Posts from May 2011
There are fantastic number one records which are over and done with in two minutes thirty, which is how long “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” takes to hit its chorus. A streamroller chorus, to be sure, given a chest-thumping delivery, but it’s near impossible to care. George Michael at this point was a defensive, self-conscious sort of pop star. He was all-too aware he’d been a teen idol, desperate to be part of the pop establishment at the exact point – poor George! – when that establishment was going ironic or weird or getting cold feet about the half-decade of wholemeal soul-pop it had just served up. He’d catch up in the end, but meanwhile this is a grim trudge of a single: you can hardly hear the song through the sound of mutually slapped backs.
Something of Myself was Kipling’s fragmentary autobiography, unfinished and posthumously published in 1937. It’s evasive and abrupt by turns: Almost Nothing of Myself would also have been a good name, and it may be that his death is not the only reason for this strangeness. [SERIOUSLY GORY TRIGGER ALERT]
21: Germany Year Zero (DVD)
I’m not sure what I expected from Rosselini’s Germany Year Zero. I knew it was a key Italian Neo-Realist film without perhaps knowing what that meant (my neo-realism begins and ends with The Bicycle Thief, and I come to that via the Icicle Thief). I suppose I didn’t expect dubbed Italian dialogue as Edmund slumps through the rather powerful ruins of Berlin. Now I know that Italian films were routinely dubbed, but I supposed that part of the draw of neo-realism was presenting a story in a more raw, documentary style than the forties were used to. Germany Year Zero does this except everyone seems to be speaking with a fruity Italian accent (I don’t speak Italian, but I can tell when its not German). The fact that the actors are all German and are clearly dubbed by others isn’t really the point – and the diagetic sound mix is excellent. But, my years of seeing subtitled films suggest, wouldn’t it have been better in German? Perhaps the most powerful and jarring moment of the film is when a record of one of Hitler’s speeches is played. And that is in German.
“The Cantor of St Illod’s being far too enthusiastic a musician to concern himself with its Library, the Sub-Cantor, who idolized every detail of the work, was tidying up, after two hours’ writing and dictation in the Scriptorum. The copying-monks handed him in their sheets — it was a plain Four Gospels ordered by an Abbot in Evesham — and filed out to vespers. John Otho, better known as John of Burgos, took no heed. He was burnishing a tiny boss of gold in his miniature of the Annunciation for his Gospel of St Luke (…).” From 1920’s ‘The Eye of Allah’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. As you maybe recall, the two monkish antagonists in Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel The Name of the Rose (translated 1983), were named William of Baskerville and Jorge of Burgos
19: Manasse (Movie)
Earlier this year I worried that I didn’t know how to talk about silent films. That I did not feel that I had the critical toolkit to enable me to safely say if one was good or bad. And, unacknowledged at the time, was also a fear that it was difficult to see such a spectrum anyway, what with so much destroyed and only the good ones being saved.
Well never fear, I finally saw a truly bad silent film, and now I have a much better idea of what a bad silent film is. And why other ones are better.
“One does not expect the make-and-break of the magneto — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel — to fracture (…).” From 1924’s ‘The Prophet and the Country’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. Does anyone today who isn’t a Kipling scholar associate him with the cult of fast motors? There’s actually a whole slew of stories — beginning with “Steam Tactics” in 1902 — which set him up to be the Jeremy Clarkson* of his day, not least because he liked to travel fast, and to take revenge on the foolish officials who baulked him (he was a motorist as early as 1899, when “fast” wasn’t even 20 mph…) (*Wind in the Willows, about the ACTUAL J.Clarkson of his day, didn’t appear till 1908…)
There’s an odd symmetry between this record and “The Fly”: Michael Jackson, like U2, was stratospherically famous and looking to make a push for new-decade relevance. Also like U2, the idea he hit on was making darkly personal songs out of a blend of dance music and rock. But he came at it from the opposite direction – in “Black And White” it’s the rock elements which are grafts, clumsy-seeming attempts to toughen a sound.
“We entered the back room where everything was in order, and a screeching canary made us welcome. The uncle had added sausages and piles of buttered toast to the kippers. The coffee, cleared with a piece of fish-skin, was a revelation.” —From 1911’s ‘The Horse Marines’, in 1917’s A Diversity of Creatures, bold mine. And WAIT! WHUT!?? What can “cleared” mean that you can do with FISH-SKIN, and the coffee be good? Emmanuel Pyecroft is a semi-amusingly prankish naval fellow whose conversational agility somewhat prefigures Wodehouse, who lives with his uncle when not at sea. To be fair, Kipling being Kipling, a “revelation” may NOT AT ALL mean good: but Pyecroft is playing the sincerely fulsome host here…
Student idol Vic Reeves teams up with student favourites The Wonder Stuff for a student disco friendly cover of “Dizzy” which – going to University a year later – I unsurprisingly became utterly sick of. It was inescapable, or at least if you didn’t get “Dizzy” it was only because you’d been treated to the wretched “Size Of A Cow” instead.
Listening to it now it’s better than I remember: certainly at least as good as Tommy Roe’s oddly polite original. On one of Vic Reeves’ sketches he and Bob Mortimer imagined the home life of Slade, and Reeves’ bellowing good humour here has more than a bit of the Noddy Holders about it – he is clearly having a monster of a time, jumping into each “DI-ZEE!” like a kid in a puddle. He also quite upstages the full-time pop singer he’s replacing – Miles Hunt gets a few rotten backing vocals near the end (“Like a whiiiirlpool….”) and almost sours the entire thing. His band clodhop their way through an arrangement not built for subtlety – just as well, since the Stuffies have none to offer. It was a brutish, ruthless kind of single, meant for red-faced hollering and floors slicked with cider and black, and it filled that role all too well.
For reasons old and new, I started rereading Kipling about three months ago: just as I did for O-Level Eng Lit in 1974-75 , except a lot more systematically this time (ie all of it, soup to nuts: 1888-1937). I won’t be posting big reviews, probably — but I will be drawing attention, without too much comment, to stuff that made me LOL or gasp and stretch my eyes.
The first I actually unleashed on tumblr a few weeks ago:
“The rain had turned the pith of his huge and snowy solah topee into an evil-smelling dough, and it had closed on his head like a half-opened mushroom.” (From ‘The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly’, in Plain Tales of the Hills, 1888)
The second is from the children’s story I remember most fondly (so the fact that I’m issuing a MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING about what’s under the cut perhaps signals the wtf-ness of it):