Posts from 2nd September 2004

2
Sep 04

Hey, What’s that Smell? Everyone sniff what’s going down.

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 531 views

Hey, What’s that Smell? Everyone sniff what’s going down.

I finished Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer last night. I am still in awe of what a literary work of art the story was. I am also, subsequently, reeking from a perfume I have concocted myself. I had convinced myself, halfway through the text, that I could make a scent that would drive men wild. I, too, could be as talented as Grenouille! My combo consists mainly of my two favorite smells: patchouli and roses. Mixed together, I now smell like a dirty hippy trying to smell like a princess. Lovely. The only men poking their heads around my office door are stopping by to see the stench is.

[sigh]

There is some news here about a movie to be made from the book. The good news so far is (a) NO Leonardo DiCaprio and (b) the director they have in mind is Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). Here’s the page over at IMDb.

CHEAP FOOD I LOVE #4: Fray Bentos Pies

Pumpkin Publog3 comments • 1,528 views

CHEAP FOOD I LOVE #4: Fray Bentos Pies

An office conversation reminded me of these delights, which I’ve regretfully given up as they are too obviously unhealthy even for me. The basic idea is PIE IN A TIN – you open the tin to reveal a gelid expanse of pastry, after half an hour in the oven it is a crisp, lightly brown puffed-up beauty concealing a bubbling lake of steak and kidney goodness (NB no individual piece of meat in a Fray Bentos pie is identifiable as either steak or kidney, I assume in the intense heat of gas mark 8 they have fused into a new wonder food.).

I used to eat these quite a lot at University. They are packed with lab-bred flavour and went well with peas, the perfect fortifier before stepping out on a night of boozing. Fray Bentos are unusual in that to the best of my knowledge they make nothing other than their pies, and also in that they don’t have a proper website (heroic resistance to the era of cross-channel branding, this). The obvious URL is taken by an amateur football team.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN

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CONAN THE BARBARIAN
dir John Milius

The other film I got last week besides these two was in ways a perfectly appropriate choice. On the one hand, Lucas talks on the Kurosawa disc about how it was Milius who first really got him into the Japanese director, and in his commentary for the film Milius specifically name checks him as well as Bergman. Meanwhile, the success of Star Wars doubtless indirectly helped in Conan getting made in the first place — though Dino Di Laurentiis must have been regarding it as a bit of a crap shoot since his own big ticket attempt as splashy pulp sci-fi in Flash Gordon was more light than heat (still looked gorgeous at least).

Anyway, I found Conan used (actually a two-sided DVD with the sequel on the other side, but frankly I can wait on that) and remembered how last time I saw the film — and the first time in many, many years — was on a flight over to London about a year ago, as mentioned in this ILE thread, and that however tired I felt I was honestly surprised by the decent quality of the film. I said then it wasn’t a great film but it was a damned good one, and I’m inclined to be even more positive about it now with a better sense of the reasons why it works.

Some posts on that thread say it well enough, but to give it my own spin — one reason why the film had fared somewhat lamely in my memory was due to the many, MANY ripoffs in its wake. In that regard Milius had his own Star Wars-level impact in that so much of what passed for ‘sword and sorcery’ films through the eighties and beyond was dullard, cheap nonsense — most of the time not even amusingly bad, though the MST3K crew rescued three in the form of Cave Dwellers, The Outlaw and Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell, each of which resulted in prime examples of hilarity and each of which followed a general model set up by Milius and company.

What makes Conan an actually pretty grand film results from what was brought to bear on it, though — some films have a good ensemble cast (and this is actually one of them), but this is a movie with a good ensemble creative team. Not to mention a spectacular setting at that — the whole thing was filmed in Spain, and I don’t think any English-language film, at least, made such good use of the outdoors when it came to ‘fantasy’ as a broad genre term until Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. While Spanish landscapes had already long been used by many filmmakers — the spaghetti westerns most obviously — Conan showcases many different areas and places, from snow-capped mountains to flat steppe-like areas to weird tortured hills and deserted shores. Cinematographer Duke Callaghan may not have the most extensive or impressive resume but he earned his money here, and at no point does it seem like we are anywhere but the convoluted never-never land of Robert E. Howard’s creation, where any sort of historical hoohah washes up against each other, Vikings and Mongols, Egyptians and pagans.

