Posts from 5th October 2004

5
Oct 04

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BLOCK BLOG 1: Sins Of The Father

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 392 views

BLOCK BLOG

1: Sins Of The Father

Well if Dan can do all the Dr Who books in order, a quick trawl through Lawrence Block’s ouvre should not be past me. In particular, the Matt Scudder books. This will be a short set of tails spilt into three. One looking at the book itself. Another looking at where Matt Scudder is in his life at this point. And first, how I got the book.

I am a terrible collector. I am not even sure I approve of collecting, so in its way deciding to read and buy all of the Matt Scudder books is a step into potentially dangerous waters for me. I do not want things that just look nice on a shelf. Well, okay I do which is why I only want mint Orion copies, but I want to read them, in order to see if my previous assertions of charatcer development and soaplike drama really do becoming more important in the books than the mysteries. So it has taken me eight months to finally track down a copy of The Sins Of The Father, the first Scudder written in 1976, in Waterstones Piccadilly. It has lounged on my Amazon whilst, and I could get them all on the internet this somehow seems like cheating. We will see how I feel about this in the long wait to find number two.

So to Scudder then. Who is he? You find out precious little in book one, this is good old fashion short, sharp pulp and while Matt is an interesting narrator we do not get to see much of his life. We know he used to be a cop. Now he is not quite a private eye. He has an estranged family, has an interesting relationship with a barmaid and a prostitute and likes a drink. I am not sure if there is much foreshadowing to where this is all going to go, or just window dressing to tell a nice little bit of psychological detecting. Probably, at this stage, the latter.

So to the detecting. A young woman is brutally cut with a razor and when the police turn up her flatmate is standing over her body admitting the crime. He then commits suicide. Question, comes from the girls step-dad, who was she? Why had this happened? As ever with Block he feeds his information so that you are fascinated in the people rather than the puzzle, almost so that the ending seems a touch trite. Even more trite when the title of the book is considered. Its hard to review a mystery without giving away clues to whodunnit, so perhaps the cleverest thing about Sins Of The Father is that for the most part you think you know who did it, so this is never a distraction. At 180 pages it is slim, quick to read and comes with its own distinct morality. A good start, but not much Matt. (7/10)

THE STAR WARS TRILOGY DVD SET

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THE STAR WARS TRILOGY DVD SET

You might have heard of this. My thoughts on the original version of Star Wars are here and talking about the films themselves in detail I’m in two minds of, but I think not this time. So instead, some brief reflections in general:

* Much as I love the various classic films I’ve been seeing for the first time lately and which presumably many people think I should have seen by now anyway (thus The Rules of the Game a week ago), I make zilch apology for spending a lazy weekend (I needed it, work was a mess) doing nothing but watching all three of these, and hearing their commentaries, and watching all the extra features stuff as well. I doubt I’ll ever need to indulge myself that way again but it was great and I was most content.

* You know, the changes made aren’t all THAT much difference to the end result. Let the Greedo scene stand as was, keep the “Bring me my shuttle” bit in Empire in place of the new voiceover, those would be the two things I’d still have a small problem with. And they ditched Luke’s scream as he fell, happily.

* It really does look and sound pretty damn good.

* I loved the documentary for one key reason — I think it was the first time there was an official (as opposed to unofficial) accounting of the fact that Star Wars not only had tons of problems getting filmed but that more than a few had zilch faith in the damn thing to start with. And hell, they even interviewed Gary Kurtz, which I wasn’t expecting in the slightest. Of course, they didn’t talk about why he and Lucas severed their partnership, but you can’t have everything.

* Irvin Kershner really is a character. He can do commentary for any film I have any time, even if he doesn’t like it!

* Did trailers just plain SUCK up until fairly recently? Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of crap trailers now in turn. But most of the trailers I’ve seen from films on DVD that were released in the sixties through the eighties are abysmally awful, I mean really, really poor, and all the ones for all three films here, perhaps one exception aside (the bemusing but effective Empire one consisting only of closeups on Ralph McQuarrie concept paintings) are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Paul Frees does some awful voiceovers for them (did people forget he was in on Hardware Wars?), the edits are clunky, the picture collage ones just make me think of Daft Punk gone wrong for some reason. Standards must have been different, SOMETHING was different.

* Just make this final Obi-Wan/Anakin fight in the one next year really something. That’s all I ask. Really.

INSIDE THE GESTAPO and PIRATE QUEEN

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INSIDE THE GESTAPO
by Helene Moszkiewiez

PIRATE QUEEN
by Judith Cook

The books aren’t related, I picked the first one because, well, that’s a pretty good if direct title, while the second had a nice psuedo-map cover that I usually fall for anytime something like it shows up. (This explains why one of my favorite shirts of all time came from the band Unwound, with an old depiction of the Caribbean on the front and a world map on the back. I’m a sucker for cartography in the end.)

