Posts from November 2004
In November 2004 Blog Seven was a blog about the dead
I expected badness from the new version of The Manchurian Candidate. I expected the ground to shift to corporations, attempts at satirising US politics and a watering down of the po-faced conspiracy side to accommodate a modern thriller plot. I was right in expecting the removal of some of the sillier aspects of the original, including the lamentable loss of “Are you Arabic” and the Queen Of Heart motif. I did not expect it to be replaced by something even sillier, and a bolt-on happy ending. Conspiracy thrillers should not have happy endings. You cannot overcome the conspiracy after all, just win temporary victories. Watching the members of the Manchurian Corporation (I know) hold their heads in their hands after their tenuous thirteen year old plot went pop was laughable. And as the set up is the same as the Sinatra version, it still remains one of the daftest conspiracies ever.
You hijack an army troop mid war. You implant them all with mind control devices to enhance the reputation of one of them, who you are grooming for presidency. Never mind that the kid in question is a billy-no-mates stick in the mud. Rather than exploit all the potential of ten trained soldiers you have in your control, you kill nearly all of them, just to improve the lot of this one. Who still seems to have vestiges of free will at the end of the day. No wonder they were pissed off at Manchurian. It was a stupid plot.
The film boils down to two Oscar winners overacting to win the film. Streep edges it over Washington (rubbish as ever), but then you remember Angela Lansbury in the original and Streep has to fold. Remaking the Manchurian Candidate is not a bad idea, but in removing the (good) silly with (dull) silly and changing the end leaves us with a watered down, feel-good conspiracy thriller. This is probably a conspiracy in itself.
The Long Game
Repentance – of the non-trivial – strikes me as a human rarity. Read a piece in the Guardian about Josef Mengele the other day, living out his days eating with a dwindling band of ex-pat sympathisers, grousing about the poor reputation his monstrosities had won him, still adamant he was right. Name a villain of today and they’ll be the same, especially if their crimes are – and they likely are – a good deal more subtle than his. Nobody believes they’re evil.
Read something else, on a blog. Some neo-con – Wolfowitz? Rumsfeld? – talking about history. They were making history, you see, the liberals would be the people (imagine the lip curling) discussing it afterwards. Set yourself up as one of history’s actors and the consequences of those actions recede. “At least he has a plan”. The election seems longer than 28 days ago: time the great healer? No, just a competent anaesthetist.
Discussing it afterwards: this is the historian’s job. “History will judge me” – well that’s exactly what I want history to do, and what it does too little. I can’t believe in a god or an afterlife but I can put some faith in hindsight. Let’s never be afraid to speak ill of the dead.
Wanting to ‘take the temperature’ of the discipline I picked up the latest issue of this worthy magazine. Wasn’t very impressed. Very dry, very British, rather too military. The best article by far was on conscientious objectors in the Second World War – and it still wasn’t great. That’s a rich topic – WW2 has been generally accepted* as a just, indeed heroic, war, so an examination of why men refused to fight is intriguing. But all you get is an arid overview, some smatterings of personal recollection, and barely any attempt at analysis at all. And the rest of the magazine is much the same – a nervousness pervades it, a dancing around any attempts at humour, let alone judgement, and an apparent fear of making anything seem too interesting. When I started work in market research, one of the first maxims I encountered was “If it’s interesting, it’s probably wrong”. History Today seems to work to a similar principle. A vibrant subject deserves better.
*And rightly so, but if I had had more time this month I might have talked about the terrible albatross the memory of WW2 seems to have become, a justified war that has been used ever since as a justification for war.
The Romans is another Dr. Who historical story, as clownish and clumsy as The Aztecs is weighty and intelligent. The show is a wretched mix of leaden drama (the most unconvincing gladiator fighting you’ll ever see) and feeble slapstick which never remotely gels: a sitcom which lacks a laugh track, so William Hartnell supplies his own, cackling with glee after almost every line. Fun to make, then (probably) – but dreadfully dated, even for 60s Who.
Of course the whole thing ends with Nero setting Rome on fire. This is history as every schoolboy knew it – a series of unfortunate events, so to speak. It’s also the version of history that lives on in Terry Deary’s excellent Horrible Histories books, which mix comedy and fact to much more posed effect. Deary’s premise is sensible: children will remember history better if you highlight the gruesome or exciting bits. It’s a sharp contrast to the ’empathy’ method of teaching, whose books are not called things like Terrible Tudors but boast lid-lowering titles like Life In A Medieval Town.
