Posts from 18th January 2005

18
Jan 05

“You’re as mad as your mother. And your mother was a lunatic”

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“You’re as mad as your mother. And your mother was a lunatic”

Sure, the staging, direction and cast are all fine. It’s just that By The Bargh of Cahrts is not a well-written play.

I was far from interested in seeing this relocation of the Medea myth to an Irish peat bog. Reviewers have stressed the dodgy Irish accents, although these seemed fine to me, yet failed to mention that it is such a dull, prolix, shouty affair.

Oh, and it’s got Holly Hunter in. And she doesn’t wear a bra for the second act. You’d be well advised to watch The Incredibles, Raising Arizona or Copycat (or any of the many movies where Hunter is great) instead of this sodding mess.

HERMAN’S HERMITS – “I’m Into Something Good”

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#178, 26th September 1964

Sunshine pop from Goffin and King – and whether their pen-portrait of dating etiquette seemed quaint at the time or not, Peter Noone sings it with a perfect innocence. Hands clap, the backbeat rolls gently along, the Beach Boys harmonies complete a very pretty picture. If I hadn’t been sixteen myself, I could almost believe that Noone really doesn’t know what “something good” might be.

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 95. Gladys Knight – “License To Kill”

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THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
95. Gladys Knight – “License To Kill”

Vic Fluro says:

There are stalker songs and there are stalker songs, but when Licence to Kill sweeps into its heavy, pounding intro – like the incidental music for some massive earth-destroying threat – you know you’ve found the daddy of them all. Gladys Knight doesn’t sound breathy and sensual so much as acutely menacing as she sings “Hey baby, thought you were the one tried to run…AWAY?” I can’t help but picture Bond locked in some hillbilly’s basement, desperately scrabbling with the lock as Gladys Knight comes closer and closer with bulging eyes and a bloodstained carving knife.

Actually, that’s not quite true – even at this stage, the orchestration suggests some massive purring machine of a song, holding back the full weight of its awesome power. Bond would be scrabbling at some electronic hyper-lock, and Knight would have a ray-gun or possibly a white cat. The surroundings would be opulent. “Please don’t BET” snarls Gladys “that you’ll ever ESCAPE ME – ONCE I GOT MY SIGHTS ON YOU!!” Knight isn’t the bond girl here, or even Bond himself, but a deranged, power-crazed villain in her own right, hiding inside a massive arrangement of synth trumpet and drums instead of a volcano base. And then the true horror is revealed, along with a backing chorus seemingly composed of snake-women:

Got a LICENCE TO KILL (To KILL!!) and you know I’m going straight for your heart! (Got a LICENCE TO KIIIIILL!!)
Got a LICENCE TO KILL (To KILL!!) ANYONE who tries to TEAR US APART!! (Got a LICENCE TO KIIIIIILL!!)
Licence to… KILL!! (cue incredible sweeping synth trumpet bonanza presumably meant to suggest deployment of nuclear missiles)

Well eh wot I mean to sa wot? I surely can’t have heard that correctly. The shock lasts right the way through another vaguely creepy verse, complete with breathy snake-gals in back, in which Glad sings that she thinks James can depend on her to make things right before threatening to aim a gun at him again as in verse one. This is not a stable woman. Another chorus and then suddenly we’re into whole new uncharted levels of lunacy, as Knight hypothesises a likely scenario complete with LOUD MUSICAL STABS like the stabbings of A KNIFE:

Say that somebody tries to make a move on you – (stab stab stab stab stab stab!)
In the blink of an eye – I’LL BE THERE TOO! (stab stab stab stab STAB STAB!!!)
And they better know why I’m gonna MAKE ‘EM PAY (STAB STAB STAB STAB STAB STAB!!!)
TILL THEIR DYING DAY!!
TILL THEIR DYING DAY!!
TILL THEIR DYING DAAAAAA-AAAAAAAYYYYY!! AAAAEEEEAAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Yes, you read that correctly. If someone tries to talk to you for even a moment, Gladys Knight will appear like the creature out of The Ring and then hound them until they die. And to make the point she then howls out like a creature from the depths of hell. The music does its best to match her point for point, growing ever more melodramatic, stagey, showy, flouncing through the riffs like a predatory Adam West. Finally, having swept up into some kind of grotesque epiphany, Gladys leaves us with the following:

