Posts from 14th December 2004

14
Dec 04

The Scavenger’s Tale by Rachel Anderson

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The Scavenger’s Tale by Rachel Anderson

This is an interesting and impressive novel. It’s slim and simply written: she also writes children’s novels, and brings that clarity and precision here, but this would surely be too harrowing, morally in particular, for a child. It kind of put me in mind of a cross between Oliver Twist and 1984, with a strong dash of Leon Garfield.

It’s London in the nearish future, some years after some vague conflagration, a repressive and poverty-stricken place, visited by sick tourists, since the only things of value still on offer here are medical skill and quaint sights. Our protagonist is a teenage boy, struggling to sustain a meagre existence for his motley adoptive family of ‘dysfuncs’ (suffering from Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other such conditions) by scavenging in bins and on the Thames, until everything starts getting far worse, and sinister truths are revealed – these are pretty much given away by the blurb, and you’d have guessed very quickly anyway.

It’s nonetheless a brave novel, as our hero is so far from heroic – there’s one breathtakingly shocking and distressing scene, an instant moral and practical choice that he makes, something that rings true, but I’ve never seen its like before. This is halfway through, and the rest can’t quite live up to that moment’s impact, and the end fizzles rather. Her crisp writing carries you through with enough pace that this doesn’t hurt it too much, and it’s that and the one striking incident that will make me look for more by her.

THE BEATLES – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

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#160, 14th December 1963

One reason I’m happy I started Popular is the entry it’s given me into enjoying the early Beatles. I can’t ever remember Beatles records playing in the house but I can’t ever remember not knowing these songs, either – certainly the first time I purposely listened to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” I knew it. They’re the currency of pop, but actually liking them seemed as odd as, well, fancying the picture of the Queen on an old coin.

Listening to them in context I can’t help but get a sniff of that old coronation fuss, even if I still find them hard to adore. It’s not so much the genre-shift between The Beatles and the stuff that came before (which had positive qualities of its own), more the difference between them and the songs surrounding them. Imagine the Searchers or Gerry Marsden doing “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. You’d have got the upbeat feel, you’d have got most of the energy, you might at a pinch have got the lovely double-handclaps – but there’s no doubt the performance would have been blunter and duller.

For one thing the Beatles were skilled at covering Merseybeat’s particular Achilles heel. There’s a streak of childish whimsy in a lot of the beat group hits that has aged dreadfully. “I Like It”, “Sweets For My Sweet”, the ghastly “Little Children”, all suffer from a cloying attempt at wide-eyed innocence that ends up simply trite. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” has a title that rings exactly these warning bells. But the band obviously know it and they crack open the song every time the chorus comes round, launching themselves into those high “HAND!!!”s, demented with glee. It gives the song its repeated climax, its hands-in-the-air power and handsomely overturns any lingering tweeness.

GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

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#159, 2nd November 1963

Of course, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has a life well beyond its recorded history – it was odd for me to come to it as a record at all, more so when I realised that its history as a kind of secular hymn dates from this single: if asked, I’d have guessed that Gerry Marsden picked it because Liverpool fans sang it. But no – the record predates the tradition.

That tradition forms the song’s third life, which we can talk about when Marsden takes the song to No.1 again, in 1985. The song’s first life was as a show-stopper and wartime spirit-lifter in Carousel, which is where he would first have heard it. This single is the culmination of “YNWA”‘s second life, as the big ballad in the Pacemakers’ club sets.

You can imagine it doing a job: an opportunity to slow dance if you’d found a partner, and sway and sing if you hadn’t. Putting it on record would hardly have been a risk: the public’s appetite for all things Mersey and its joy in soppy ballads were well proven. Gerry plays the song absolutely straight – sentimental and a bit pompous, constantly building, making the most of access to an orchestra and of the tune’s slothful pace. His only dynamic trick, his one reminder that we’re listening to modern pop, is the closing “You’ll ne – evuh”: it’s showy and I don’t think it works. But then I don’t think “You’ll Never Walk Alone” works sung by one voice not many – the latter is a mass affirmation, the former a hope at most.

