Ned Raggett

May 05


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 322 views

Just a brief post right now about this book, which I truly think is one of the best books about music ever, though my recent reread of it is enabling me to catch assumptions and potential flaws more than I noticed in the past. Nonetheless, I think this is an instructive book to look through — again or for the first time — right now thanks to the existence of Simon R.’s postpunk tome. Not that the two specifically overlap or are meant to be complementary — in fact, one reason I’m looking forward to reading Rip It Up and Start Again now is to see where the differences occur and how.

At present — since I’ll have more thoughts in other areas after I read the newer volume — I’ll point folks to this brief ILM thread about the book, though it swiftly digresses (and I really must find that Eastern Europe travel book he wrote). But let me transcribe one of my favorite bits, which has little to do with the wonderful theories of modern pop discussed throughout but everything to do with great writing. During Culture Club’s 1984 Japanese tour, Rimmer finds himself behind a concert venue, near a payphone and unexpectedly beseiged by Culture Club fans who have learned of his work for Smash Hits and wish to get to the UK posthaste:

The fans have been in a huddle. Now they turn round and all begin chanting: “We want to go to Rondon! We want to go to Rondon!” The phone rings in the box. I pick it up and am greeted with a recorded American voice talking about Father’s Day: “A typical father is strong, self-willed, he cares for children…” Hurriedly, I put the phone down again. “We want to go to Rondon! We want to go to Rondon!” The phone rings again. “Did you send your father a card on Father’s Day?” Badly shaken, I slam it back down. “WE WANT TO GO TO RONDON! WE WANT TO GO TO RONDON! Uuuh! Uuuh! Uuuuh!”

Right then, a small mini-van bearing the group comes hurtling down the road. “Rimme-e-e-er!” taunts Roy (Hay, Culture Club guitarist) from behind a curtain as it careers round the corner and towards the stage door. The fans, on the look-out for a lavish limo and “Uuuuh!”-ing and chanting their desire to visit the United Kingdom, don’t even notice.

And then the phone rings again.

Frankly, who needs Lost in Translation?

Apr 05

Bizzy Bone achieves transcendence

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 233 views

It’s indescribable. But the guy who was interviewing him does his very best. And you know, Bizzy’s enthusiasm is incredibly infectious. When he starts essentially freestyling over the background music, it’s even better. (It also helps that the introductory Missy/Cam’ron combination is killer.)

Apr 05

FT Essay on ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ is up…

Do You See3 comments • 452 views

And here it is. I’m actually a bit disappointed with it because I was trying to aim at something more which a revision will require. But I hope it’s both informative and interesting, so let me know what you think.

Apr 05


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 416 views

It’s a bold title but a good one. Published in 1996, it’s a history of the South African apartheid state from 1948 to its wrap-up in 1994 — about the time that South Africa generally fell out of the international consciousness aside from sport reports and the ravages of HIV, which isn’t necessarily the best of legacies. But such are the consequences of success, at least if you didn’t actually live there or nearby — “Hey, there wasn’t a revolution or civil war and everyone’s happy! Um, so anyway, demi-tasse?”

This book was in a way revisiting my past, but only as a receptor of outside reports — I grew up first ignorant of the place then learning that it was really fucked up, that there was something called apartheid and that it was bull. Which of course it is, but it’s a bit like how everyone had something to focus on with the Berlin Wall and then didn’t anymore. The consequences keep being dealt with to this day, but otherwise we continue on.

There are doubtless other histories and other impressions, but as a sociohistorical overview of the party and state that controlled the place during that time, it was a useful peek into a view that could only be described with bewilderment. In the space of forty plus years, a whole mythology was constructed (with deep roots, to be sure, but hardly enjoyable ones) and then fell apart when it was conclusively proven to be unworkable, that nobody bought anymore. The parallels with the regime’s bete noire the Soviet Union are implied rather than spelled out; O’Meara’s touch is lively if sometimes repetitive, sharp but not overly digressive.