Oooowwoooooooo… LICENCE to… KILL….. mmmmm… KILL… KILL… KILL… KILLLLLL (whispered again and again until the music fades out into, one can only assume, shocked silence)

Needless to say, this is one of the greatest pieces of music ever devised.

COMICS: AN INTRODUCTION

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COMICS: AN INTRODUCTION

(If you already read comics, you know all of this anyway. Let this serve as a warning to the curious.)

I’ve been reading Marvel and DC comics – ‘mainstream comics’, if you like – again for a few months now, I thought it was a good time to think about how things have changed since the last time I read them (the mid-90s) and since I first got bitten by their strangely addictive bug, back in ’85 or so.

Mainstream comics are a lot better now than in the 90s. Not difficult, as in the 90s they were generally ghastly, but I’d say that the overall quality of the mainstream now is as high as it’s ever been. Or perhaps I mean ‘competence’. There seems to be much less of the stark visual and verbal illiteracy which has always been a feature of comics – plots which make no sense, dialogue so tin-eared it might be from Oz, pictures where you simply can’t work out what’s going on. Comics now tend to be tightly-scripted, with sharp dialogue the norm, and even if the storytelling skills aren’t so great the art is generally attractive. They’re entertaining – I nearly always reach the end of an issue eager for more.

Superhero antics are still the currency of mainstream stories. But the boundaries of what writers do with them have expanded again – crime stuff, thriller stuff, comedy stuff, metaphysical stuff, as well as world-saving heroics and soapy business. The superhero’s usefulness as a comics device turns out to be greater than imagined even in the 80s. If you like superheroes, this is a good thing. If you don’t, you most likely won’t be converted.

And speaking of the converted – mainstream comics now are terribly incestuous. The mantra of ‘good stories’ hides a mire of insider references and tangled continuity. But the obsession with continuity qua continuity, the initiatory fervour of fandom, seems to have diminished. The mainstream now is a decadent culture which treats continuity as its plaything, not its master. If you get the jokes, if you like this or that take on a character, enjoy it while you can, someone different will be at the toybox soon. This results in a few marvellous comics – She-Hulk, for instance, stuffed with Marvel minutiae which it froths into a witty series about superhero law. Or Adam Strange, a high-energy space romp that acts as a grand tour of DC’s magnificent, mouldering sci-fi properties.

Those two comics have other things in common. They pack a lot of story into each issue. And they sell next to nothing, even by the truncated standards of the modern business. Monthly comics don’t sell much any more – 40-50,000 is a solidly popular series, 100,000 is a smash hit, 20,000 is on the edge of survival. With most series losing readers steadily as newer thrills catch their eye, it’s very rare for a new title to get to its 50th or 60th issue (still only a five year run). There are lots of reasons for this, rising prices being the most obvious – a new comic now costs three dollars. So you’d think, wouldn’t you, that publishers would try to attract readers by emphasising value for money and depth of content?

No. The price of increasing sophistication in comics tends to be decreasing content. ‘Decompression’ – telling a story slowly, lingering on minor scenes and wordless panels so as to notch up characterisation and tension – is in vogue and many, though by no means all, Marvel comics stick to it. (DC Comics tend still to give you an 80s/90s level of plot content per issue, though often their writing is less sharp.).

Last night I was reading a comic called Ultimate Nightmare, which has a strong set-up and builds tension nicely for its 80 or so pages. It’s very enjoyable. On an issue-by-issue basis, though, almost nothing happens. To have bought it as monthlies would so far have cost $12, and I think I would feel ripped off. Another comic by the same writer has the Fantastic Four going into the Negative Zone. Or rather, it has reached the end of two issues of the team preparing to go into the Negative Zone. The agonisingly slow build is designed to build a sense of awe and wonder, but as with any comics effect, the emotion is fleeting and the forty effortful pages spend in the lead-up is the equivalent of a domino topple.

