Posts from 29th October 2003

Oct 03

The first hour and a half of Martin Scorsese’s Il Mio Viaggio In Italia

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Last night I saw the first hour and a half of Martin Scorsese’s Il Mio Viaggio In Italia, which has convinced me that if Marty ever gives up directing he is a shoe-in for film school lecturing. It is basically a personal history of Italian cinema, told by someone who is up-front straight away that this is not an academic look. As such, he spends much of the pre-amble pointing out the intersection between his family and the process of seeing these films. He brings up the power of seeing “the old country” on film, that his viewing fills in certain gaps in his own past. His own history is one of film.

Scorsese – despite his oddly distracting bulbous nose – is a terrific narrator. Not only does he get across his enthusiasm for the Italian films he loves but this also makes it clear that this is his history of Italian cinema. A history where he sees films out of order, where his love for Rossellini overpowers all of his acceptance of some of Rossellini’s possibly rubbish films, and one where he is control of the meaning. Luckily he also makes this clear, he does not expect us to see Berlin, Year Zero in the way he did (slightly disappointed that there are no Sicillians in it). Once the film gets past its preamble, and that is half an hour, I then spent an hour watching him slowly dissect only four Rossellini films. Whilst I am sure I do not agree with him, or will not agree with him, about the absolute majesty of each film – fuck me he made me want to see them properly. Opinionated in a self deprecating way, I only wish I had a chance to see the other mooted eight hours of this documentary. Put this on instead of Gangs Of New York and I would be there like a shot.

GUY MITCHELL – “Singing The Blues” TOMMY STEELE – “Singing The Blues”

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#53, 4th January 1957 / #54, 11th January 1957

“Singing The Blues” is an obvious smash – immediately memorable, modern enough to grab the rock’n’rollers, catchy and polite enough to hook everyone else too. The arrangements of these versions are very close (Mitchell’s is a bit brisker and busier), but the treatments are still worlds apart.

Guy Mitchell brings the tune the assurance of an old pop hand – even heartbreak is a bit of a chuckle for good old Guy, so in his hands it’s a stagey swoon to win over a coy could-be. And of course we fall for it – he’s so charismatic, his voice so sparkly, how could we not?

Tommy Steele gives us the fresher, more rockin’ treatment, but his record is hardly more authentic – in fact it’s bare-facedly, outrageously, preposterously mannered, and the manners in question belong entirely to one Presley, E.

Here’s how Mitchell sings the first verse of “Singing The Blues”:

Well I never felt more like sing’n’ the blues
Cos I never thought that I’d ever lose
Your love, dear
Why’d you do me this way?

And here’s how Steele sings it:

Weh-hell uhne’eh’el’orlike sinnuh blues
Cos I ne’eh’ought a’Ide’uhlose
Your love, dear
Why’cha do me this way?

Steele’s singing is not his natural voice, no, it is a very specific style he is attempting, and that style is ‘rock and roll’, as incarnated in the larynx and lips of Elvis. No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness. Next to him, Guy Mitchell’s enunciations have the sharp edges and neat corners of, well, a square.

So if you wanted you could read Mitchell’s one week at the top and Steele’s two as a changing of the guard. But it’s not quite like that. Listen again to Steele’s first verse and you hear the rocker make up cracking – “your love, dear” sounds cockney; “do me this way” trails off in an arch near-falsetto. Tribute act he may have been but you can hear the Britishness creep through. Their records are very different but Mitchell and Steele have a lot in common – they’re both showbusiness lads, trying their best to make a fist of it in changing times and guess which way the wind is blowing. Tommy Steele’s guess sounds better at first, but he never had another No.1.


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TOM’S TOP TWELVE (Part 2) (As Promised) (Before the big pre-honeymoon decks-clearing pop roundup) (Now where were we…)

A-TEENS – “Upside Down”: I now suspect it was just a kind of wilful perversity that stopped me liking Belle And Sebastian for so long. There are some bands who seem just too ideal, who are too obviously going to press your buttons, so you (or perhaps just I) avoid them for as long as possible. A different set of buttons, a different group, but I’m sure something of the same was preventing me from listening to the A-Teens for so long. The idea of the A-Teens was that they were a bunch of Swedish children who had been grown in tubes from ABBA’s own DNA: obviously I am going to like them, and I do like them. A lot. Particularly “Upside Down” which is as close to a realisation of that old saw ‘perfect pop’ as I expect to discover. In other words it has a hook every fifteen seconds, goofy lyrics, a swoony slow bit, a thumping beat, proper harmonies, a honking great KEY CHANGE, etc. I have to admit that almost nothing S Club 8 have done so far can touch this (Little Trees’ peerless “Help! I’m A Fish!” is a different matter of course).

EGYPTIAN LOVER – “My House (On The Nile)”: There is no reason for this bloke’s house to be on the Nile other than that he is the Egyptian Lover and by God if his gimmick was good for one hit it’ll be good for more. Primitive but convincing electro oozing the usual involuntary spookiness (perhaps his house is on the Nile because he is a Mummy! Though my knowledge of Egyptology does not encompass fifty-foot long waterbeds.)

LORD ROCKINGHAM’S XI – “Hoots Mon”: (see below)

DAVID BANNER – “Cadillacs On 22s”: Southern hip-hop blues with just enough corn to hook me in. There’s nothing new in the regret-scarred rhymes, but in this territory familiarity is a kind of virtue – the fact that others have walked Banner’s paths before lends weight to his metaphysics. He soul-searches with desperate conviction, and of course the beat is gorgeous: a bony skitter propping up melancholy acoustic guitars.