He looks into internal power struggles, questions of self-perception, misreading of domestic situations, corruption scandals (and how scandalous they really were) — all the kind of things you can find in politics in general, but not always with the overlay of a regime happy to devolve into a farcical/horrible police state, willingly embracing torture and its own paranoid stereotypes that just made matters all the worse. So rarely can you look at something and thing, “Jeez, I’m glad THAT’S over and won’t come back.” Sure, the world continues to not be working and South Africa has plenty of problems as a country and a society — but it could be, and was, a lot worse.

Fans watching fans talking about being fans (and a short)

Do You SeePost a comment • 242 views

Thus could be summed up my experience last night at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the first such formal thing I think I’ve attended. It’s only been around for a few years and is not yet a tradition per se — and the amateurishness evident in the problems they had with advance tickets, well, I won’t go there entirely — but the organizer’s hearts are in the right place and if it isn’t Sundance, then in ways that’s probably a very good thing.

However, for me it was less important than the film I was seeing, Ringers, an offshoot of, dedicated to following Three Certain Films by one Peter Jackson that received some attention as of late. Only the second time it was screened and since no deal for formal release had been put together yet I figured why not catch it and see what the shouting was all about? And in sum, it’s pretty good. Enjoyable, and if I’m not shouting from the rooftops about it it’s because I trying neither to damn with faint praise nor to say I found it a mess. Instead it’s a reflective ramble of a film that’s well-edited and had some incredible moments but as a study of fandom over the years is scattershot, following a general chronological bent and sometimes reliant on touches that verged on the gimmicky (having four actors play ‘typical’ fans at various points to illustrate changes over the years was a bit much). If anything, it was a slew of uneven mini-films exploring aspects of the same subject, with a shared narrator (Dominic Monaghan, who did a fine job), a good range of interviews (most of the major members of the cast plus Jackson, various long time Tolkien critics and readers and of course, many different fans) and some flat out hilarious moments — there’s a bit where one fan talking about his favorite character finds Andy Serkis suddenly appearing that can’t really be described easily.

The best film of the night, though, appeared afterward, Instant Credit, a short done for Scottish TV last year starring LOTR actor Billy Boyd, which doubtless is why it ended up on the bill for this showing (both he and the director attended — said hi to Boyd briefly, seemed a cool guy!). And frankly it was a great little treat — if you can’t follow along with swiftly spoken Glasgow brogues then it’ll be a struggle to start with, but the general gist becomes clear enough, as Boyd’s character, a well-meaning but broke chip-shop cook, suddenly finds himself with the company credit card of an egregiously asshole businessman. For a short film it packs in and plays with a lot of ideas, tells just what it has to while still leaving time for some bits of random flair — there’s a way the various locations are described that I won’t spoil, but is handled beautifully — and there’s a happy ending. Plus a slew of constantly funny moments, camera tricks and random touches — a winner, in short.

To top it all off, this was my long overdue visit to the Via Lido Theatre in Newport Beach, which is a class place. Looks great outside and in and if the seats aren’t the standard stadium seating hoohah, it’s still well worth it.

Apr 05


FTPost a comment • 1,406 views

Mughal-E-Azam and an example of American movieviewing 2005

‘It’s gotta be some sorta camp fest, right?’

Or so I thought as I received the invitation. Good friend Vic, enthusiast for many things in life including film, had been insistent that Mughal-e-Azam was an absolute must see in its theatrical run. All I immediately knew about it was that it was from India, where Vic’s parents came from, and that it apparently was a film classic of the country, maybe something like Gone With the Wind over here — historical epic, cast of thousands, something everyone knows even if they’ve never seen it because, well, you just know. Nothing wrong with that!

