Posts from 18th October 2004

18
Oct 04

WATCH WITH MOTHER

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WATCH WITH MOTHER: LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE

mark s (after watching in silence for a time): do you find this funny?
mum s (for it is she, back home and a lot better hurrah!): not really
*long pause w.canned laughter*
mark s: did you ever?
mum s: no
*long pause w.canned laughter*
mark s: it is the longest-running comedy in british tv history
mum s: i quite like the theme tune
*lpwcl*
mark s: do you often watch it?
mum s: very occasionally
mark s: WHY?
mum s: i keep thinking if it’s been on this many years it MUST be funny
*lpwcl*
mark s: i have a theory
mum s (knows best response to this ie discouraging silence): _________
mark s: most good comedy series go into declines after about three series – this one started SO UNFUNNY that it has never been able to get worse, hence people carry on watching it feeling it has stayed true to itself
mum s: the countryside is nice [ps this will possibly be a theme to WATCH WITH MOTHER]
*lpwcl*
mark s: i don’t really even understand what it is in any of these lines that someone THINKS is funny – maybe they don’t either – maybe no one ever laughed in the studio either and the canned laughter is all stripped in from some old morecambe and wise shows
mum s: it’s all very strange

ok disclaimer: i DID ACTUALLY LAUGH at one line, when mum wz out of the room. This particular series (from 2002, was it the last?) features the now amazingly venerable actor who played Blakey in On the Buses *looks up name* Stephen Lewis, playing a minor character called “Smiler”. Anyway some old man says to some old woman (who runs a clothes shop), “Can you make him look more attractive?”, and she replies, “Well, at least it’ll be easier than trying to take him in the other direction.” This is a bizarrely clumsy way of delivering this joke, but even so it is fairly funny.

PORN STUDIES, Linda Williams, ed.

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PORN STUDIES
Linda Williams, ed.

I never took any courses from Linda Williams while she taught at UCI, but this is no surprise — I was in grad school for English lit while she was over in film studies, and though there can be and is some crossover at points the opportunity never came up. It’s a pity I missed out, though, since by all accounts she was a very good teacher, and more specifically has turned almost by default into the leading academic commentator on film and video pornography. For some this may seem like a dubious distinction to hold, but Williams’ matter-of-fact justification of the need to study the subject, above and beyond the question of interest in the topic, is sound. Porn is popular, wildly popular, it is an awesomely-scaled mass market worldwide entertainment business, and to not study it would be to ignore an elephant in the room of popular culture as such. So therefore, why not a collection called simply Porn Studies?

Williams edited this rather than wrote it all, so this isn’t the sequel to her fine book on cinematic pornography Hard Core except in a conceptual sense. Rather it’s a collection of essays from a variety of writers and academics on subjects ranging from the general to the hyperspecific, covering pornography in print, onscreen and online, and as is often the case with much modern academic writing, it can be deathly dull and not very exciting to read. My own experiences with the field have taught me that there’s a danger in stereotyping all writing done for academic fields in the cultural sphere — there’s as much flashes of creative brilliance there as anywhere else (Derrida’s passing serves as a reminder of someone who treated academic work AS creative work at his best).

But it’s all too easy to make my eyes glaze over when I stumble across sentences like, from Zabet Patterson’s “Going On-Line,” “An interrogation of on-line pornography’s imbrication in a particular technological apparatus necessarily leads us to a particular interrogation of on-line pornography sites, sites which, however much they may share, each constitute a specific field of application.” It’s not that this sentence is impossible to understand — and god knows I love long words in my writing — but this is about as thrilling as the ‘clinical’ tab A-into-slot B porn stereotype.

With that acknowledged — Patterson’s neither the only nor the worst offender — is the book worth a read? I think so, and not because I find its attempt to academicize a subject which Williams herself notes is hard to talk about in ways, much less teach directly, to be a worthwhile effort. As she notes in her introduction discussing an undergrad class in porn taught here at UCI, “Could one ask students to analyze, historicize and theorize moving images whose very aim was to put them into the throes of sexual arousal?” Similarly you could read the book sniggering at the attempts to talk about sex in film and more in a dispassionate enough way or do so in the way that the authors intend — acknowledging that there can and will always be the chance of discomfort or defensive humor or excitement but that there’s still a subject that must be discussed. There may be some hardcore stills and images scattered throughout — for instance, a frame from the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson tape, in which she grants him a close personal favor, illustrates an essay on the tape as a whole — but not directly noting what exactly IS being talked about would be a failure.

