Posts from June 2004

Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 75: Rushmore

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FT Top 100 Films
75: Rushmore

I love Wes Anderson, but his films don’t appeal to everyone. This probably stands or falls for most on whether they find Max, a brilliant but troubled teen played superbly by Jason Schwartzman, tolerable and believable. I did, but some loathed him, and his manipulative, almost psychotic behaviour in the middle of the film, isn’t easy to take comfortably. It’s a fairly lightweight film (that may be all that Wes can do, and that’s okay with me), and if you dislike the film’s centre, even Bill Murray’s best acting performance ever, a finely judged blend of childishness and middle-aged disillusionment, probably can’t save the movie for you.

So why do I love it? There’s the much-discussed bonus of Anderson’s brilliant way with soundtrack choices (I was reminded of the ending of this a couple of hours ago, when I was listening to the Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’), but the main thing is the subtlety and sensitivity of so many scenes, dealing with the turmoils of growing up with brilliant insight, restraint and wit. It is of course a very funny film, especially in the early scenes and in many small, modest moments, but the story complications towards the end do limit the laughs some, and many of its final scenes are less convincing than most of the film. Rushmore will never be remembered as a major movie, but as minor early movies (in what I expect will be a genuinely stellar career) go, it’s a wonderful one.

Jun 04

Liisa Lounila – “Popcorn”

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Liisa Lounila – “Popcorn”

Some months ago I went to see the Liisa Lounila show at the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery. I loved it: I went several times and dragged a few (un)fortunates along with me to see it. I didn’t write about it. I meant to but I had other things on. I’m sorry.

Liisa’s best work is a home-made version of the ‘time slice’ technique which makes Keanu appear to hang in the air while firing his big gun in The Matrix. Lounila uses the technique to appear to move around within still photographs. My favourite is “Popcorn”, a series of images of some young-and-noticeably-not-un-pretty friends of Liisa having a popcorn fight to the tune of some clunky, lovely melanchtronica. The camera seems to be inside the shots, making three dimensions from the kind of images we’re used to seeing in two.

I haven’t managed to shake “Popcorn” since I saw it this spring, I’ve kept remembering it and I wasn’t sure why. Until this morning, thinking about how the hope and excitement of Euro 2004 seems like a ridiculous dream now, how excitement at that goal (or that other goal, or whatever) seems absurd now the story, that part of the story which belonged to me in some way, has been written and finished. And I thought that “Popcorn” reminded me of how my own memories can feel (do yours?), odd half-mobile snapshots.

And I thought “there’s no real point writing about a show which finished months ago” but I’m delighted to say that Liisa Lounila has a website at which you can see “Popcorn”, only slightly spoiled by being a tiny quicktime window rather than a whole wall in a darkened room. You can also see the other film which showed at Wilkinson, “Play”, which is probably too glamorous to count as one of my memories. Click on ‘works’, in the top right corner. If you want.

FT Top 100 Films 76: The Philadelphia Story

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FT Top 100 Films
76: The Philadelphia Story

I don’t know if we call this romantic or screwball comedy, and it doesn’t much matter, except that it does seem to have the best qualities of both, and more. It has the sophistication and shine and feeling of a good romantic comedy, and the fun and (sometimes) pace of a screwball comedy. It also has three of Hollywood’s greatest ever movie stars (Katherine Hepburn had been in the successful play, and chose Cary Grant and James Stewart as her co-stars), plus some strong support (as so often, the little sister role and the grumpy older relative are the best. Preston Sturges did these magnificently too – see e.g. Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek) – though as ever in these films, the intended never looks like a realistic contender (see also #97 Bringing Up Baby, plus His Girl Friday and countless others).

It has one of my favourite openings ever, as we watch Grant and Hepburn’s separation, the backstory of the movie: the moment when Grant feels like punching her, but settles for just pushing her in the face, is as fine a gem of wordless performance as cinema can offer since Buster Keaton’s heyday. It’s a preview of the polished brilliance of the film as a whole, packed with perfect and memorable scenes, and dominated by three stronger and more complex performances than some will have you believe these great stars ever gave (Stewart’s oscar for this was the only one either he or Grant won, shockingly). It’s a delight to watch throughout, occasionally making you cringe but mostly making you smile and laugh, one of the most eminently adorable films that’s ever been made.