But of course I thought it would be Bollywood-like. I didn’t fancy myself an expert (and if I ever do fancy myself an expert without demonstrable proof, please feel free to hollow out my head, as it will be malfunctioning at that time). I had this, well, general idea of what to expect, because that’s what I learned about Indian cinema in a mainstream American sense, ie not much. There’s going to Indian restaurants that are playing loops and clips and bits from any number of productions, old and new, there’s memories of seeing further images of films and excerpts in documentaries years ago (if I can ever find out more about this short documentary called Juggernaut I’d love to see it again, because it was really fascinating, made quite an impression on my ninth grade self), there’s the occasional Smithsonian-style “Well here’s what it’s all like and then there’s the Sayjayit Ray stuff which is apparently much more serious” piece I’ve read. I didn’t pretend to know more because I couldn’t and wouldn’t know where to start these days, but I figured something would be up.

Vic, though, he’s a smart and proud guy, friendly and intense (very good combination), and knew that we’d be thinking of Mughal-e-Azam that way, so over lunch beforehand he took the time to tell myself and Arthur about what to expect, a bit of background and explanation. And like me, when he finds there’s a lot to say, he will, because he wants you to know about it. Much of it I could only initially file away in my memory for later reference, but the key point was that this was NOT a Bollywood film as one could generally think of it, rather that Bollywood, like any other ‘tradition,’ was as much invention as anything else. Turns out that the role model for Bollywood films resulted from the smash success of a mid-seventies movie in India that was the equivalent of Star Wars for the subcontinent, something so overpoweringly popular that the entire industry reset its sights. And similarly, the impression of what Indian movies were like to everyone else also changed, almost becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that didn’t change what had already happened, and what was already a thriving industry, and already beloved by millions — and so Mughal-e-Azam.

“Mind-blowing epiphanies”

As Vic said to me later, much of what he had learned and to note about the film he cheerfully plagiarized (to use his own word!) from this study hosted at the University of Iowa, so by all means read that through. In brief, Mughal-e-Azam is a blend of fact — it is set in the time of the Mughals, rulers of much of the subcontinent, specifically during the reign of Akbar the Great (the title of the film refers specifically to him) — and fable, something like how the real George Washington is conflated with the cherry tree incident, or Alfred dealt with the cakes, something well known, widespread and tied up with a certain kind of national identity, however one wants to consider it. Akbar’s son falls in love with a dancing girl, scandalizing his father, resulting in much strife and an ending which, alas, is not happy.

As Vic described it, though, the importance of the film was not so much in the surprise of the story — because, indeed, nobody would be surprised in the expected audience — but the telling of it. On the level of artists trying to follow their dreams it’s an irresistible tale about how the director, K. Asif, worked for nine years — I’m not kidding, nine! — from start to finish to get it all made, how it was his last work, how he reserved technicolour for two astounding set-pieces, how it never quite lived up to what he had hoped before he died. And, frankly, the money, time and talent is all on the screen, though I jump ahead a bit. The music became as legendary as the movie (equivalent — “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, say?), the screenings were uncounted…it was just one of those films that hit and hit hard, and stuck with everyone or so it seemed.

So I was already intrigued, but now more so. But part of the intrigue was going to be how and where I was seeing it — namely some place I’d not been to yet. One reason why I love LA is how many people from all over the place are here, which combined with the weather brings the world to your doorstep but without snow. It’s my kind of life, I admit. So after a false start with one theater, Vic found that a copy was being screened at the Naz 8 in Artesia, one of three such complexes in California specifically catering to an Indian and South Asian and South East Asian film market, and in this case located in a strongly Indian immigant community in both Artesia and Cerritos. And so we went, and in a theater where the popcorn was good and cheap, the posters were to my untrained eye a wonderful difference from the expected (doubtless to more regular filmgoers it was all too familiar, maybe!) and it seemed like only Arthur and I were the sole non-Indians and Indian Americans, we watched the three hour film — and I should note as well that when there’s no series of blaring commercials and ten minutes of “In a world…” trailers preceding a film, there’s simply a dimming of lights and the film begins, then I’m already in a much better mood to enjoy something.

“u can never guess how ppl are going to react to them ‘foreign cultures'”

Or so Vic said later after Arthur and I had talked about and heartily approved of the whole good time we had. He was almost apologetic beforehand, you see — at one point saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if we laughed a bit at some of the more melodramatic moments. But there was nothing to laugh about at the film since it was so easy, so involving to enjoy — as was the whole experience in the theater as the film started.

