dynamic changed from sneaky to out and out chase. I mention it because in Michael Haneke’s Time Of The Wolf there is are two similar moments. One happens thirty seconds into the film, the other about two thirds in.
The intro to this film is so damn good that it does not really leave the rest of the film anywhere to go. The plot is pretty much a French version of Survivors. There has been an unnamed catastrophe and now supplies are running low. Unlike the plucky Survivors band, the French appear to be a much more vicious bunch, their communes are full of moaners, religious fanatics and cripples. The problem with post-apocalyptic dramas is that there is nowhere for them to go. The set up is grand, but when the problem to be solved is the reinstatement of civilization, there is too much to do in a two hour film.
This is possibly why Hanake, after getting to the bottom of small society dynamics suddenly changes everything by bringing in a much larger settlement. It gives the film something to do but seems to unsettle it. It certainly allows for more conflict, but stretches some of the narrative. He relies on a withdrawal to a tiny personal ending to try and cap it off, without really making any conclusions. The only conclusion I made, except for being grimly entertained, was yet another reminder at how good Isabelle Huppert is. Here, looking like Helen Mirren, she is strong when she needs to be, whilst never hiding the broken woman in her eyes. Time Of The Wolf is her film, and it is a little bit disappointing that she does not get to end it and that the influx of characters removes her slightly from the fore. But probably the best French film I’ve seen this year.
‘pater le bourgeoisie long ago went intraclass tribal (and tiresome): elements of the Bourg yokking it up when something they appreciate irritates THAT LOT over yonder, then suddenly all self-righteously pompous when THAT LOT’s art riles THEM in turn. ‘pater les bits of le bourgeoisie I’m not in is a less important project, surely? Anyway, that’s not quite what I want to write about. The Sunday Daddino and I walked the South Bank’s Art Mile tourist-style, from Tate Modern to the Design Museum, we saw plenty of nice stuff. WEATHER, by Olafur Eliasson, is tremendous (no link bcz spoilers might actually be spoilers here, a bit – except haha to note that the news-story that the vapour is causing Tate staff to hallucinate and feel queasy, when it’s only sugar plus water, demonstrates the occasional power of SHEER AESTHETICS). And Paul McCarthy’s giant inflatable sculptures are good also – the captions say “subversive” (the pink one is based on a Daddy’s Sauce Bottle label) but of course this word is a Classic of Nonsense Artspeak, wheeled out when commentators who Hate Giant Inflatable Fun seek to squelch it, especially in a Museum OH NO!
Anyway, there are plenty of other Jolly Famous Nose-tweakings on hand (Duchamp’s Urinal blah blah), all carefully decommissioned and placed back in the box by their context or their neighbours or whatever: the surprise is leadenly anticipated, the joke is pedantically explained, the novelty long ago became a broadsheet/rockpress/tabloid clich’. But toodle along to the Design Museum, where such Grandly Modernist Hah-Gotcha! Pretensions are set aside in the name of practicality, fashion sense and undeluded salesman instinct, and – for all that so much pretty-looking, clever stuff presents itself – it can quickly feel like (comment ‘Daddino) sightseeing in Ikea, everything SO beseeching and needy (“Like MEEEE! Buy MEEEE!”) etc etc.
Inadvertently, our route took us past David Blaine, on his penultimate day. Being there was fairly wearing (cold, press of the vulgar crowd, nothing “happening”), so we hurried on – but on strict ‘pater grounds, you can’t really fault this stunt. And its sheer intent/content blankness seems to have allowed us all to project our pet peeves (or perversities) onto it, like Big Brother or Arnie-as-Governor or whatever. My personal enjoyment scale is old-skool – Tate > Design M > Blaine – but other comparisons make me want to retool that chart a bit. Design Museum is smallish, slightly out-of-the-way, and pricey: the times I’ve been there’s never been many other punters in it. Tate and Blaine were rammed, and that’s good. If you look on the box art arrives in, it says (in wee letters) BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED: bcz the batteries are us. The routine energyflow of celebrity and of institutionalised art does bad things to Shock Art: if the information really travels just one way, then it’s not really much more contentful than trolling on interweb messageboards: “YES YES YOU DID IT TO GET A RESPONSE HAHA but where exactly is the mechanism for engaging w.that response, plz?” (ie what’s aggravating abt trolling is not so much the initial stimulus as the refusal to be affected in turn). But in a packed gallery, intimidation-towards-“correct”-response diminishes – *we* energise this stuff, we bring it (back) to life: and the more of us that metaphorically touch it back, the more power it contains. What happens next is the good bit, and – like a good ilx thread – that depends on ALL the contributors, not just the troll.