Jun 04

The Cheat’s Culinary Compendium #1

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The Cheat’s Culinary Compendium #1

How I love it, in cookbooks and guidebooks, when the author comes up with a judiciously-chosen excerpt from an earlier work. I would be delighted to pepper the Publog with fascinating fit-to-eat titbits and boozy bons mots. However, I am far too lazy and badly-read to be able to achieve that, so I thought I’d copy a few out for your pleasure. This one’s quoted in Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food:

“Begin with a Vermouth Amaro in lieu of a cocktail. For hors d’oeuvre have some small crabs cold, mashed up with sauce tartare and a slice or two of prosciutto crudo (raw ham), cut as thin as cigarette paper. After this a steaming risotto with scampi (somewhat resembling gigantic prawns), some cutlets done in the Bologna style, a thin slice of ham on top and hot parmesan and grated white truffles and fegato alla veneziana complete the repast except for a slice of strachino cheese. A bottle of Val Policella is exactly suited to this kind of repast and a glass of fine Champagne and of ruby-coloured Alkernes for the lady, if your wife accompanies you, make a good ending.

“The Maitre d’Hotel will be interested in you directly he finds that you know how a man should breakfast.”

(From The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe by Lt-Col Newnham-Davis and Algernon Bastard, 1903)

Stuck for places to watch Euro 2004?

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Stuck for places to watch Euro 2004? Finding home too sedentary and the boozer too lairy? Sick of Davies and bored of Beglin? Pained partner who’s sick of your social life suffering for soccer? Why not come down to Club FT on 30th June at the Chapel Bar in Islington. The football will be shown, the pop will be fun, the company will be good.

CLUB FT Glasto Reunion: Wednesday 30th June

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CLUB FT Glasto Reunion: Wednesday 30th June

While the rest of the stinking crypto-hippy NYLPM set roll around like piglets in the Somerset mud, or get proper freaky with crystals in the soul zone (more likely the Perry Zone), it falls to me to remind you all of the forthcoming Club Freaky Trigger: Glasto Reunion!

That’s Club Freaky Trigger, Wednesday 30th June, at the Chapel Bar in Islington, from 7 until late-ish, FREE ENTRY, happy hour cocktails, you know the drill. I’m reliably informed that it will have all the usual pop delights, with drinking and that. Everyone’s welcome, and if you haven’t come to one of these before, this seems as good a time to start as any.

Why? Because it won’t all be stories about spilling corrosive cider over your last clean shirt in the Rave Tent at four a.m. on The Friday. No! Our FT chums have concocted the perfect mix for the football lover AND the football hater: one of the Euro 2004 semi finals will be on that night and it Club FT will, for one night only, be built around the game. It won’t all be football though, there will be plenty of the proper pop business too. Some of these delights may even provide the soundtrack to the match, which has to be better than Motson. We’re hoping the evening doesn’t demand “Dry Your Eyes”.

See you there, I hope.

Jun 04

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring.

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Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring. Well the title tells you everything. Do you get the hint – this is one of those cyclical, history repeating itself things. So past Autumn, do not look for any surprises. Instead look for a nice piece of nature photography as the film contemplates slowly the nature of existence (when you have a scriptwriter who wants to make a point about the cyclical nature of life). Which, ifaith, does not really tell us an awful lot about the lives of the viewers which tend not to be quite as blatantly cyclical.

The plot contortions to show us how cruel boy monk becomes infatuated with a girl, murders her, goes to prison and then returns as an older monk to teach another abandoned child who turns out gleefully cruel are no more exploitative than the average romantic comedy. Just do not think that with its Buddhists trappings that it has any unique observations on life. What it does have that might make your life better is its simplicity, and two hours watching the seasons change in a particularly beautiful Korean lake valley. Nice when you have been knocking about on Shaftsbury Avenue on a hot sticky night.

Relatively Fashionable Gastropub Report #1: The Anchor And Hope

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Relatively Fashionable Gastropub Report #1: The Anchor And Hope

Having missed out on the ‘4 Ox Heart sandwiches which were my planned breakfast on Saturday, I was pleased to return to the Anchor & Hope for some St John related goodness. I wasn’t going to post this here – I’m not sure why you’d be interested – but the UberPumpkinGruppenFuhrer said I had to. Maybe this is because he has seen the A&H getting citations and tips and awards left, right and centre. He’s a fashionable sort of fellow.