Then there’s the music by Basil Poledouris, which could warrant an essay on its own. Reworking both the grandiose Hollywood traditions of epic/ancient/’alien’ music and more than a little Carl Orff without actually using “Carmina Burana,” the result is a lush, approachable bombasticism, if that makes any sense. Unlike, say, John Williams’ Wagnerian drama for Lucas, keyed in scene for scene, Poledouris is often creating source music without an obvious source — it’s little surprise some of the strongest moments occur in scenes involving rituals or activities of the snake cult led by Thulsa Doom, where no musicians are seen but there’s no way that the activities could be shown without the chanting and drumming and horn/string-led pomp. It’s fascinating to note how the film is edited around those moments — Poledouris isn’t interested in matching his music to the pace of the scene so much as the setting, making the contrast between his work and, say, Conan’s dispatch of the huge snake or the building up of the attack on the ritual orgy/cannibal dinner at once disconcerting and a bit refreshing.

And finally the best stroke of genius was something at once perfectly obvious and brilliantly handled — the lead character doesn’t talk much. Schwarznegger’s non-acting acting is its own established motif now, and the sheer interchangeability of so many of his roles proves it — there’s a reason why he just seemed to disappear into a stream of is-it-even-worth-shrugging-at efforts in the last few years building up to his more high-profile job he currently holds. Only James Cameron and Milius have taken the right approach, it appears — concentrate on his ability to stoically brood, keep what he says to a minimum (and to his credit, Schwarznegger didn’t appear to mind that at all where many other screen figures would have a fit), and let everyone else take care of the exposition and discussion. And thus the wiseness of a solid ensemble cast — James Earl Jones, of course, but Gerry Lopez as the wry, wiry Subotai, Sandahl Bergman’s no-nonsense Valeria, the just-right-enough-scenery-chewing from Mako, Max Von Sydow’s anguished, angry king. Conan fits in among these characters just as needed, and even they aren’t always saying everything and anything — it’s not needed, the script is kept economical.

And for all that, though, Milius is clearly out to Make a Point or at least some points, as his occasionally garrulous commentary on the DVD shows (Schwarznegger in contrast is a bizarro ninja of the obvious with his comments — “Oh yeah, this is the scene where we meet Sandahl, an important scene” — yeah THANKS dude now go balance a budget and ensure my paycheck please). So while it’s economical Milius is doing his best to pack in ideas into the smallest possible space — the Bergman meets Kurosawa comment he makes becomes clearer as a result. It’s not quite Yojimbo Meets Death Over Chess, perhaps, but again taking just enough cues from the original Howard tales he fashions up a great pop-culture take on existentialism, of a meaty and sweaty variety. Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us” quote opens the film, the first extended speech from a character is Conan’s father telling the young boy that the only thing one can trust is steel rather than people, and perhaps most brilliantly the soliloquy from Conan to his god Crom — an absolutely absent figure, never personalized or anthromorphized, and quite easily read as nonexistent. Thus the sharpness of the prayer, an invocation for help that concludes with a mocking dismissal should that help not arrive.

Then there’s the whole subtext about cults and followers — Milius mentions briefly in the commentary about how he drew on the Jim Jones cult and the suicide in Guyana for part of the inspiration of the Thulsa Doom element, and it’s the workings of the cult which lead not only to some of the best big-budget elements of the film (the temple set into the hillside, the astonishingly beautiful scene where the camera rises up behind Doom to look down on hundreds of people bearing torches) but also a clear-enough riff on something which at the time must have been severely troubling a number of people, even if only as a folk demon. My old English teacher, an unreconstructed but more formally dressed hippie, showed our class the film in the mid-eighties precisely because he wanted us to consider at as anti-cult film — he was grinding no moralistic axe, rather it was part of his own oft-stated attempt to make us all think for ourselves. One of Jones’s standout scenes is where he talks about the difference in strength between steel and flesh and judges the latter stronger when he is able to easily and simply persuade one of his followers to commit suicide without a moment’s hesitation. It’s almost over in a flash, there’s no music, Jones doesn’t even dwell on it — it’s possibly the best moment in the movie.