The first is a direct first person account from a Dutch resistance fighter who ended up working as a secretary in a key Gestapo office in her home country. It’s quite a chatty, passionate and striking book, and in many ways acts as the unintentional counterpart (it was published in 1985) to the overarching narrative of the war’s impact told in that decade, Maus. Readers of that will remember that a key part involves Art Spiegelman’s rage in learning that his mother’s diaries and journals had been destroyed, and that her own voice as such would never feature in the story being told. Here a woman tells her own story forthrightly, in a vivid blend of emotions — but oddly enough, perhaps the most intense is the one of life, not in the sense of looking towards a brighter day per se but in almost existential terms (if a core point could be paraphrased: I am a Jew, I am a resistance fighter, I will spy on and frustrate the Nazis, the Nazis will fall). It’s not a record of a diary and is told in obvious hindsight, but rather than some sort of sureness of the brighter day it is more that action must be taken at all costs, to simply not surrender. She expresses frustration over what she saw as the unwillingness of more Jews to take such action, but does not condemn or pity them, and is aware herself that in ways she almost lucked into — if that’s the right term — her role thanks to a friendship with an older Belgian soldier who eventually works in deep cover in the Gestapo, resulting in the secretarial job.

It would be a danger, perhaps, to speak of the personalization of an entire war, but she is not telling that and it would be strange to call it that — she was not out to destroy the entire Nazi edifice, merely to help as part of a larger process that she is open about knowing little about (she herself was not in direct contact with the British agents advising her superior). As such, her story is by turns exciting, horrifying and blunt — she is keen to pay tribute to those who deserve it and to be clear about those who deserve lasting excoriation well beyond the grave, at the same time capturing the ambivalent horror of a righteous killing — namely the death of a suspicious Gestapo higher-up at her hands — with skill. It is an account rather than a tribute or a condemnation or a seeing everything through one prism, and as such succeeds surprisingly well.

Cook in her book tries to tell another woman’s story, that of Elizabethan-era Western Irish pirate leader and noblewoman Grace o’Malley. Not knowing what to entirely expect, I encountered a popularly-inclined sketching out of someone’s life where not much information is necessarily had — more than once Cook essentially apologizes for what isn’t known, and speculates and shares stories about a character who on the one hand was a figure of some specific renown but on the other hand is seen through a glass darkly. Cook if anything is more telling of o’Malley’s milieu rather than her life itself, the tangled intertwining of clan and political loyalties of Ireland in the 16th century which must have been near impossible to resolve for many contemporaries then and is practically overwhelming now.

As such the book is interesting rather than compelling, a bit of a mission to suggest and place rather than definitively tell, though Cook herself is well aware that this is in the fact the case, that she can only do so much and no more within the space of what turns out to be 180 pages, it’s a quick little read. Might recommend it, might not…ask me at different times and I’ll probably give you different answers.

What I miss about chart countdowns

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What I miss about chart countdowns — a random mention of Air Supply over on ILM today got me to thinking about the last time I was thinking about them at all, which would have been 1983 or so. I was about two years into realizing there was a Top 40 chart and America being America that meant it was presented by Casey Kasem, who I now find out has only retired from the job or a variant of it at the start of the year. Quite happily for a while I had a little graph thing going tracking the various songs during one stretch of time, and I don’t remember much about it except that one week Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” were going head to head for the number one spot. Later years made me realize that both were in fact Jim Steinman songs, so maybe he was my real hero as such (c’mon, Bat Out of Hell is undeniable).

The weird blend of information and ads and long-distance dedications and all that was just part of the reason when that tape of Kasem swearing his head off over a dead dog surfaced — and which I heard before Negativland had fun with it, so I guess I was keeping it real or something like that — it was so gleefully great, it was the equivalent of hearing Reagan suddenly break into a foul-mouthed rant on live TV (didn’t happen, more’s the pity, maybe then the funeral hash earlier this year would have had another talking point).

Part of me really misses weekly listening in to such stuff, which is perhaps why I adore William Swygart’s brilliant weekly takes on the British chart and the BBC show there — I still don’t know anything about ‘Wes’ except that he’s a plague unto the nations, apparently, and I’m fine with that. But in much the same reason that I could never have tried for a commercial radio DJ spot as such despite allegedly having the voice for it, I can’t bear to listen to the radio either now and thus listening to the countdown — whatever one there is, Billboard‘s I guess is still the one but there are eight million subcharts now as well — is out for me. There’s still some nostalgia to a slow sure progression up the charts, hearing what’s where and what’s now in and out, just letting it flow. But I have to admit, it’s darned nice not to have to listen to the songs I hate as well as the enjoyable ones.