To a returning fan like me this way of storytelling seems insane, like bands making concept albums and then releasing them one track at a time on CD singles. But the decompressed books don’t notably undersell the story-heavy ones. It seems faily clear that the comics market has bottomed out, with the people buying now dedicated fans of the format and affluent enough to afford a set number of comics each month. They will drop some titles to pick up others, but the overall size of the market won’t grow appreciably, and will shrink only as marriage, kids and death intervene. The definition of stagnation – but if you’re already in the fold, there’s a lot to keep you entertained.

MUST WE THROW THIS BOGEY FIRTH* AT OUR YOUNG KIDS

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MUST WE THROW THIS BOGEY FIRTH* AT OUR YOUNG KIDS

Yes, being the quite obvious answer. Tory MP gets knickers in twist re: Dick and Dom. Though I like the idea of Tessa Jowell playing Drop Your Guts

*TYPO UPDATE: This should, of course, be filth however the idea of Colin Firth covered in bogeys is one too delicious to surrender to the ether.

Day 6: Metal Box AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 LOUSY TUNES

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Day 6: Metal Box
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 LOUSY TUNES

Crisis has just hit. I was in rather high spirits last night, after Crispian had discovered exactly why tomcats make “THAT” noise, and was supping a comforting single in my bunk. I had just written yesterdays diary log and all was well with the world. My reverie however was interrupted by a sour faced Captain Jack storming into my chambers just after sundown

“What is the meaning of this,” he said, red faced and generally as unpleasant as the Billy Joel song with the same name.
“I think you’ll find if any man storms a lady’s cabin, they are the person who gets to use that line.”
“No, this,” he said indicating to a black box and a tangle of wires which had once been the ships radio.
“That? I think that is the radio I founf upstairs. Awfully dangerous things radio. One minute you are listening to a thoroughly fascinating play about some middle class people in Gravesend wondering whether to pack granny off to a home, and some fool tunes it in to Capital. No, best off without those things.”
“This radio is our lifeline.”
“I thought the rope tied to that rubber ring out there was a lifeline.”
My attempt at being both bewildered and beguiling however did not work on the Captain who was a vision of rage. Crispian suggested that he managed to sum up the pure boundless energy of rage in a much more coherent way than Ang Lee had in The Hulk. I was not so sure, merely thinking of Johnny Mathis can make me turn quite green and quite angry.

There was a summary trial of my actions in which the ships cook had the casting vote. I felt this was somewhat unfair as the cook was prejudiced against me swigging all of his rations of alcohol. How was I to know this was a non-stop voyage across the Atlantic. Anyway, suffice it to say that for want of a proper brig, the slap me inside one of the empty containers on the ship – and apparently I shall be trapped in this Metal Box for the rest of the trip.

Public Image Limited: Metal Box

I suppose I have been locked away in a metal box because I am a perceived danger to the crew of The Jonah. Public Image Limited’s release of Metal Box also came in a metal box. DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.

(My conclusions for comparison sake.) Sneering, learing, jeering and clearing his throat were pretty much the stock in trade of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten – can you people not take a hint). Never Mind The Bollocks suggested the album was all bollocks (there was nothing left to mind on that album). So Metal Box came with Lydon’s trade-marked irony intact, with packaging that dared to not to play it. Instead put a couple of Star Wars toys in the box with a twenty pence piece and bury it as a time capsule. Admittedly the future race of humans who dig it up will have evolved beyond music (lucky chaps) and treat the whole thing as being tantamount to nuclear waste. Perhaps even worse.

Jah Wobble was also involved in creating the particular aural horrors on Metal Box, which meant that there were burbling dub things going on all over the shop. Anyone else notice that dub is but one letter away from RUB, short for what this stuff is. Turn it into a frisbee, use it as a particularly well insulated home for your pet catapillar. But don’t play Metal Box, the packaging warns you.