Now if only they had gotten Milius in to do Conan the Destroyer.

let’s call it rotoscoped zizek

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let’s call it rotoscoped zizek

plainly i am pro all the scooby doo movies (at least till such time as i have to sit through one of them, perhaps), but it occurred to me as i sat watching an ancient ep of the cartoon last week (while waiting for a phonecall abt my mum in hospital) that i had totally overlooked one intriguing therefore positive quality of a show i never liked as a kid

i. yes you could say that the meme of internal repetition (ALWAYS the same storyline; plus also the loopqualities of the backdrop in running sequences) is “foregrounded” to the point of um “self-deconstruction”, but i don’t think that makes it any more interesting to watch, and
ii. yes you could say that the meme of “crimes that only kids can solve” is (despite its blytonesque roots?) entirely consonant with the Children’s-Crusade dynamic of the radical 60s as a whole, but i am in fact rather suspicious of this dynamic (cf dr vick on a similar issue)

but what did suddenly occur to me though – and i genuinely do think this is unexpected, given america’s political unconscious then and since – is how resolutely and pitilessly materialist the storyshape is (in a marxist sense!): viz however monstrous the phantom and weird the tale, the explanation for events is always nuts-and-bolts toolshed trickery, and the motivation is always a shortcut to money

ILM is big and unwieldy enough now

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ILM is big and unwieldy enough now that doing this seems sensible as a way of a) directing the casual reader to good stuff and b) maybe drawing in new people who will say good stuff in their turn. Of course part of the appeal of ILM is always in the banter and exchanges, and filleting it for ‘intelligent’ bits inevitably misses that, but there must be other people who simply don’t have time to read all of it.

Since I want to ultimately cut down reading it as well as give up posting, and because this thing will work better with more people doing it, and because there’s no good reason why my quality filter should be the prevailing one, I’d like to ask if anyone else who’s a regular reader of that board wants to contribute. It’s very easy – just cut and paste when you see something quality, credit the poster and link to the thread. Email me if you’re interested.

My morning and evening bus routes

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My morning and evening bus routes

Don’t give me that look — it’s travel, it’s just travel on a low scale. And after all, I do go from one city to another, every working day. It’s a well known route, to be sure, but it also provides its little surprises still.

The thing about it is that it’s actually not a fixed situation for me — there’s one bus line that goes past my apartment complex which intersects with two other ones down the way, both of which will get me to the UCI campus and my job. As the first route has a schedule which can be charitably described as ‘flexible,’ each day is actually a bit of a challenge in that often I have to decide which of the two intersecting routes to take. This is all the more important in that those two routes only come by once every thirty minutes, so a delay in getting one or the other means I’m stuck hanging around a stop for a while, running a definite risk of making it into work late. This might not matter as much if I wasn’t in charge of opening the library front door each day.

So much for requirement, but what about the trip itself? Sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, as noted, but often long enough that I can either lose myself in reading just fine or else just lose myself in the sights on the way. Not that they’re necessarily spectacular, a couple of minimalls, some freeway overpasses and so forth. But part of the main route, if I go down to the second and further away of the connecting routes, goes through the Newport Beach Back Bay. When the morning is sunny enough, it’s a lovely spectacle to see the reeds and grasses in an area which, while surrounded by some reasonably low-key development is still for the moment kept as it is, bordered on either sides by low rises, including the actual mesa which gives Costa Mesa its name. It’s even more spectacular in the evening, as the setting sun directly glitters off the bay as I make my way to my return connection spot.

