Posts from 17th May 2005

May 05

Stand Up! Stand Up!

Do You SeePost a comment • 582 views

This is a real blog entry right here, folks: ace critic Raymond Durgnat takes on Sight and Sound, the BFI, Hoggart, Leavis, the Free Cinema etc etc, forty years ago. (Later he made up with Anderson, a bit.)
Until it was posted, this piece was rare as hen’s teeth; elsewhere on the site there’s a round-table discussion between Durgnat, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and his mate David Ehrenstein from 1978. Rosenbaum remains a staunch Durgnat champion.
When ‘Standing Up For Jesus’ was written, S&S had just called out the young, pro-Cahiers critics of Oxford Opinion and Movie (Robin Wood, VF Perkins, Charles Barr, Ian Cameron) for being ‘hungry for kicks’ and determined that cinema was about ‘human situations, not spatial relationships’. For reasons I can’t go into right now, it all begins here, full stop. Hit it!

The Deceivers by Alfred Bester

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 518 views

This is utterly fucking awful. I really loved a pair of Bester’s old SF novels, kind of pulp with modernist ideas (we’re talking Joycean SF in the ’50s), and real intensity – at least, that’s how I remember them, but I wonder if, if I reread them now, they would seem as woeful as this feeble attempt.

Bester was clearly an extremely intelligent man, but we are talking about a man involved in pulp serials, in SF, in comic books. A nerd, really. He took two decades off from writing SF or books, and by the time he returned, he had lost what creative talent he had. The ’60s had seen countless attempts to incorporate modernist approaches, by more talented writers. By the time of this novel (copyright 1981) Bester was in his late 60s. So, an out of touch, elderly nerd: you may be able to see the problem with trying to write a novel full of hip talk and sexual playfulness. The slang is genuinely painful to read, at its jaw-dropping worst when terms like ‘blackamoor’ and ‘chink’ are used as if they’re fine. The sexual banter is worse. He really has no idea at all how men and women might talk to one another.

I guess these things might be tolerable faults if it were any good in any other way. He created some excellent protagonists in his two ’50s novels, but this one is just a super-nerd, and there isn’t much more to say. The female lead is far worse, the lame fantasy of a nerd who isn’t even trying very hard. The story is worse: the 27th Century world is actually the 1970s in space, a xenophobe’s view stretched out across the solar system. The science is drivel with big words, full of stupid explanations that would have been better omitted. The plot is dull and pointless, with the world’s feeblest ploys, clues and tricks, and most of it centres on a contrivance that never makes any sense on any level at all, and since it’s the reason for the action, for the tension, for the denouement and all, this is a crippling flaw on something already damaged enough that it couldn’t survive a misplaced apostrophe.

One of the worst books I have ever read more than a couple of pages of.

The Apologist, by Jay Rayner

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 338 views

There is a problem that many high-concept properties have. The concept is more interesting than any individual story you can tell about it. This is a problem common with many hero-led action films and other media adaptations*. The idea behind The Apologist is that compensation claimees who get apologised to tend to settle on much less than those who don’t. A (not strictly) logical extrapolation finds our hero flung into a word where he is the UN’s chief apologist for wrongs suffered on other countries ? a conciliator who is happy to accept all of the blame.

There are lots of stories which could be told about someone whose job it is to go and apologise for much of the world’s ills. You can almost see it as a TV series, albeit lacking anything but purely intellectual tension. Rayner, to his credit, tells as many of these stories as he can. But at the same time he is telling the story of Marc Bassett, his lead: ex-food writer now chief apologist. And so the two strands become a little tangled, in an admittedly entertaining but vaguely unsatisfying way.

It is also unclear from the tone what Rayner thinks of apologies in general. He is certainly happy to set up a large number of world events which should be apologised for, though the satire inherent in getting a professional apologist in for the job dissipates slightly when you end up caring about said apologist. In the end the book seems to disapprove more of the idea of professional apologies than apologies in general: which makes the book a touch circular as on the only place such professional apologisers exist are between the pages of The Apologist.