TESCO’S WILL EAT ITSELF:

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TESCO’S WILL EAT ITSELF: I was just in the Goodge Street Tesco’s buying myself some prunes. Above the queue for the express checkouts is a television which is permatuned to Sky News. And it was showing a story about…Tesco’s soaring profits pre-Christmas. Being told from a Tesco’s store

Not only was this store within a store disconcerting, it made me question my purchase. Rightly so as when I got to the checkout, the prunes which were price ‘1.22 on the shelf had increased in price to ‘1.24 (admittedly within pay-anyway tolerance). But it is clear from that pricing strategy why they made the soaring profits.

MODAID 20!

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MODAID 20!

It was a bad idea in 1985, it is a bad idea now.

Sorry, churlishness there. Obviously a wonderful initiaitve and all (though I guess in 1985 they might have done a better deed by raising a little bit of money for Stevie Marriott). I do wonder though how “Mod” the whole idea is, and how much money it really would make? Perhaps they would be better off sending used Parkas to Thailand.

SALADS ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU DESPITE THE HEADLINE WOT SEZ THEY ARE NOT

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SALADS ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU DESPITE THE HEADLINE WOT SEZ THEY ARE NOT

More idiot food science. Salads in some restaurants have quite a high calorie count. NO SHIT! Creamy sauce, croutons, cheese, bacon – a sprinkling of rocket and tomatoes do not make these ingredients magically go away. Of course the sentences uttered but nutritionists make complete sense, and talk about moderation, mixing food etc etc, which they always do (though one must feel sorry for quoted Brigid McKeivith who is four or six away from sharing a surname with NOT PROPER NUTRITIONIST “Dr” Gillian McKeith). However the holistic view is nicely summed up in this line:
“aAter all, eating out is meant to be a treat, the chance to have something you couldn’t have at home.”

And the health benefits of enjoying yourself and having a good social night out are rarely mentioned in articles like this. FOR SHAME Guardian!

National Treasure

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National Treasure

I’d been wanting to see this since I saw the Trailer about 8 months back. Bad reviews had made me worried, but not so much; I thought I’d watch 2 hours of reasonably good rubbish. I was wrong. I loved it. It was BRILLIANT.* It helped that by going to all the sights I saw on a recent holiday to Washington and New York, it was a form of holiday diary, only much more fun that cine-8 projected home-movies.

It had all my favourite genres in one handy film. Great heist featuring the now-obligatory man in van outside scene of crime monitoring things (I blame Sneakers – another superb flick). An ancient mystery, derring-do, stunts, hidden treasure beneath the streets. I’ve heard it’s a rip-off of the Da Vinci Code; I could say having not read it, but so what? Because it mentions the Templars? Take such hokey-millenarian rockism away from me. They hit the streets first, and good luck to them.

Anyway, if you like Indy, or loved the Goonies, chances are you’ll like this. It’s nicely paced, characters are crudely drawn but pleasing. There’s nothing mystical about it, so that takes care of my major problem with the Tomb Raider flicks. Sure, you might find the Declaration of Independence veneration stuff a bit much, but I love the idealism of the democratic aspects of the Amercian Revolution. The idea that the Masons were great is harder to sustain, as whatever lofty ideals might have animated them in the 18th Century, nowwadsdy their ambitions are limited to getting a corpulent businessmen off a traffic fine in Blackburn. But no matter. See it.

* NB – I am an idiot

* Spoiler alert * – the biggest let down was when the male and female leads kiss. I know they are both white, so it was bound to happen, but this was such a boy’s movie it really didn’t need it. The ‘courtship’ such as it takes place due to the recognition that they both dig old documents and history and stuff like that. It would have been sweeter to leave it up in the air, but no. Kiss they must, and I was taken back to being about 8 and thinking ‘yuck! Rubbish kissing! More discovering ancient secrets!’