When I walk to that spot, I’m always going past one of the many apartment complexes around the area, bordered by a hedge. In that hedge live a warren of rabbits, happily content to sneak out when nobody is passing on the sidewalk — it’s not the busiest of pedestrian locales, unsurprising given the favoring of car culture around here — to nibble on the grass. They’re wary of humans, of course, and so if they are out there in the late afternoon haze and heat, they eventually notice my approaching figure, sit up and eventually dash back to the hedge. A pity I’ll never be able to see them close up, but seeing them and the glistening bay and more makes for a lovely way to end a work day, on a trip I take by necessity but which I would never otherwise likely see.

Made wealthy by science (almost)

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Made wealthy by science (almost)

Normally i read my New Scientist as soon as it arrives. Last week I didn’t, as I was reading a rather good book at the time, in fact it was several days before I got round to reading my magazine.

The cover story was about some of the big experiments happening in the world of physics, but what really caught my eye was that New Scientist had teamed up with Ladbrokes to offer odds on these experiments achieving their aims by 2010. Most of the odds seemed pretty reasonable, eg understanding cosmic rays at 4/1 and finding intelligent life on Titan at 10,000/1. What caught my eye was LIGO detecting gravity waves at 500/1. I’m not a gambling man but with odds like that…

Of course everyone else who reads New Scientst thought the same thing, and they all read their copies sooner than me. By the time i got to the ladbrokes site the odds were down to 3/1. Someone out there has made a lot of money…

BBC coverage
Ladbrokes

Europop Vs Alan

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Europop Vs Alan

(This is a CD-R I made for Alan’s birthday, but I haven’t been able to give it to him yet. Thankyou to the several websites some tracks were plundered from – you know who you are.)

ANNIE – “Heartbeat”: best track by Norwegian ILM darling. Chorus like a sunrise in your head.
TROLL – “Jimmy Dean”: energetic Scando-stomper about a boy next door who looks like Jimmy Dean. Key line: “If I could wear his pants”
DR ALBAN – “Sing Hallelujah”: pancontinental hit by ice-cool dentist and NYLPM favourite Alban. Gospel and house piano, yum yum.
MELODIE MC – “Give It Up (Denniz Pop Mix)”: Very fast Swedish rapper, soaring chorus, backing vocals which sound like Borat’s “wawoweewo” excited noise.
SALMA AND SABINA – “Pehli Pehli Preet”: Tangentially Euro but so lovely it had to go on, this is ABBA in Hindi. Also: wow!.
LEILA K – “Check The Dan”: Leila’s deliciously gruff voice, a digi-ragga-house groove, a nonsense title, if this doesn’t get you going what will?
BEGINNER – “Gustav Gans”: German pop-hop, wonderful shoulder-shrugging sunny day music.
ALCAZAR – “Physical”: who doesn’t love Alcazar? “Never needed real emotion” – bonus track from new issue of recent album, bit of a grower.
THE KNIFE – “Heartbeats (Rex The Dog Mix)”: another big ILM favourite, like a lost ZTT track rediscovered and rebooted.
E-TYPE – “Here I Go Again”: what would a Europop CD be without a massive eurodisco cover version, this time of Whitesnake. All buttons pushed. (may not be by E-Type)
REDNEX – “Spirit Of The Hawk”: Native American trance-pop epic, a sidestep into kitsch I admit.
CORTEZ – “What U Get Is What U C”: very nasal non-rap with big chorus. Big on the Mediterranean dancefloors.
ALCAZAR – “Seasons In The Sun”: needs no introduction. Oddly restrained.
DR ALBAN – “Let The Beat Go On”: has that strange urgency so much Europop shares, as if the night might end any minute.
THE PARADE – “Terrorise The Dancefloor”: no little Englander I! Britain is part of Europe, we just don’t often do its pop very well. This band were on the same label as the Stone Roses, remarkably! Should have been an ENORMOUS hit.
MYLENE FARMER – “Libertine”: maybe the best thing on this CD, magnificent defiant smouldering diva-pop in the language of love. If TaTu ever reform…
B-BOYS – “Shake Da Body (Rich Girl)” – reggaeton-sounding thing with a ragga sample and a posh singer – hip-grabbing stuff.
BECOME ONE – “Bop Til You Drop”: as straightforward and guileless as the title suggests.
HITCH-HIKE – “Travel Girl”: outrageous talkover bubblegum house.
VANILLA NINJA – “Club Kung Fu”: kind of like a bubblerock version of Daphne And Celeste’s Japanese one, this is what Josie And The Pussycats thought they sounded like.

