Posts from 18th July 2004

Jul 04


The Brown Wedge6 comments • 393 views


The other day I started thinking about Magneto. A summary of Magneto’s comics career (as understood by me) illustrates the qualities and perils of a character-led approach to comics, I reckon.
In Magneto’s earliest appearances it’s safe to say the character is pretty much without nuance. A mutant with magnetic powers, he is in charge of the brazenly-named Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, who exist to give the X-Men something regular to fight. The name of this gang gives a subtle hint as to their ‘motivation’. Magneto fulfils the role of regular villain with a fair degree of verve, and also serves as a vehicle for the development of a few other characters: his children became superheroes, causing much dinner-table disagreement.


Spiderman 2..

Do You SeePost a comment • 305 views

Spiderman 2..

  • is really New York 2 feat. Spiderman (also feat. the return of New York public spirit)
  • suggests that Spidersman 1-3 will all feature villains with voices in their heads. Which may make it easier to attract the stars, in fairness.
  • twice sets us up to make Doc Ock more dependent on his arms, bottles it both times (by outright ignoring it on one occasion). Probably related to the previous comment – more Otto Octavius = more chance for Molina to Act (but not really – see Ian McKellan going over and under the top in the XMen films)
  • is more enjoyable because Peter Parker is such a nebbish (or F*#k-up as fellow New Yorker Eamon might say) (or nebbish, as millions of fellow New Yorkers might say). He isn’t anymore, but he used to be, what Marvel was about: an ordinary stiff, with the same problems as the rest of us (and in this case, unequal to them) despite the powers.

  • plays up one of the things that’s nagging him – the superheroes constant trouble (and easiest source of angst), his real identity. Spiderman’s got enemies, he says, despite the fact that he doesn’t. It’s sort of annoying to imagine what enemies he might already have had between 1&2, much as it’s annoying to imagine what exactly is in the box of comics that Aunt May throws out at some point. They can’t be Marvel, they can’t be not-Marvel (it might have been nice for them to be The Escapist, but that’s now a (not particularly good) non-Marvel comic). The comics world not just rubbing but grating against the constraints of the real world.
  • doesn’t improve on its Bruce Campbell cameo. In other news, bear still shitting popes – “We really wish he’d stop” say anxious cardinals.
  • raises suspicion that the swooping through the air stuff looks too much like the upcoming video game, but in general this reverses the original’s record: the action scenes look fantastic, the Doc Ock arms look so alive, and sinister from the get-go.

Interview with Brian Higgins

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 984 views

Interview with Brian Higgins, aka Xenomania, that’s an interesting counterpoint to Marcello’s onslaught on pop (see below). Higgins turns out to be like a lot of other pop auteurs, trying to smuggle a bit of the other (other) into the charts – the name of his songwriting stable is ‘the opposite of xenophobia’; an open-ness, a magpie eye for anything from anywhere that might make a hit glitter more brightly.
If you don’t like the results, of course, Higgins’ claims are hot air. They might be even if you do. What I found more intriguing was Xenomania’s inversion of the traditional svengali set-up. In the general scheme of pop, the claim of the hitmaker is that anyone can be a success if they’re given the right song and a wash and brush-up. This was how Stock Aitken and Waterman saw the Reynolds Girls, for instance: proof of their hypothesis that they’d hit on the perfect formula for pop and that it could turn any ordinary mortal into a briefly shining star. For Xenomania, though, only certain artists are worth writing for – Gareth Gates: no; Girls Aloud: yea – but Higgins believes that anyone can still play a part, as a writer. “Everyone has a No.1 in them”, he says – and his motley of bus drivers and Gina G backing singers seems to bear him out. It’s a denial of the prime anti-pop tenet: that it’s in songwriting and personal expression that the really rare talent lurks. A denial that fuels the haters’ fire (if Higgins denigrates creativity so easily then no wonder the output is soulless pap!), but for those of us who do enjoy Pop:04 it’s heartening confirmation that the current hands on the wheel know precisely what they’re doing.


FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 273 views

We’ll be putting the totaliser on the front page during the week. Meanwhile the good news is that we’ve raised our first £30 already, with a staff member selling an unwanted Belle And Sebastian ticket to an anonymous benefactor. The Indie Amnesty gets underway with this:
…and we have another! fundraising bonanza starting: SONGS FOR SALE. Basically, our Club Freaky Trigger requests policy can be a bit shambolic. But the idea with this is that if you’re coming to the club, you email us with a request and pledge a quid per song – if and when we play it, you hand the money to Steve. The address is (and come to think of it if it’s something obscure you could even SEND US THE SONG! Wow, technology.)
I know what you’re thinking – “Free jazz time!!”- but we’re reserving the right not to play something we don’t think fits the mood of the evening. We will make sure all DJs have a list of the requests available though.
So get requesting! (We’ve already had our first pledge, assuming Matt didn’t think better of it in the sober light of morning…)

turner prize nomination

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 385 views

turner prize nomination:

Just 36 words long – good necromantic number that (not inc.three for title) – the Independent’s no-pix cover for its 15 July issue was the best, sparest, most forceful use of a newspaper front page i can remember in almost four decades reading, or anyway three as writer, sub, production editor and whatever. I don’t even think you have to be on-board w.their politix (or be a fan from day-to-day: i don’t really like newspapers at all any more and the indie has routinely failed to repersuade me). anyway, could they have said more w.less? (and YAY! to no pix obv)

The Butler report
The intelligence: flawed
The dossier: dodgy
The 45-minute claim: wrong
Dr Brian Jones: vindicated
Iraq’s link to al-Qa’ida: unproven
The public: misled
The case for war: exaggerated
And who was to blame? No one

I’ve been missing wild strawberries.

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 592 views

I’ve been missing wild strawberries.

When I was a kid — a very little kid — there were wild strawberries growing down by the lake where we have our summer place. The houses are all built on a sloping rise crescenting the beach: the furthest one at one end looks out over the lake from a few dozen feet up on a little peak, we’re the next one after that slightly lower and set back more, behind evergreen bushes and low-growing wild wintergreen; and at the opposite end, the slope has come down far enough that you have only a slight rise, like a wheelchair ramp, from the beach area to the cabin.

From our place, you walked down the pine-needle-and-twig-covered hill to the beach, which was always a pain since we were kids and it was summer and our shoes were reserved for things like going to the movie theatre (it’s one of those places where everything’s got the r before the e) or to FrankenSundae to see what fresh hell we could wreak at the unlimited toppings sundae bar. J.B. Scoops — a major attraction of the area later, and now as well I assume — wasn’t even there yet, with their Chocolate Obscene and Smurfberry Crunch ice creams.

So you walk down this hill, and the lake is on your right when you get to the bottom, and continues in front of you and on to your left: you are facing the long leg of an L that has been mirror-imaged and turned ninety. This is Dog Cove, the far end of Squam Lake, aka Golden Pond — Rattlesnake Mountain is at the opposite end, and visible on all but muggy days, easy to spot with its bald patch of rock at the peak and Mount Washington and the other big brothers of the Appalachians towering behind it.

So your beach area here is square-shaped, essentially, with two of those sides on water — keep going to your left and you come across the docks where everyone keeps their canoes and sailboats, and if you keep going after that, the lake tapers off into a mosquito-infested pisstrail in the woods. Go straight ahead, and the bottom of the lake drops off sharply, so that as soon as you swim you’re in the deep end, with catfish below you. Going out from the corner into the water is a line of rocks, good for playing on, fishing from, looking for snails around, etc.

On the right is the “real” beach, with the sandy bottom, and the gradual slope from the shore so you can walk in the water before you swim. Sand’s piled up on the shore there for towels, castles, etc.

And in the elbow there, where the beach tapers out into grass, is where the wild strawberries grew. Not many of them. Three plants, I think, which means on a good day I’d find six strawberries, each of them the size of a Cheerio, tiny and more heart-shaped than ordinary strawberries, much more intensely flavored, like it was all packed in there: sweet, sure, but tart, like a mild Sour Patch Kid (which didn’t exist yet).

No one seemed to know about the strawberries but me, or at least no one bothered eating them. I showed them to my mother, sure, out of habit so she could make sure it wasn’t poison I was eating (before New Hampshire got sent to development hell, waddling around and eating things from the ground was a pretty common childhood pastime: there are tons of wild foods and cultivars that escaped from their domesticators hundreds of years ago, largely unnoticed).

Me, I’d check the plants every day or so, or at least every day I remembered. They were damn. good. strawberries.

But we were at the end of the lake, and the current, such as it is, flowed in our direction.