Erm I shd probably just note (in case Mr Fraser’s humourless lawyers are reading) that I don’t ACTUALLY think he was ticking the paragraphs off, one by one. Also Ged is not actually the naked and trussed one, that’s some other prisoners, earlier. ie Flashman <=> Ged won’t fly, even subconsciously: I think Brit Emp <=> Ged does, though.
DEEP IN THE DEPTHS OF, UM, “READING ROUND THE SUBJECT”, I was suddenly left open-mouthed in surprise. Three-quarters of the way through FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (8th of the 11 Flashmans to date, but actually my 11th), I thought, hang on, I know these characters already. Flashman is a barbarian prisoner of the Chinese Emperor, trussed up and naked in a store room: here to peek at him is the gorgeous Concubine Yi (who actually really historically went on to rule all China for cruel decades) and her eunuch servant An. Well, for a half-dozen pages at least, this threesome is UNCANNILY SIMILAR (I mean like George MacDonald Frasier was ticking off paragraphs) to the early section in THE TOMBS OF ATUAN, where Ged is a barbarian prisoner of the Nameless Ones, trussed up and naked in a store room, and here to peek at him is the young priestess Ahra and her eunuch servant Manan. Coincidence? Sorry, but no. Hommage? Why on earth? Plagiarism? To what the hell purpose? Unconcious regurgitation of a book long-ago internalised (Tombs = 1971, Dragon = 1985): possibly, but some lines almost dare you to check the source. OK yes, Le Guin’s is a book for children, more or less, and appropriately chaste; Frasier’s is a book for adults, more or less, and the Concubine is naked and wicked and even hornier than Flashman: even so the echo – for a few pages – is genuinely disorientating. On this side: the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom as his realm was violently forced (by the Brits and by savage internal upheaval) to emerge from self-deluding myth into the modern world; on that: the Godkings of Kargad, shaken when their hollow, terrible mysteries are laid bare by the brave young Wizard of Earthsea. I’m not exactly sure where in the series GMF switched from being mainly anti-Empire – I’d need to read them in order – but by No.8 in the series, his deep-readerly unconscious is clearly gone pro.
Invalid redux! I think I have found the un-meat food for invalids, and no it’s not Mrs Beeton’s fright-movie cuisine. Tonight for dinner I had a bowl of steaming vegetable udon soup, a few pieces of vegetable sushi with loads of wasabi (clears the sinuses!) and some fresh ginger soda made by the nice Japanese restaurant down the street. Ginger ale made from freshly grated ginger root is massively potent, burning and stinging your throat in an an oh-so-good way. That plus the giant mouthful of wasabi made me feel a hundred times better now than I did yesterday, when my brain was pounding and my throat felt like gravel. Now I just have to find a place that has good wasabi-flavored ice cream. Mmm, wasabi ice cream.
Where, I was asking a few weeks ago, is a new ‘Careless Whisper’ going to come from? Where is the next ‘True’? All the current pop generation like their ballads – they love the opportunity to show off all those neat vocal tricks they’ve picked up, the ones that prove they’re ‘talented’. But precious few of these slowies have been any good. Here’s an exception. ‘Leave Right Now’ is very good indeed.
It gets the basics right, for a start. It’s catchy, it’s got a huge chorus, it builds up naturally from modest acoustics into a string-sodden harmonised monster, and it still clocks in at a winning 3 minutes 25. Anyone could have been given this and made it work, but not anyone was. And so Will Young saunters back out of obscurity and claims the song entirely.
Last year’s Pop Idol voters went for vulnerability in a big way. Gareth looked and acted the part, with his bog-brush hair and his stutter, but Will sung it: there’s a lightness and politeness to his voice which can make him sound wonderfully wimpy. (In the imaginary ‘Indie’ week on Pop Idol, Will would have aced ‘The State I Am In’). ‘Leave Right Now’ is obviously custom-written for him – the way it goes from wounded well-mannered diffidence to fierce pride is so Will Young – and it works.
But on previous singles when Will has dropped the oh-gosh schoolboyisms and snarled a bit he’s come across more like an angry gerbil than a passionate soul man (remember his strained ‘Fi-yah!’s on that Doors cover – nasty!). Here, suddenly, he gets it right – the bridge at 2’20” is startling and spectacular and, yes, soulful. For thirty seconds it’s a quite new Will Young we’re hearing, totally convincing, the best British pop-soul singer since George Michael.