And so with that, there are studies on subsections of Japanese erotic manga, lesbian pornography as it has developed over the years, American class issues as played out in porn, historical studies regarding the evolution of porn and pornographic imagery, and so forth. Perhaps the most interesting piece is Jake Gerli’s “The Gay Sex Clerk,” a study of gay filmmaker Chuck Vincent’s more ‘mainstream’ straight-themed pornography from the early eighties and the overt critiques created via his directing on both pornography and sexual power games in general. Where some would see Gerli’s thorough analysis of a scene that parallels a cat forced to act ‘properly’ in a pet commercial and a female assistant forced to pleasure her boss as an excuse to talk about filth, more accurately he is doing exactly what a critic should in any kind of analysis — and that’s the kind of necessary approach required to make the elephant a little less ignored.

FT Top 100 Films: 16. The Cassandra Crossing

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What with Team America: World Police coming out in the US this week, much has been said about Super-Marionation of late. After the stupendous errors of the Thunderbirds film it seems that puppets may well often be the way to go in films. Which may explain a lot about the acting in The Cassandra Crossing, possibly the most preposterous of the disaster movies of the 1970’s. Wooden is not the word.

The film opens with Lord Lew Grade’s IPC logo which is about as bad a start as a film can have (Raise The Titanic anyone?). Then it swoops in on some very very anonymous UN style building which is the antithesis of exciting. However we soon see some criminals breaking into a top secret installation of some description. Hold the excitement though: they are not sexy thieves – rocking the cream polo-neck look. Anyway disaster strikes, our fella escapes but not before he catches ver PLAGUE. Bubonic natch.

If you were going to escape with your body riddled with plague, the only way to travel is by train. And indeed you do, with a bunch of z-list celebs (including OJ Simpson whose film career has died down a touch of late). They should include cheeky chap oldsters, dynamic younger types for the stunts and a few kids for dramatic effect. They should include that, but the CC is low on dynamic younger types, making do with a pre-heart attack Martin Sheen and an over the hill Burt Lancaster locked in a control room. The dilemma: stop the train and risk plague all over Europe. Let the train keep going and watch it, er , fall off at The Cassandra Crossing and spread plague across Europe.

A good disaster movie is a smorgasborg of soap opera, action movie and often social commentary. The Cassandra Crossing is more of a mix between Triangle, Thomas The Tank Engine and a programme telling us how bad the “Narzi’s” were. Thrilling, breathless, stunning: all words that do not describe the pounding tedium of the Cassandra Crossing.

It is therefore, very, very funny.

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE

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TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE
dir. Trey Parker

My good friend and possessor of similarly misanthropic sense of humor Dan Perry has asserted that the tempest in a teacup over this movie — in America at least, over the past couple of weeks — seems like Natural Born Killers redux. Having seen Team America and enjoyed it very much, I would have to slightly disagree — in that I actually want to see this film again at some point.

The best criticisms of the film aren’t necessarily from any political angle but from one that approaches the Parker/Stone dynamic, as perfectly familiar from South Park and other efforts, and measures it against them. And some have found it wanting, particularly in comparison to the mindbending brilliance of the South Park movie, which has to go down as one of the best ways to send off the 20th century and then some. It’s true that perhaps in comparison to both that and Orgazmo, Team America lacks a certain something, specifically the way that each of those films were marketed and presented disguised the fact that they were something else as well (Orgazmo was as much a spot-on take, down to camera angles and well-worn plot devices, of a classic kung-fu film; South Park was a full-blown musical). In comparison Team America is more a melange of many different things in service of the core idea, parodying the ultraformulaic Bruckheimer/Bay style of action films that to my mind are plagues upon the nations.

Its ‘secondary’ incarnation wasn’t a surprise at all — the puppetry, specifically the explicit Thunderbirds homage of the entire thing. Wisely it doesn’t actually fully try and be Thunderbirds the entire time — there’s no Tracy family equivalent or anything like that — but there’s the chauffeur, the hidden base, the variety of planes, the type of thing that just had to provide a more fun buzz by default than the nonsense of the official live action take in summer. And at no point is there any attempt to hide the strings, quite literally. It’s a clever balance between technical advances — the puppets are designed to do a little more with their faces than the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson originals — and maintaining the eerie status quo of the older approach.

Unsurprisingly its political focus, such as it is, is less Republican vs. Democrat — in the ‘positive self-image for each’ sense — than cliche-spouting lunkheads vs., well, cliche-spouting lunkheads. The fact that the typical Parker/Stone concluding moral(izing) — a hallmark of their work, check out the involved but hilarious debate on porn near the end of Orgazmo for perhaps the best instance of it — is completely obvious drunk dumbass BS is telling; the fact that said moral is specifically introduced and framed AS completely obvious drunk dumbass BS is even more so. Team America are the heroes but they are talking utter smack most of the time — Spotswood, their back-at-the-base leader, delivers a stirring concluding speech about lead puppet Gary which Bush won’t be quoting any time at all — and that in the course of their work they end up destroying a chunk of Paris and Cairo — to the not-exactly-thrilled sentiments of those there — is a situation that sure ain’t in line with the Cheney/Rumsfeld wing’s flailing attempts to create a kinder, gentle occupation.