Surrounding me were people of all ages, generally an older crowd but by no means entirely — and some certainly had to have been old enough to have seen the film the first time through. Something I don’t like in general at movie screenings, namely audience chatter (or at least the audible kind — quiet whisperings between friends and all, that’s more than cool), made perfect sense here, because it was mostly near the start, and was gentle, considering — it projected comfort. How many people were seeing it for the first time like I was, I don’t know, but doubtless many were used to where things would go and were perhaps talking about past memories, familiar scenes or lines or perhaps simply some more prosaic about daily life, a quick last question or catching up before things fully settled down. As the movie was subtitled, this perhaps helped — I didn’t think I was losing anything to the conversation, instead I was getting the basics of the opening narration down while enjoying what was beyond the movie on a tactile level.

Cultural tourism, I must admit. Hopefully not negative, maybe that act is by default if you talk about it that way, but I was perhaps consciously enjoying the experience of something generally OUT of my experience a little too much, I don’t know. But I hope not, because I simply wanted to enjoy the sensation as it stood, a combination of interest in the movie, in the people, in the atmosphere I found myself in. It was heightened by the words on the soundtrack, as the narrator, taking the voice of India as an entity, depicted geographically on the screen, introduced the story after the opening credits. That nationalism should have played a specifically strong role in the movie I perhaps shouldn’t have been too surprised by, given how recent the colonial past would have been in everyone’s mind upon its creation and release, but certainly it’s no requirement for a historical film.

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Apr 05


Proven By SciencePost a comment • 224 views


(This post continues from Do You See?)

Regardless of the follies of both Mysteries From Beyond Earth and Overlords of the UFO, both were perfect examples of the height — in the USA, at least — of the second wave of UFO/alien fascination, which since World War II has occurred/recurred in a general twenty year pattern in terms of widespread public attention. The first can be said to be the late forties and fifties, the third was the nineties, and both had their cultural touchstones (for instance, The Day The Earth Stood Still in the earlier decades, The X-Files in the latter). But the seventies era was the one that I grew up in and hit me the most, whether it was watching Close Encounters on cable or Project: UFO on NBC or whatever else might have come along.

Books, too, cheap paperbacks attempting to explain in thoughtful detail about how to track UFOs, classifying sightings, explaining the whole ‘close encounters’ rationale, talking about past and recent cases. Loved ’em all, from Scholastic picture books to ones aimed for an older audience that I struggled through as I could (I mean, I was a great reader from a young age but I won’t pretend to have been able to digest it all!). There were earnest discussions with school friends, questions to my parents. I was surely convinced that I had even seen a UFO once from my front window when in third grade, though that could only have been a plane arcing overhead in the night — still, like the man says, I want to believe, or at least wanted to.

So I was much more J. Allen Hynek (given a brief though prominent cameo at the end of Close Encounters, appropriately enough) than James Oberg in my belief, though at the time I read their contrasting essays in subsequent issues of Odyssey, the wonderful late seventies/early eighties kids’ spinoff of the venerable Astronomy magazine, with what I hoped was due care. This was a lie — I was convinced Hynek was right and therefore Oberg was a goof — but at least I tried.

Quite when I let go an active belief in UFO visits and turned into more of a general skeptic I don’t know — it must have been after Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, though, combined with the fact that I was always more interested in the general scope of the solar system, galaxy and universe than I was in UFOs straight up. At this point personally I’d love to think that there are galactic civilizations out there, and that there’s half a chance we might yet get along with them should we ever meet, but it’s more wish-fulfillment on my part rather than active belief — the concerns of this world, while by default more mundane than celestial, are overarching, and frankly we make a sorry species in many instances. Also, the last guy who I knew that was convinced he had met aliens later ended up ripping me off to the tune of $600 due to him not being able to pay rent. And people wonder why I live alone now.


