Posts from 12th October 2004

Oct 04

Life in the Resident Evil games

Do You SeePost a comment • 406 views

Life in the Resident Evil games is mediated through two screens. The obvious one is the inventory, which lets you pick between carryng around plot items (key cards etc), health stuff to keep you alive, and shiny weapons. The other, no less important, screen is the map. The stuff of life is finding keys to open doors far away, and figuring out that if I’ve gone up one flight of stairs, then if I can get through there and down those stairs, I’ll be .. eaten by zombies. Arse.

It’s for this reason that the Nemesis introduced in the third game works so well. It appears, you fight it till it drops, then run away. After a bit, you realise that this hall you’re running down does pass by the room you last saw him in, and then through the wall he comes.

Resident Evil:Apocalypse is a lot more faithful to The Map than the first film was: there’s a sense of spaces, and their division into safe and dangerous (to be made safe with guns). And, occasionally, cheap thrills via formerly safe places that are now dangerous. The Nemesis has the same effect on these divisions as in the original game: he smashes through everything to deliver some death. This only happens once for about five minutes – possibly the filmmakers realised that an excess of it would cause the similarities to The Terminator to become too apparent.

The rest of the time, the film does what it does: an unoriginal but impeccably constructed jigsaw of corporate conspiracy thriller, zombie movie and action flick. It also adds some comic relief with a little (goes a long way) of Mike Epps.


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 1,728 views


So said the cover of the Evening Standard yesterday. Ho hum, I said. Its not anything we haven’t seen before. He’ll be back in a couple of months.

Guilty Pleasures (Theory And Practice)

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 414 views

Guilty Pleasures (Theory And Practice)

I’ve just been sent a review copy of a new compilation of DFA stuff and very fine it is too. But how’s about this for a quote from the press release, attributed to James Murphy:

“We’d both admit to loving things like The Smiths. Now, that’s very in vogue, but I guarantee you, in ’99/2000, it wasn’t something you said particularly loud.”

I want to say two things about that. Firstly, I don’t remember a period when The Smiths were so unfashionable you couldn’t talk about them, certainly not the turn of the millenium. In fact, I distinctly remember them getting played to death in pretty much every indie club I went to across the country. I can also distinctly remember The Strokes wowing an NME journalist back then by claiming The Smiths as a defining influence. And that was when Julian & Co where defining what was hot and what was not, changing music/fashion in the process. So, you know, whatever.

The second thing is something that’s been bugging me for a while, at least since I visited Rome in the summer. More specifically, I’ve been thinking this at least since I went to the early Christian catacombs just outside of Rome. I’m pretty sure that it stems from there, that bastion of of hope and faux-martyrdom. The thought is this. Why is it that we build into our aesthetics the idea of senseless persecution? Why do we so treasure people who were before their time, people who were misunderstood and derided? I’m sure it extends past the elitist cool thing perfected by DFA. For example, I’ll kind of give them their dues when they talk about liking Gang of Four back in 1999. Okay, it doesn’t mean James or Tim are great people or great artists or anything, but Gang of Four were hardly as widely talked about then as they were now. But The Smiths? Perfect example. Not only were they ‘misunderstood’ etc etc etc at the time, with all those songs about being ‘misunderstood’, DFA were understanding their ‘misunderstanding’ before any of you lot. The Smiths might have been self-conciously miserable and the rest but they were a Top Of The Pops band with lots of happy tunes that people enjoyed at the time and enjoy now. It seems that we like martyrs so much, we don’t just admire them, we create them.

Heaven knows I’m more Catholic than you now, obviously.


Do You SeePost a comment • 414 views


I’ve always approved of how-it’s-done programmes (cookery, gardening, that funny little ten-minute “tips for” series), even for disciplines i’m not much interested in —> and there’s plainly a kind of overthrow-of-everything loopiness to getting um Modern Master Rolf Harris to demonstrate the Technique of the Old Masters. (Hey it’s like when he revived his own (and Led Zep’s) careers w.that cover of Stairway to Heaven.) It’s not as if he can’t draw or paint in the basic technical sense: he can (anyway he can do everything! even swim and save animals’ lives!) — It’s more that his aesthetic is so, well, what exactly? So fantastically “straight” – = hardline representational – that it’s not even reactionary or threatening. He knows how to make things look like things, esp. things in semi-motion, with just a less-is-more dab of a brush: and presents it as a learnable skill not a transcendent wonder beyond your reach. Good for him.

My actual real first ever memory of wanting to be a painter (aged five) came after watching Rolf do one of his lightning daubs, while singing. The song was an aboriginal chant about “The Dreamtime”; the painting wz of the land we sail to when we sleep. I tried to paint it next day at infant school. Mine was quite poor. You also learn things from when copying goes bad: this is the secret hidden unsayable centre of the Rolf on Art series, maybe.