I hope ‘Leave Right Now’ is a big hit. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be, unless the wish to clear the boards for this year’s Idol crop blinds radio programmers to the tune’s potential. I’m guessing Young still has enough public goodwill (ouch) to pull it off. And if he does – and if the album isn’t filled with makeweights–well, let’s wait and see. But next time you need to offer a justification of the whole Reality Pop thing, reach for this moment.
The Hits, one of the only two digital video channels I get, is a year old. It’s my favourite on the rather weak basis that it seems a bit less likely to play horrid rock/indie tunes than the other one. The vids are chosen by viewer voting, and they’ve just announced their ten most requested videos of this first year. I’m not sure what it tells us, but I was surprised at some omissions – no Justin, no Darkness, no Sugababes, no 50 Cent, no Busted, no Junior Senior, no Electric Six. Anyway:
10. Girls Aloud – Sound Of The Underground
9. Eminem – Lose Yourself
8. Beyonce ftr Jay-Z – Crazy In Love
7. Evanescence – Bring Me To Life
6. Room 5 & Oliver Cheatham – Make Luv
5. Blu Cantrell & Sean Paul – Breathe
4. TATU – All The Things She Said
3. Gareth Gates & the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky
2. R Kelly – Ignition (Remix)
1. Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
I’m very surprised at the #3 particularly. I don’t think the chart suggests that the quality of the video is a huge factor, since for me only #4 and #8 probably stand out in that regard. I guess these channels are used by most people (including me) more as background, like music radio, than something to sit and give your full attention to.
I’m not sure if I should be posting this on Proven By Science or the publog, but since we haven’t had a beer story for a while, let’s put it here. What is this beautiful, albeit eighties fractal-esque, picture of. I’ll tell you, it’s Newcastle Brown Ale under a microscope. Interested to see what other beers look like in the same conditions? Well the good, if possibly bored, people of Florida State University have a website of beers around the world under a microscope.
And if you don’t like beer they do cocktails too
XX/XY is a fine little indie relationship drama. No great shakes in a lot of areas: it privileges its female characters over its male character to an amusing degree since he is both likeable and impressively gormless. The very premise of the film though, that an early doors threesome may throw seeds of disarray into your relationship, is not really the line followed through in the film.
The most striking scene in the film though is the transitional sequence between 93 and now (that now might not work so well in fifteen years time). We fade out on a droopy mustachioed Mark Ruffalo as king idiot being arrested by traffic cops – to a much more Gap attired, clean shaven version. Enjoying a coffee, he is identified by a passerby as a director of, well very little fame indeed. Usefully it shoehorns who he is, the moustache was a lot of his original look. However the kid admits to having seen Ruffalo’s film, and thinking it sucked. And asked for his money back. It is a cute scene which means absolutely nothing in the scheme of the film, but plays well to anyone who has sat through a crap film. For all his whinging about the distributors and exhibitors, he shells out the twenty bucks. How much money would I have now if I could do the same, Mr David Mackenzie.
INVALID FOOD: looking for classic vegetarian recipes for the poorly, after my kneejerk suggestion of Chicken Broth had been spurned, I reached for my trusty Mrs Beeton, who is always sensible on such matters. Three quarters of her standbys are also meat-based broths, of course, but I’ll skip these for now. The section starts arcanely: To Make Arrowroot – as it’s “flavourless and insipid”, Mrs B advises you add sugar and sherry. Barley Gruel seemed too spartan even to countenance (despite the suggestion that you add port wine and sugar). What about Nutritious Coffee? This is really just coffee with milk, but “may be made still more nutrious by the addition of an egg well beaten, and put into the coffee cup”. Er, OK. Egg wine: ingredients, 1 egg, 1 tablespoonful and half glass of cold water, 1 glass of sherry, sugar and grated nutmeg to taste,” bearing in mind that “when the egg is not warmed, the mixture will be found easier of digestion , but it is not so pleasant a drink.” Urgently on, casting only a swift glance at Invalid’s Jelly, which requires “12 shanks of mutton”, to Nourishing Lemonade: boiling water, four lemons plus rinds, loaf of sugar, half a pint of sherry, FOUR EGGS!!
I began to wonder if the great housemaker’s technique with the under-the-weather was to threaten them with food so scary that they began say (in tiny frail voices) “You know what, Isabella my dear, I think I’m feeling a little better!” Two recipes remain: Toast-and-Water (ingredients – a slice of bread, one quart of boiling water) and (and here you grasp why Britain once commanded three-quarters of the globe’s land surface) Toast Sandwiches: “put a very thin piece of cold toast between two slices of thin bread-and-butter… ”