So every day, the water took a little bit more of the beach with it, down into that mosquito trickle. And every day, the lakebottom lost a little more sand and accumulated a little more mud. So eventually, as they’d done every once in awhile before, the housing association pooled money together to a) dredge the lakebottom and get rid of some of that mud, and b) dump sand back in there.

Which was fine. It was good. I hated getting my feet in the muck accidentally, where it’d be suddenly and inexplicably cold, which I knew was a sign the catfish were going to eat me.

But the truck ran over the wild strawberries, and those big ridged wheels tore the plants out, roots and all.

They can’t be blamed: they had no way to know, and the strawberries were right there only inches from the footpath, where they’d remarkably never been trampled even by Flip-Flops, and no one really knew about them but me: no one knew that just as the French fraises des bois are one of the world’s most prized fruits, the truffle of the sweet-and-tart world, and has for hundreds of years resisted cultivation, so too is its cousin fragaria virginiana, which is indigenous to the Atlantic coast of North America.

That was over twenty years ago, and you just can’t get wild strawberries at the store — nor even at the Farmer’s Markets I’ve been to, because they aren’t farmed as such. You occasionally see wild strawberry preserves, but these are just as often the French fraises des bois — perfectly great, but silly to import when we have our own local analogue — or fragaria ananassa, which is actually a cultivated berry that’s the ancestor of the modern strawberry — smaller, tarter, tasty, but no virginiana, Santa Claus.

Le Jour Se Leve

Do You SeePost a comment • 269 views

Le Jour Se Leve

Hmm. I went to see this 1939 French noir at the NFT the other day. They give you a two-page review-article on the film, it being a serious arts cinema, on your way in. It’s all about director Marcel Carne and the film’s expression of its themes. It talks a little about Jacques Prevert’s wonderful script, and only in its final paragraph do we get a mention of star Jean Gabin – it says that he was well cast. None of what it says strikes me as wrong or misguided, but its whole perspective has very little to do with why I love the film and wanted to see it again.

The story starts with a gunshot and a man staggering out of a flat to die on the stairs. The police show up, and the killer, Gabin, locks himself in. The rest of the film is Gabin shut up in the flat as the police lay siege, smoking his last cigarettes and pondering the events that led to all this, shown in flashbacks. Gabin is my favourite actor ever, and what we get is him playing a charming workman, becoming gradually enraged by a flashy and cruel performer (a dog trainer!) until he kills him; plus his hours of waiting for the end. This is a gem of a role, offering all sorts of great opportunities, and Gabin makes the most of every single one of them.
Yes, the script is beautiful, and the direction masterly, but the appeal of this movie for me centres on a mighty performance in a really great role from my favourite actor. These days films are ‘a [director-name] film’ – auteur theory has had a more complete victory than its creators could have ever anticipated. But for me a lot of films are still a Jean Gabin or Cary Grant movie more than being about the director. I’m not remotely looking for critics to go back to just eulogising stars and barely noting the director, but I do sometimes think the balance has tipped rather too far away from recognising the pleasures of watching a star in a strong role.

You Must Remember This – Joyce Carol Oates

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 790 views

You Must Remember This – Joyce Carol Oates

I think there is an interesting comparison between this and Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back. Maybe it says something about a male-female difference in approaching big issues, and maybe about why male authors are still valued above female authors (yes, some colossal generalisations there). This is a less overtly ambitious and monumental novel, a ’50s tale of an apparently ordinary family, and particularly the youngest daughter, centring on her incestuous relationship with her glamorous uncle.

But it addresses a lot of the same kind of issues as the mammoth Underworld: nuclear fear, changing sexual mores, McCarthy, the Korean war, political protests and so on. But where Underworld seems to have things to say about these matters, and constructs characters to express its ideas within its large canvas, this novel creates a human situation and brings out the big ideas as they affect them. This seems to me to be in general the kind of difference you might see repeatedly (though obviously not universally) between male and female authors, and it strikes me that it’s the overtly large scale of Underworld that gets the big critical heat, and the domestic teasing out of similar themes, the expression of them in their relation to ordinary people, that is still seen as somehow smaller, less important – this is not a fresh idea on my part, but a commonplace among feminist and PoMo critics for decades. I guess all I’m suggesting is that reading these books close together brought home to me that the paradigms and metanarratives of the literary establishment haven’t changed so much. I think this is a better book than Underworld, but it didn’t get the Great American Novel stamp of approval.