Anyway, this prog had three aspects to it.
i. Rolf talks to experts (art historians and collectors) abt his idol: basic documentary fodder
ii. Rolf sits in the Rembrandt museum in Amsterdam (surrounded by ppl who have come to look at paintings by Rembrandt), and
iii. Rolf paints a SELF-PORTRAIT “in the style of” (while the ppl all around watch in jaw-dropped awe at a. his talent, or b. his chutzpah).

The best bit wasn’t that his self-portrait caught a genuine likeness of him , though it did (maybe there were dozens of rubbish ones thrown away off-camera). It was when they morphed through all the OTHERS he’d done of himself since he wz an art student in the 50s, and he let out a giggle of pure self-pleasure.

(ps ok aaargh his colour sense is ubergharstly)

(sorry i meant to blog this a few days ago, but i had a lot of stuff on)


Blog 73 comments • 5,515 views


19. Death

The first death I can remember was also perhaps the purest. A kid at school was running on the athletics track and collapsed. In the second or two it took a teacher to reach him he had died. A brain haemmorhage, they told us the next day at Assembly: massive and instant.

Tragic, yes. Fearsome, no. There had been no foreknowledge of death, no pain – or a second of pain at most – it was as close as a death comes to being simply a human being ‘switching off’. Most of the time when I ‘fear death’ it’s the foreknowledge that’s frightening, or the pain, or the futile attempts at survival. The fact of death, the oblivion – that’s not scary, because it won’t be ‘happening’ to me, there won’t be a ‘me’ for things to happen to. The main emotion that comes to my mind when I think – infrequently – of my death (and this entry is solely about one’s own death) is regret for the things I won’t see happen.

But death deserves its place on this list. For one thing it’s so bound up with so many other fears – it’s the terminal fact behind fear of fairground rides or crocodiles or heights. For another this is a youngish man writing, with few responsibilities. The ‘fear of death’ has always been the fear of what happens next. Just as I’m worried that some crime report or social outrage will one day turn me Tory, I’m worried that one creeping day nearer to death will find me waking up religious, and then (I’d guess) the fear might really start biting. But even for the unbeliever there’s a fear born out of responsibility – that all the stories you’ve weaved yourself into (or helped start!) will go on without you, and might go wrong.

There are two types of salads in this world

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,044 views

There are two types of salads in this world, as far as a I have noticed. There is the leafy, chunky, lotsabits but mainly lettuce types, and then there is the chopped to bits swilling in dressing kind. I can only make the first kind, mainly due to an incipent laziness and real lack of skill in dicing anything.But I really like the second kind. Anyway, until this morning I always considered the second kind to be more professional and impressive (mainly based on the extensive and exceedingly good salad repetoire of Alex Thompson). Now though I am questioning this as it strikes me that the main difference between leafy and dicey is in the dressing.

One reason I like a leafy salad is dressing it. I love getting my hand in the bowls, tossing the dressing all over the bushy leaves, coating them a ramshackle way before I fling all the other bits (some salami, tomatos, hardboiled eggs) in. With the chopped salad however the dressing can be ladled on and then stirred in with a wooden spoon. The entire thing is uniformly dressed and usually very tasty. But the key point is, you don’t get your hands dirty.

If I consider the licking of the remnents of the salad dressing off of my fingers as a part of the salad experience then I realise that I rather like the way I make salads too. And I think from now on, tossing and licking should be considered all part of the salad experience.

SENSES OF SHAME – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I Hate Music8 comments • 1,401 views

SENSES OF SHAME – Smells Like Teen Spirit

In 1991 rock was at its lowest ever ebb. Forget the ironic reappraisal of hair metal: it stank. Little did I know things would soon get even worse. The title of “Smells like Teen Spirit” comes from some grafitti Kathleen Hanna wrote on Kurt Cobain’s wall: “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” – that being a deodorant. My suspicion is that if Hanna felt Kurt’s use of deodorant merited a wall-sized headline the man’s personal hygiene was poor. Pictures of the straggly man-beast seem to back this up. The dreadful single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in fact the first of many Cobain claims to have “cleaned up” – a phrase most critics have wrongly taken as referring to drugs, rather than bathwater. In its cryptic lyrics he confessed that his soap-dodging ways had gone so far as to leave him “contagious”. “I’m worst at what I do best” he caterwauls – that being “not washing”. Never has the old saying been more apt: he who smelt it, dealt it.

Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 537 views

Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief

Jonathan Miller is a very clever man, but I don’t know why this documentary is on TV. Does digital channel BBC 4 really have a wider audience than Radio 4? Maybe he knew that I at least was more likely to listen to it on digital TV than radio. Nice.

Up front Dr J reassures us that he is not going to bombard us with “clever imagery”, dramatic reconstructions and the like. That’s too crass for proper intelligent documentary he explains, and sure enough he keeps his promise – boring our eyes with: Jonathan walking to a Library; Jonathan in the Library; Jonathan walking to a book shop; Jonathan walking past a church. The only times you have to look at the screen are the punctuating epigrams typed up on screen (with “clacking” typewriter F/X). They really should be read out at the same time, it would save us the effort.