Teenage Wanderlust

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Teenage Wanderlust
I haven’t always wanted to travel. Football and music were my first obsessions. I can trace the addition of wanderlust to one particular weekend.

I spent my teenage years in a small commuter town, where three quarters of the population took the morning train to the City, leaving a shell of a place.

The dullness proved too much for some and several friends of mine ran away from home. To this day, I don’t know why they picked Swanage, but there they stayed. I went to visit a few months shy of my seventeenth birthday.

To a kid in denim jacket and a Smiths t-shirt, this was freedom. Over the weekend, I got drunk on cider, stoned on weed and fell in love with a runaway from Motherwell. She was rebellious and beautiful. A free spirit like none I’d known. She was in some sort of trouble and had to leave town. I remember accompanying her on a desperate journey to catch a National Express to London. The ferry from Studland delayed us and the connection was missed. She simply looked at the departure board and booked a seat to another city.

This was about the time I clicked into a different person. I was stranded and due in work at 9am the following morning (at the Bank of England!). I phoned my parents (livid), then a work colleague to explain my absence (amused) and spent a further day in this unregulated new world.

It was a weekend of instant nostalgia, where the furious reaction of my parents was something I didn’t fear and barely acknowledged. I was grounded for a while. No problem, I wanted to spend some time reliving the weekend. My little runaway ranaway again but the others returned from Swanage and joined the commuter stream. Swanage was their last adventure and it was my first.

Blind Travel

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Blind Travel

Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle books have aged poorly in spots. The uproarious adventures of ‘Prince Bumpo’ aren’t the only reason, either. Too often the stories slip into whimsy, telling predictable adventure yarns which just happen to have dogs or ducks as the heroes. But laced through the books is Hugh Lofting’s genuine sense of the uncanny. He was clearly fascinated by the huge, the ancient, the barely explicable – from the giant crystal-shelled sea snail in the second book to the (barely reprinted) Doctor Dolittle And The Secret Lake, whose lead character is a stupendously aged turtle, the last, colossal animal survivor of the Biblical Flood.

Lofting was also interested in travel. The Doctor’s itch to travel is the motor of most of his adventures – a wanderlust not founded on romantic ideas of the Other but based on Dolittle’s desire for good animal conversation. In a lot of stories he’s the model of the decent colonial bureaucrat, forever sorting problems out – an entire book deals with him setting up a postal service in Africa.

The themes of travel and the uncanny come together in the best and most haunting of the Dolittle books, Doctor Dolittle’s Garden. This starts with him learning the language of insects, and he talks to several of them, who tell him stories of a race of giant moths that could fly between worlds. Meanwhile his monkey friend tells him a tale set “in the days before there was a moon”, a phrase that strikes a nerve in Dolittle (and in young me!). Things come to a head when the Doctor decides to play a game of Blind Travel.

Of all the ideas I met in children’s books, Blind Travel has stayed with me the most – I can’t open an atlas without thinking of it. The idea is that you take a large atlas or map, blindfold yourself and let it fall open at random, then stick a pin into the page: that is your destination, and it’s up to you to make something of it. It still seems to me an enchanting, rich idea. The Doctor and his friends play the game and – in a spine-tingling moment – the atlas falls open at its beginning, on the large plates illustrating…the Moon.

I have never played Blind Travel. I hope to someday.