Do You SeePost a comment • 238 views


The other day new fave bad movie site the Agony Booth published a detailed and hilarious vivisection of one of the most horrifically bad films I’ve ever seen, Overlords of the UFO. About fifteen years back, I taped this and a similar if slightly less focused counterpart, Mysteries From Beyond Earth, off TV one night — at the time I was pretty dedicated to scrounging the TV listings to find out exactly what weird crap was being shown to kill the late night hours, and amassed an enjoyable collection of sludge as a result. These two, however, were particular winners, and the Agony Booth review prompted me to dig them out again after many years to see what they were like again.

I have no idea how popular these kind of movies were outside of America, but they slotted into the kind of documentary-format/created-on-drugs/exploitation-market creations that have a serviceable history in the twentieth century. These movies’ general approach — whether in terms of film quality, stock-footage editing, weird music, tackling *anything* paranormal and popular — had so many cousins and parallels, including the In Search Of series on TV, that when the Blair Witch Project dudes created their backstory archival material, they included a sequence supposedly taken from just such a movie, featuring a very seventies male witch talking about his art. There was a vague technical ability applied to these films, but only so much.

The more generally professional is Mysteries From Beyond Earth, whose narrator, erstwhile Star Trek associate Lawrence Dobkin, was an actual character actor and seemed like he knew what to do in front of a camera. Looking, as friend Remy put it, like Sean Connery’s older body double, he smugly rambles his way through what’s purportedly a film about UFOs but ties in everything from cloning and axolotls to Kirlian photography and Bigfoot (and, indeed, witches). Smoothly professional with his gravelly voice, his hilarious highpoint has to be when he’s filmed after a sequence featuring the Church of Satan emerging from screen left in the tres seventies home office he’s most often found in, complaining about how some dullards cling to ‘sterile rituals’ — in comparison to the sensible discussion about telekinesis he’s about to explain to you.

Overlords of the UFO, well, where to begin. The Agony Booth link above really says it all more fully — to an insane level, but such is its charm — than I ever could, but suffice to say that the sheer combination of ambition, incompetence and head-shaking WTF rivals that of many similar film-gods-in-reverse working strictly in fiction. Lead narrator/writer/etc. William Gordon Allen apparently was a dedicated enough Seattle-area TV reporter who wanted to preach the UFO gospel to all who could hear, but his case wasn’t going to be made here as well as he could want. One of my favorite moments has to be the completely out-of-nowhere ‘conversation’ between two ‘airline pilots’ (one of whom is Allen) about the dangers of all those crazy UFOs disrupting flights. The killer touch is that this is only an audio track, delivered over a series of stock footage shots of a Boeing 747 in flight — necessity may have been the mother of invention, but frankly this was a step too far.

(This post continues on Proven by Science.)


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“Wait” (video)

The song itself is one of the most ridiculously wonderful things around this year, whispered pervertalism as ambient microcrawl moodout funky-as-fuck genius. The video, however, is all the more enjoyable for various reasons:

* it takes the heap o’ naked bodies motif from something like, say, the Pet Shop Boys’ “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk” and sets it into motion…slow motion.

* the Twins themselves look a lot better in dark suits than pretty much every bunch of post-Interpol goofs out there (this includes Interpol)

* if you’re going to go gloriously ridiculous with a car/dancing/popped champagne-as-world’s-least-subtle metaphor combination, this is how to do it

* the edits on the beat and off the beat are equally killer

* in an M. R. James short story I was rereading the other day, there was this bit:

“No definite image presented itself, but I was pursued by the very vivid impression that wet lips were whispering into my ear with great rapidity and emphasis for some time together.”

And now there’s a definite image to go with it. (Do not, however, arrange to have your predecessor archdeacon mysteriously die in order to achieve the overall effect.)

Mar 05

I haf written my first FT essay as such in a while

FT + New York London Paris Munich8 comments • 557 views

I haf written my first FT essay as such in a while — I suspect some will look at it askance. Attempts to talk about things in a broader scale as well as a specific one, so hopefully who the essay is about won’t annoy, well, most everyone. ;-) Might possibly revise and rewrite it, so all suggestions welcome.