The food bits are great though.

*Spider-man for example suffers this problem. The concept is well known, and executed, but as there is no definitive Spider-Man story (beyond the origin) so you then have to build a story generic enough to feel as if it belongs, but specific enough to engage an audience. Examples where this fail massively litter movie history, especially in the TV to Film category, where a strong concept flails in search of a good story (The Avengers). Sometime, of course, the concept isn?t even strong and all you are left with after updating and recasting is a theme tune (S.W.A.T. or The Mod Squad anyone?)

Ong-Bak, When Are You Coming Back?

Do You SeePost a comment • 229 views

Yes, yes, Ong-Bak has repeated sequences of people getting the tops of their head caved in with an elbow, but what is unusual about that? Elbow have been giving people brain damage for years. No, what is interesting about Ong-Bak is the edit job which has been done to make it palatable to Western audiences. Not, you might thing, removing some of the brutality. Nope, that is all there. Rather the slimming down of a romantic subplot which one presumes shows the limit of star Tony Jaa’s acting ability to be – well caving peoples skulls in with his elbow.

That this was done pretty much on the sly by an opportunistic western buyer is probably a good thing. It does mean though that the film opens with a bizarre number of music credits: the music being added later again to make it more palatable to a Western audience. The music is okay, but it is rare that I find out who is playing the ethnic flute on a film before I know who is actually in it. This add on set of credits is done in a very 1970’s way, which does create a great 1970’s chop-socky feel to the whole affair (that the naivety of Jaa’s lead never fails to shake). Elsewhere though this is a modern Thailand with drug dealing, organised crime – the subtext being much of this being payrolled by Western tourists. Nowhere else is the sense of East/West fusion more pronounced than in the fight club sequences, where the majority of the baying audience to the barbaric fights are non-Thai.

Much has been written about Jaa’s use of Muay-Thai (elbow heavy thai boxing). It was not this that stood out to me, rather one of his vanquished opponents who uses a martial arts style very similar to my own self taught method known as Chair-Fu. His eventual loss in the battle with Jaa is not down to it being a rubbish fighting style, but rather a foolish diversification into using tables, illuminated signs and at one point a fridge. The way of chair-fu is very simple: Hit The Man With The Chair. I fear the loss of such an acolyte in a film like this may set back the cinematic potential of such an exciting martial art form by years.

This is not life. This is singles.

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 427 views

Another Stylus singles jukebox with lashings of me, and not too many of my really lazy reviews. In my unseen comments I was horrible to the Kaiser Chiefs, nice to Hot Hot Heat, and Sleater-Kinney and I came to an understanding about thirty seconds into their song which resulted in me skipping it to our mutual benefit. Caution: this article contains extensive spoilers for Doctor Who.

THE BEATLES – “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out”

Popular28 comments • 4,059 views

#207, 18th December 1965

As pop gets more explicit, it’s easy to become nostalgic about acts’ creative attempts to smuggle drugs and sex into their songs. But most of the time the references work the way they do in “Day Tripper” – she’s a big teaser, she’s a day tripper, subtle stuff there lads! The song’s a frustrated goodbye, but who’d really blame a girl for having fun with boys whose eagerness to please is so apparent? I had it in my mind that this was a track where the Beatles rocked out, and the riff/backbeat matrix reminds me of the Stones’ recent hits, but there’s a neatness, a pertness about this band on this record. The breakdown could be the chance to nail the riff to our skulls but the band’s ascending, harmonised “aaah”s turn it into a big pop celebration instead. And it’s wonderful, but I’m left wondering who exactly are the teasers here.

The tambourine from “Day Tripper” shows up on “We Can Work It Out”, where everyone sounds more relaxed. Paul McCartney uses precisely banal language to deliver a lesson in reasonable conflict management in the verses, with Lennon’s witty harmonium humming in agreement. From my perspective, grown up in a house which owned a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s and not much else (by anyone!), the waltz-time middle eight is the first time the Beatles really sound “Beatlish”, the storied makers of reassuringly delightful songs.