FT TOP 100 FILMS 2: BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY

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FT TOP 100 FILMS
2: BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY

Originally known as Bill And Ted Go To Hell, a nicely literal title. Though hell is one of the shortest visits of the grand tour of more metaphysical realms than the previous excellent adventure.

This film is number two in the list; I suppose I should be demonstrating how Bogus Journey is superior to Excellent Adventure (which I think it is). And indeed The Seven Samurai. But considering Crocodile Dundee came in at number six, this list has never been about quality. Which is a pity as I think the Bill & Ted films are mini masterpieces. The lions share of the credit in Bogus Journey goes to Peter Hewitt, British director who seems awfully good at this kind of thing (this kind of thing including The Borrowers and Thunderpants: kid friendly filmography). He has a knack with inventive designs, very good at pacing his material for sci-fi jokes and action. The designs for heaven and hell are his: by no means hugely original but no-one near as hackneyed as other cinematic visions. Sending the ultimate blank canvases of Bill & Ted through these vistas is a great trip for the viewer: Reeves and Winter appear to have learnt nothing from their previous journey, which is the point.

Viewed as big budget science fiction, the plot of Bogus Journey pretty much trashes all that is wrong with many popular takes on sci-fi. Clones, robot duplicates, time travel are all used up and spat out with gay abandon. In particular the time-travel ending which takes the logical conclusion to illogical states of farce. (Joss Ackland will spend much of the next ten years playing baddies like this, but never in such a good film).

In the end though, for all the design, and script jokes, this is a film that makes something of Bergman’s Death. I often wondered if Ingmar had seen it, or at least the battleships/twister sequence. Wrapped up in the one character we have arthouse parody, Death Takes A Holiday, Arnie lampoons and a remarkably sympathetic character: Death. In the end the beauty of both Bill & Ted films is they take whatever comes their way culturally and sees what works. Bogus Journey is better due to net for its influences being so much bigger.

If you go to Bodean’s on Poland Street in Soho, London’s premiere BBQ restaurant*,

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If you go to Bodean’s on Poland Street in Soho, London’s premiere BBQ restaurant*, try to go on a Monday or Wednesday. Serendipity sent me there last night, a Monday, when the BBQ Burnt Ends are the special on the menu. Admittedly the name burnt ends is not instantly attractive, especially as I am a man who thinks well done meat is the paradimatical case of an oxymoron. However in field of excellently smoked, cooked and seasoned meat last night, the burnt ends stood out as a triumph. Half a rack of ribs were suculent, the pulled pork shredded with glee and the half chicken juicy and spicy. But the burnt ends…

Burnt ends being literally burnt bits of beef brisket. You know when you do a beef stew, and some bits poke out of the liquid and go all hard and yet seriously tasty. This was a dish made solely of such bits of meat, shredded in a thick, gloopy sauce. And a lot of it too. With a nice selection of US beers (Anchor Steam!) and some nice ice-cream after it was a lovely Monday night.

We were surprised though that this superlative dish could only be sourced on a Monday and Wednesday. Our extremely helpful waitress explained to us the complicated curing and cooking technique that turns up the burnt ends, and we let her get away with it. Clearly it is actually a way of bolstering their clientelle on the traditionally quiet days of the week. And for me, it will probably work. But so much meat…

*Not only by virtue of it being a very small field

WARNING BAD SEX

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WARNING BAD SEX

“Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth … Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns … “

Winner of this years Literary Review Bad Sex Prize for worst sex writing. Tom Wolfe (the author of said passage) would probably argue that it is meant to be bad. To which I would say – in a Mandy Rice-Davis accent natch: “well he would say that – wouldn’t he?”

Saw Bridget Jones: EOR yesterday. Mediocre.

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Saw Bridget Jones: EOR yesterday. Mediocre. Did job I suppose. Bit like a 1970’s comedy. Falls over less than in BJD. Most jokes repeated. Globe-trotting sign of TV sit-com to movie syndrome. Bridge now too much of a comic character to be everywoman in film. Still, waddling comic turn winning.