My adult taste in history has generally run to ’empathy’ – I like books which try and grasp or glimse the mentalities of the past, even if that makes them ‘history’ only obliquely; I like the recent boom in popular history and am delighted that it hasn’t focussed on kings and plagues but on the apparent trivialities of salt, cod, dyes and compasses. But I have no doubt that teaching ‘event’ history is the best way to get kids interested in the past. Though these days they don’t have to make do with a load of character actors larking about of a Saturday teatime, they have Rome: Total War instead.
OUR CHIP’S BIGGER THAN YOURS! Blah blah Playstation 3 chip announced, blah blah 16 trillion floating point operations per second, blah blah bells and whistles blah blah….
I won’t care until they start talking in TERAFLOPS! Computer speed races are all well and good, but they’re no “Robot Wars”, are they.
Pub Science Experiment #1
Pub 2: The Railway Tavern, Globe Road E2
Bang goes one side-theory: that these places would all be super-quick to get to because they’re all near stations. The Railway is only a five minute walk from Stepney Green tube but I wasn’t expecting to have to walk past three pubs (all variously shut or shut down) before reaching it. There it is, though, nestling just north of the railway arches which run through Globe Town.
This isn’t the most promising of areas, but I quite like it: I’ve spent many a happy weekend afternoon in this neck of the woods traipsing merrily around the art galleries. It’s clearly not rich but it’s pretty friendly. The Railway Tavern, likewise, is plainly not rich. It’s detached and painted white and (I would guess) early Victorian. It looks OK from the outside with just a feint chance that it might be a bit forbidding. Pretty much your standard backstreet boozer.
Inside, the decor is like the storeroom of The Museum of Pub Furnishings (still an imaginary museum, sadly). Built-in comfy seating over there; low-ish ’70s wood and leather armchairs pulled up to some formica tables over here; nasty ’90s (maybe ’00s) tubular metal plus pink moulded plastic barstools. The bad part of the decor is that at some stage, probably in the early 1980s, someone plainly decided to give the place the feel of an old country inn. Their M.O.? To stick up some nasty, fake half-timbering and plaster in the gaps. It looks terrible.
All of which can be of no importance at all if there’s something else about the pub to charm or please or relax you. Early enough on a Saturday for the smell of last night’s cigs to remain unoverwhelmed by the smell of today’s, there isn’t. Everyone in the pub gives an impression of being related, or at least sufficiently close that they’ve given up even using each other’s names. The barmaid scowls as I ask for a Guinness, and sniffs and sneezes as she brings it over. The poor dear shouldn’t really be at work. I’m mostly ignored, which is fine, but I do feel like I’m intruding in a private space.
A really good pub will often beguile by lightly tripping an ambiguous line between public and private. The Railway doesn’t manage it. It’s a perfectly sound place ot go and watch the football or stop for a swifty but A Good Pub? Not really.
Overall mark: (out of 10): 4
We’re far too lazy/jaded/secretly into Bennet to do the ‘clever writing about pop’ thing any more, so it’s a good thing that some people still manage it.
I’LL HAVE A PEE PLEASE BOB
Possibly the oldest quiz machine still in existence found in the Grafton Arms on Grafton Way on Friday night. Instead of the gurning faces of Messers Tarrant (Millionaire) and Foxy (Pepsi Chart), we instead had the benvolent visages of BOB HOLNESS (Blockbuster) and Mike Read (Chart Challenge)! OK, we didn’t actually check to see if Mike Read appeared on Chart Challenge BUT I BET HE DOES.
Warning: quiz machines WERE harder in the olden days – Blockbusters gave one about 60 seconds in total to select your letters, answer multiple choice questions and complete a row. After a couple of pints this was impossible, but perhaps an early-doors first pint attempt might lead to lovely blockbusting fruition.
There are two good reasons why this single must come out.
i. The Cheeky Girls are exactly tawdry enough for Christmas (and NO OTHER time of year, bog off Cheeky Flamenco et al.). “Have A Cheeky Christmas” slowly revealed itself as a seasonal masterpiece, its rictus grin of forced cheer a frighteningly precise recreation of that office party vibe. “Rum-pa-pum, rum-pa-pum, Santa Claus is comeeng / Rum-pa-pum, rum-pa-pum, feeling up my stockeeng!” – shudder.
ii. We are all about the cunning swap of Summer and Christmas themes here at Freaky Trigger, and “Boys (Christmastime Love)” is exactly the kind of thing we were thinking about (that time down the pub).