And the ballyhooed ‘Hollywood liberals = bad’ talk? They’re portrayed as a sinister group of supervillians loaded to the teeth with weapons (or deploying other weapons — including a scene involving Kim Jong Il’s ‘panthers’ which is easily the most outrageous visual joke of the entire film, and the movie has them in spades), which in and of itself is totally and intentionally ridiculous. There’s a good comment over on ILE about how Parker/Stone could have played around more with the idea of acting hypocrisy given how many of the named actors have appeared in the type of action films Team America is ripping, and in retrospect I agree that’s a lost opportunity that could have been played with more beyond a slight reference or two. As for Michael Moore’s appearance, frankly I thought that the way he ends up going up in smoke is exactly the type of thing he’d do if he had the chance.

But was it a success all in all in that I laughed a lot and was entertained? Oh hell yeah. HELL yeah. The music is just completely wonderful, whether as background element (the ‘sad’ version of the theme song slew me) or as source music (the North Korean theatrical productions towards the end are barely less daffy than what was done regularly in the seventies in both China and Korea). The visual jokes, as noted, are great, the eternal references to everywhere else in the world as being fixed only with reference to ‘America’ (in one case ‘the REAL America’) are sharp, the usual layering of cultural riffs its own busy extra element, I could go on. Sure, a lot of it is juvenile. But a bit like the art design in Hero, it’s also exactly what was to be expected.

And in conclusion, “…Matt Da-mon.”

I am probably what would be known (in barbed terms by many people)

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I am probably what would be known (in barbed terms by many people) as a fair-weather fan. The connection between my football team and me is a couple of teenage years when frankly there was little else on a Saturday afternoon. Since then I have seen few games, occasional derby’s against mates teams or important (and heart-breaking) games. After all, if you only really get behind your team if they are successful, then supporting Barnet is a bit of a fools errand.

At least it was until this season. All season I have said I intend to go and see a few games, but I was distracted by a dissertation and the drinks that followed. However much to my delight out of the corner of my eye I noted that my team was top of their league. And winning pretty much all the time. I really started to look forward to going to see them.

It is just that if you are not a regular football watcher, the discipline keeping Saturday afternoon free requires turns out to be really rather difficult. Last time I did it I was scuppered by a late party the night before. All the home games seem to coincide with the days I am out of London. And suddenly another spectre has raised its head.

Maybe they won’t do well when I go. According to Batman, criminals are a superstitious folk. Add sports fans to that one please (and of course sports stars). Our winning streak has run for almost three months now. All without my support. I have a pretty bad run in seeing them win anyway, what if my bad luck rubbed off on them.

All of which is supposed to be some sort of pointless self justification as to why I have not seen my team in the season they most deserve it.

INDIE CHICKEN EXTRA

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INDIE CHICKEN EXTRA

In as much as I did not eat it, and it was not even chicken. But spotted, in Wood Green Shopping City, opposite the Wood Green Cineworld multiplax is a shared concession. Favorite Fried Chicken / Ardo’s African Kitchen. It is a genuine African cuisine takeaway. I was intrigued but had dinner waiting for me at home (I love getting new flatmates who try to impress), but next time I see a lousy film that only the Cineworld is showing, it is a date.

FREAKY TRIGGER TOP 25 SCARIEST THINGS 15: A Red Hot Poker In The Eye SIZZZZLE!!!!

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FREAKY TRIGGER TOP 25 SCARIEST THINGS

15: A Red Hot Poker In The Eye

SIZZZZLE!!!!

Let us break this down. Is this fear a mere conflation of a number of individual horrible things, happening all at once. The invasion of the eye, the fear of blindness, the fear of burns plus the fear of stabbing. And the fear of an old fashioned clich’ coming true (I suppose fear of being beaten off with a shitty stick might apply in that case). Perhaps it is. Our eyes after all are the delicate, soft wet pools in the middle of our head. An attack to the eye is an affront to our senses, to our most prescient sense. If you consider where the eye is, it is also an attack to the brain. To the very thing that makes us what we are and able to operate in this world. And it hurts. Even getting a fly in your eye is a major irritant. You cannot touch the surface of the eye normally. It is a squeamish fear.

Blindness. Well, imaging the long term effects of that one. Not being able to read, to see films, to watch the TV. You can see why this might haunt me, 200 film a year boy. I often joke that my eyes are my livelihood. It is no joke really. There are lots of things I could not do, or at least could not imagine myself doing, without my sense of sight.

Burns hurt. And that is on flesh. The third degree burn victim, with the hideous smell of charred flesh, burnt hair – horrid. It turns the stomach and comes with both the agony of being burnt, and the aftermath. In the eye? Well the eye is mainly liquid. The sizzle on flesh becomes a rapid boiling, part of our very physicality sublimes into nothingness.