So we started by sharing a cuttlefish risotto: it was very black (do cuttlefish have ink too? Our Dutch friends seem to call them inktvis – I suppose this means ‘inkfish’ – so I suppose they do) with flecks of green parsley. Quite a lot of lemon made it sharp but there was also a bitter flavour in there, maybe lemon zest (“delicieux casseron…”) or even a bit o’ bitter gourd. The cuttlefishmeat itself was outrageously good, tender, and it’s always a treat to find a tentacle in your meal.*

Talking of tender: SLOW COOKED LAMB SO TENDER YOU BARELY HAD TO CHEW IT, served with minky old aubergines. I hate aubergines, but I’m assured they were very nice. Or: a lovely big roast leg of rabbit as part of “rabbit chorizo and peas.” The chorizo added a certain smokiness to the coney and the peas were chickpeas and other crazy pulses as well as actual peas. There was a pancetta element to this music also, and the juices this came in may have been the highlight of the meal. Lastly: “greens”. “What greens are they?” “Spring Cabbage.” “BRING US GREENS.”

A sweet would have been an insult.

’40 inc (surprisingly good) pint of Eagle and two glasses of wine. Seemed fair.

*I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule but I can’t imagine what they might be.

FT Top 100 Films 77: THE LOST BOYS

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Corey? Really? That’s not a name.

The Lost Boys is the definitive 80’s vampire movie. That’s not to say it is any good. But it bundles the Reaganomics and brat pack ideologies into a big ball and spews them out with all the usual messy vampire mythology nonsense. The tagline for the film: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire“. The problem that many vampire movies have, especially when they vaguely humanise the vamps, is why is so bad to be a vampire? Are vampires themselves any more evil than humans noshing down on a chicken? They are superior (if physiologically confusing) beings and we should be glad that they don’t kill us all off. It is fun to be a vampire.

The Lost Boys digs itself into this hole ridiculously quickly, the mystery of there being vampires in this neck of the woods is dealt with almost perfunctorily. What is left is ho-hum vampires as a metaphor for puberty, highlighted by the ridiculousness of the pre-pubescent vampire (“Holy Shit, its the attack of Eddie Munster”). A dull metaphor the film tries to articulate what might be bad about being a vampire, and fails until we see who the leader is. And when it turns out to be the remarkably bland Edward Herrmann we are supposed to think that Keifer Sutherland is going to grow up into him. No, it does not hang together.

Of course even in the eighties it was next to impossible to do anything with the vampire genre, but the Lost Boys does not even try. It marks the end of the brat pack, and the end of the Corey’s too. Corey Haim is okay but I always though that Corey Feldmann never really matched up to the genius of his father Marty. The Lost Boys might be his best film, but its not great claim to fame.

Politics and film. Can a film really effect an election?

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Politics and film. Can a film really effect an election? A question worth asking about Fahrenheit 911 – but a question that perhaps Julio Medem’s film The Basque Ball. A documentary of mainly talking heads about the Basque people, culture and most pertinently its political status. The film – subtitled The Skin Against The Stone – is long, detailed and appears to not have any direct political agenda regarding Basque self determination. It is clearly against violence, from ETA or the Spanish authorities. In teasing out the often contradictory ideals of everyone living together and what the Basque culture is (often boiled down to the unflattering cause of persecution) is not unlike many a hand wringing BBC doco from the late eighties re: Ireland.

The large number of contributors often repeat each other and soon get unmanageable, sociologists against widows, musicians vs philosphers. So much so that it is hard to notice that two groups are not represented. ETA, and their political wing Batasuna, and the banning of both groups by the government is certainly part of the reason for their absence. However there is also no contribution from the Spanish Popular Party, the government which banned Batasuna and has, according to the film, been much more draconian since in power. And here is how the film may have swung an election.

After the Madrid bombings, in the week before the Spanish elections, the Popular Party blamed ETA: a knee jerk reaction which nevertheless was in complete tune with their previous actions. ETA was the Popular Party’s boogeyman, allowing it to impose laws on stop and search and improve its own profile at the expense of the Basque region. This is one of the few theses of The Basque Ball, the demonization of ETA was primarily to improve the ratings of the PP. The question is having been demonstrated this on film (and possibly more in the discussions about the film which the PP wanted to ban) did this push the electorate over the edge. The Popular Party were supposed to win the election safely, but lost. And the loss seems to be put at the door of the wrongful attributing of the blame to ETA. Did the Basque Ball help?