The point of a lot of the first show last night (there are 2 more in the series), as is traditional with analytic essays of this sort, was a preamble – the “ground rules” – of what is meant by belief. There was the feeling of time being filled (these are hour-long shows) with Dr J rewording the same basic point three or four times, but otherwise it was a perfectly clear, if slightly unsurprising narrative.

My interest did pick up at one point – during the conversation with the anthropologist of religion (sorry I forget his name). It appears (he explained) that the concepts common to all religions do NOT include “the creator”, but do include both “ritual” and “unseen actors” – covering ancestor worship, the work of “spirits” or the presence of immortal souls of the dead. “Unseen actors” is interesting from the stance of cognitive science, because at a basic level, our brains represents the world in terms of intentional actors – think of how we as a species fall into anthropormphic explanations all the time. We see things around us as signs of those actors at work – we infer that those footprints show that there is an animal not far from here, and so on. In this way the unseen spirits are “false positives” – examples of where we infer too much, because there has been a survival value in being over cautious. Indeed Dr J went on to emphasise this point explicitly, using the phrase “false positive”.

I hope the remaining eps produce more nourishing thought. There is the promise of interviews with some interesting thinkers, such as Daniel Dennett (though his only “previewed” contribution was pretty fatuous), and the likes of his big mate Dawkins.


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 490 views

Five Things About Michael Chabon’s

1: Clay doesn’t have any amazing adventures
Okay, he maybe has the amazing adventure that many of us have, living in a big city, doing work you like, doing work you hate. But compared to escaping Prague with the Golem, or Joe Kavalier’s Arctic adventures, they ain’t amazing.

2: There is another Mysterioso
Perhaps it is just my Carter Beats The Devil timing, but what is it with these escapology themed books all of a sudden. And what is it with escapologists (at least here being hyper-fictional) called Mysterioso.

3: The comic-book history bits stand out a mile
Stand out in as much as Chabon is doing a “history bit”. Whilst this is interesting it is assuming (possibly rightly) the readers knowledge of thirties and forties comics to be nil. But what a history of comic books needs is pictures, and without them these history sections fail to come to life, just being facts, figures and dates. The crudity of some of these early strips would be useful to show just how easy it might be to revolutionise comics.

4: The appeals to cinema to explain how groundbreaking Joe Kavalier is
Following on to this assumption of ignorance of comics is the difficulty in explaining how great Joe’s comics are, and become. Instead his later issues of The Escapist and Luna Moth are compared to Citizen Kane in their complete mastery of the comic form. This gives the history of comics quite a problem, especially vis a vis the serious, dark comics he later makes in the fifties. If US comics has a Citizen Kane of its own, it rocks up in the late eighties (and is arguably Watchmen), the existence of genius such as Joe Kavalier skews the history segments.

5: The sense of loss inherent in talking about non-existent art
The problem with Chabon talking up these fantastic comics is that they do not exist. The 3000 page epic The Golem does not and will never existed (and even if it did, it would not be a patch on what is described in the book). What is compelling about the book is the characters, and also their creativeness. But it is like seeing a film or reading a book you haven’t seen yet in a dream. Nothing is there, and you wish it was. (Of course you can read The Escapist, but it isn’t THAT the Escapist, just a comic written by Chabon, as a comic written by Kavalier and Clay which would be fine if Chabon was a proven good comic writer, but, as yet, he isn’t).

Bernardo Belloto

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 891 views

Bernardo Belloto

Slaughterhouse Five is a book I read every couple of years. It is strange and horribly beautiful and I’m not sure I understand it all. More civilians died in Dresden than in both nuclear attacks on Japan combined. I don’t think that’s a widely shared fact and perhaps the central message of the book.

When Billy Pilgrim describes pre-war Dresden as a Sunday school picture of heaven, it makes me think of the man who painted it, Bernardo Bellotto.

A few years ago I went to a Bellotto exhibition in the Basque Country. He was Canaletto’s nephew and lay long in his relative shadow. His style is very much like his uncles’, but rather than paint endless views of Venice (and those little wiry dogs which seem to inhabit every picture), Bellotto’s landscape was northern Europe. Both Dresden and Warsaw owe him a huge debt.

After the firebombing of Dresden, Bellotto’s pictures were used as the architectural blueprint for the rebuilding of the city. The famous picture from the tower of the Frauenkirche taken on February 13th 1945 is one of utter devastation. “Those who had forgotten how to cry learnt it again in the destruction of Dresden.” The old market squares and the view from the opposite shore of the Elbe were reconstructed from the artist’s paintings. Today, Dresden again has a beautiful centre, it’s a magical place of honey stone and rain on cobbles. From this via this to this. The old quarter of Warsaw was also rebuilt from scratch using Bellotto as its guide.

Vonnegut wrote so well about the senseless destruction of Dresden, but Bellotto captured its beauty.