And no-one wants to be stabbed.

So is that all there is to having a red hot poker in the eye? Possibly. I suggest that this fear is great than the sum of its fearsome parts. Maybe it is the hangover of medieval torture. That often the red hot poker in the eye treatment was done for no better reason than being in the same religion. Attaching a Spanish Inquisition to the other end of the poker makes it even more fearsome. But the worst thing? I can imagine the noise. Not just the SIZZZLLLEEEE!!! Of a steak on a skillet. But the screams….

Pub graffiti you have known

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Pub graffiti you have known

“Oats are a great herbal solution to depression. Eat porridge or muisli every day for breakfast for a week. I promise you you’ll be able to tell the difference”

This is the most annoying graffiti I’ve come across in a pub toilet, I think, and it will probably come as no surprise to you that it was located in stoke newington…

Sex Traffic. I wondered about the name.

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Sex Traffic. I wondered about the name. Was it just going to be like Traffic (the film) based on Traffik the TV series but about sex? Answer. Pretty much. A nicely rounded look at the sex traffic industry from the viewpoint of the girls, those running it and a charity fella. And the boss of a private security firm.

The first two of these characters have an obvious role in Sex Traffic. The charity worker is more the crusading everyman, especially when you consider he is being played by John Simm (your cast iron guarantee of a good TV drama). But it appears that the big baddie of the piece as constructed at the moment is going to be the private security firm, the contractors in law enforcement in Bosnia. I am in two minds whether this is a good idea or not. Certainly the traffic in woman as sex objects, the white slavery this becomes, is driven by money – and therefore the West. Equally there are massive problems with contractors policing nations, we saw it in Iraq. But are these necessarily the same problem?

Sex Traffic is not a documentary, it makes pains to say that at the end. But it is one of the few programmes which is dealing with this issue. There are very few programmes deal with the more thorny private security one (possibly because that issue is a lot less clean cut). Luckily around the swirling conspiracies that writer Abi Morgan has constructed it is always clear who the victims are. The two Albanian sisters being buffeted along are shown as naive, and then destroyed. It is clear that for all the abuse their bodies take, it is the very status of being owned that causes the worst of their reactions. The betrayal of suddenly becoming a chattel.

All of that said, it is a rollicking good storyline as well, part one ending on a compelling cliffhanger and its got me for the concluding part this week. Yet another reason why I should watch more television. I am not sure if I have seen a film this good this year…

Coins on the Railway Line

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Coins on the Railway Line

It was the summer of 1980, the last week of the school holidays. Ashes to Ashes was top of the charts and West Ham had recently won the FA Cup. My dad was on my back to get out of the house. So I phoned some friends and we headed to the railway line with some coins in our pockets.

Flattened coins were all the rage at my school. They were objects of prestige and good ones could even be traded for marbles. We clambered up the embankment and placed them in a row on the rail. We hid in bushes and waited for the sounds of an engine. The first couple passed without incident and we collected our highly prestigious (if totally worthless) coins. Complacency set in, then a bit of cockiness. Instead of coins, we placed large bits of stone on the track and hid close by. The sounds of a train could be heard in the distance. We shivered in anticipation. The noise abated. We looked at each other and the boldest peered across at the track. The engine was six feet away and had stopped. The driver was on the track beside the engine and didn’t look friendly. “Peg it!” someone shouted. So we did. Six boys running in different directions. Two got away, I was one of those who did not.

The driver was very angry. He shouted and swore and the gist of it seemed to be rocks on track = derailed train. We mumbled some sorrys, hoping that would suffice. It didn’t. He took our names, our school, headmaster’s name and our ages. “You are in a lot of trouble,” were his parting words.

It was Friday. School restarted on Monday. The pessimists among us thought expulsion would be the only outcome. The optimists reckoned it was simply bluster. I thought of Brooking’s header at Wembley. Did he mean it?

That weekend was sickening. I tried to think through every possible outcome to deaden the impact, a defence against shock. Would I be banned from the football team? Oh, shit, no! Friday turned to Saturday and Sunday, but it was slow and sleep came long after I went to bed.

On Monday morning I had butterflies in my stomach. The walk to school was awful. I met the others at the gate. Someone had seen a police car near the school. The headmaster was in an angry mood. All rumours represented ominous signs. We sat in assembly. The headmaster had an announcement. We held our breath and looked at our shoes. And it was about swimming. We would be using the pool in Basildon this term.

It took me a week to fully accept we were in the clear. A week of being convinced we would be pulled out of class and identified by an angry bloke covered in grease. But it never happened. The fear died down and Bowie was knocked from the top by the Jam. I had enough unsquashed pennies left to buy a copy.