It is not a film however that is going to remove accusations of racism from Richard Curtis (or Working Title since they produce all his rom-coms). This is a step back from Love Actually’s single token (if unlucky in love) black character. Bridget’s work, life and even most of her travels are completely white. The only place where a non-white face is apparent is either as a prostitute in Thailand or in prison! Right on!

(Hey some of his best mates are Lenny Henry, how can he be racist?)

THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF CHRISTMAS FILMS 14: Silent Night, Deadly Night

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Well there has to be a Santa serial killer movie doesn’t there? After all the threat of Santa knowing who is naughty or nice only really pays off on the nice side. Perhaps if you are really naughty, Santa might slit your throat instead.

I have never seen Silent Night, Deadly Night (though I am aware that there is a Carradine in it). All I know of it I got from the Bad Movies website and extrapolated from its title. A mid seventies slasher shocker with low production values and a plot which makes all of good Dr Freud’s work seem worthwhile. Perhaps the most amusing thing is the plot, all of which tries to explain why there would be a murderous Santa on the loose. Apparently because his parents were killed by a murderous Santa all seems a touch recursive to me.

The Millau Bridge

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The Millau Bridge
Winner of the “Build the biggest fucking bridge you can” competition. Really, the only response to this thing is: “Fuck me, but that’s enormous”

Unfortunately the bridge’s own site, http://www.viaducdemillaueiffage.com is slow as a pig, or i’d have got some nice pix of it too. Just look on the BBC site instead (of course)

I’m Dreaming Of An Office Christmas Vol. 2

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I’m Dreaming Of An Office Christmas Vol. 2

This CD is significantly less likely to be played as it pushes the boat of quality somewhat further out. It will still get a spin round my place, though.

1. EDDY ARNOLD – “I’m Your Private Santa Claus” (1)
2. UNKNOWN ARTIST – “Last Christmas (Disco Mix)” (2)
3. THE JACKSON FIVE – “Up On The House Top” (3)
4. SISTERHOOD – “The Rocking Disco Santa Claus” (4)
5. A-TEENS – “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” (5)
6. ALAN JACKSON – “Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” (6),(7)
7. HERB ALPERT – “The Bell That Wouldn’t Jingle” (7)
8. MERLE HAGGARD – “Bobby Wants A Puppy Dog For Christmas” (5),(7)
9. RAY ANTHONY – “Christmas Kisses” (8)
10. RED SIMPSON – “Out On The Road For Christmas” (9)
11. THE O’JAYS – “Christmas Ain’t Christmas New Years Ain’t New Years Without The One You Love” (10)
12. BOB ATCHER – “Christmas Island” (11)
13. TINY TIM – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (4)
14. JIMMY DONLEY – “Santa! Don’t Pass Me By” (12)
15. BABS GONZALES – “Teenage Santa Claus” (11)
16. BOBBY HELMS – “Captain Santa Claus (And His Reindeer Space Patrol)” (10)
17. BOB WILLS – “When It’s Christmas On The Range” (10)
18. HESS TROY – “Christmas On The Moon” (5),(13)
19. SPYDER D – “Getto Santa” (10)
20. DUDLEY DOGG JR – “The Christmas Puppy” (5),(7),(4)
21. OSYMYSO – “Walking In The Air (London Heathrow)” (2)
22. NINA AND FREDERICK – “Little Donkey” (14)

(1) Includes lines “I’m coming down your chimney” and “A pillow in the right place does the trick”
(2) Christmas isn’t Christmas without remixes.
(3) Cringesome brotherly exchanges notwithstanding.
(4) Will lose me my job.
(5) Always work with children or animals.
(6) I’m on Daddy’s side.
(7) Not a dry eye in the house.
(8) Extremely frightening lady chases you with sprig in hand.
(9) Trucking + Christmas = Winner
(10) Just as good as you’d hope!
(11) Oh those hep cats.
(12) A heartfelt plea.
(13) Defies explanation.
(14) And a merry Christmas to every one of you at home!