PET SHOP BOYS – “Always On My Mind/In My House”: The PSB’s album remasters are a real joy – Introspective in particular sounds so much fuller, a kind of wry cousin to New Order’s Substance. And “Always…” is this record’s “Bizarre Love Triangle”, an exercise in rhythmic robot-building which suddenly becomes an experiment in the creation of life itself. All building up to The Moment, which floored me in 1988 when I first heard it and always makes me pause and beam now, when the single version’s triumphant riff surges through the track. The little synth stabs that herald it make me think of an egg hatching, or a present unwrapping itself.

THE SMITHS – “William, It Was Really Nothing”: Every time I pick up a Smiths album after a couple of years away I find new things. This time, after listening to so much old pop for Popular, I could hear so clearly the way the band put down roots in the 60s. Not the worn-coin 60s that inspired Britpop, but the shuffly, skiffley forgotten 60s – the 60s of Cliff and The Shadows, optimistic light pop that Morrissey shadows with sadness and doubt. And listening to this single, it was suddenly not William that I felt sorry for, but the singer.

Vainly searching for some coverage of the FA Cup replays last night

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Vainly searching for some coverage of the FA Cup replays last night I stumbled onto Sky Sports News who were mainly covering the Carling Cup. Down at Highbury it was all getting a bit tense, after what was effectively Arsenal’s youth team had let Rotherham score a 90th minute equaliser. As extra time drew to a close, the cameras showed the scenes of the two gaffers picking those who were to take the penalties. However it all became a little farcical as the cameras then had to cut back to the studio as soon as the penalties began, leaving us watching Viv Anderson, Tony Cottee (I think), Alan Macnally (sp?) and another random ex-pro as they watched the pens. Now, I understand why they do this on a Saturday afternoon, but this seemed a little churlish. However the following ten minutes of telly were entirely gripping, and descended into the sort of thing you’d get if you were sat in your lounge with your mates round, with them all shouting over each other, Viv, in particular, getting carried away after he predicted the first half dozen hits and misses correctly. The icing on the cake was when they got to the 11th penalty, Rotherham had had a man sent off so the 11th pen was taken by the same player as their first (he missed). Then Sylvan Wiltord stepped up to take Arsenal’s 11th and win the match. Uproar in the studio, “but he took their first one”, “who’s not taken one?” “this is disgraceful”. Despite the fact that these men were professional footballers and are now professional pundits they didn’t know about a change in the rules which means once a shoot-out starts the teams are reduced to the same number of players to make it fairer (otherwise the team with 11 players will be using their goalie to take the penalty against the other team’s best player). I wish I could find a link to prove that this is a well known fact but this isn’t a lot of help…

CHEAP FOOD WE LOVE: Supplementary (Crisps, Post-Colonial Theory and)

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CHEAP FOOD WE LOVE: Supplementary (Crisps, Post-Colonial Theory and): I’ve been trying to pin down the recent branding shift in Phileas Fogg snacks, and I can’t do it, I don’t think, without invoking the late great Edward Said: I think when you look at Phileas Fogg then and now, you can trace the successes AND failures of his pioneering 1978 work Orientalism over a quarter of a century. In 1985, PFC took Jules Verne’s gentle mockery of Empire English fascination with anything not-English and added extra jokey layers. Verne scouted the margins of the collective Euro-bourgeois dreamspace, inventing a comedy Englishman with a (to the French) exotic and amusing name. PFC took the idea, of Empire trade as a friendly round-the-world jaunt fuelled by the curiosity of a footloose oddball, and ran ads which barked “Pay attention!” at the start, and ended “Made in Medomsley Road, Consett.” (a drily suburban touch to deflate lurking pretensions…) (With its own secret pffft-to-globalism barb, maybe: Consett is actually in County Durham, a world away from the clipped Home Counties accent invoking it, PFC being the brainchild of people rendered suddenly post-industrially jobless with the steelyards began closing.) Anyway, the Marketing High Concept was NICE IMPERIALISM: with the BAD kind so long over, surely we can revel in shared positives = good food and good humour (and besides, the actual 80s range was really NOT all that Imperial, unless France counts as a colony…)

Well, snack technology is 20 years advanced, it’s no longer enough for novelty crisps simply to ring changes on the snob-vs-yob dialectic, and besides (and here’s where the impact of Orientalism perhaps does maybe tells) isn’t it a bit embarrassing these multicultural days to play Colonialism as if it were nothing but a bit of jolly fun. Enter United Biscuits, a global conglomerate named with seemingly world-historical ambition (think United States/Nations), eager to drag a still-bouyant line into a much-changed market: byebye Mr Fogg with his Dundreary Weepers, hullo the MODERN FREE-MARKET WORLD. I must admit, when I first saw the new packets, with their ravishing high-res photography (and lovely contents), I laughed, in ribald and shameful fashion. Honi soit qui mal y pense, obv, but I looked at the pink baldy feller looming in over the sari’d trader in Udaipur (see back of Poppadums packet) and thought SEX TOURIST. Of course what UB and PFC are thinking is thus: “We are all equal in a post-modern world, a seller and a buyer, two democratic units in a trans-global exchange hurrah!” And yes, the trader has an engaging grin and the front of the packet shows her busy blur of hands, her hard work and expertise IS basic to our enjoyment.

BUT. You see, the PFC feller is named (he’s called “Pat”, we’re told), but the Spice Trader isn’t. He looks like “us”; she looks like “India” (gorgeous colours, but purely generic, nothing to confuse or surprise the Tourist of Becalmed Stereotype). The problem, as Said used to argue, is that the West’s depiction of the East entirely muffled the East’s depiction of itself: this is the lesson it’s been hard to learn. The complicated joke at the back of the earlier PFC campaign, in its Flashman-esque way, was clumsier, designwise, but also not quite so pleased with itself (the concept of NICE IMPERIALISM at least acknowledges there is another kind…)

On the other hand, the new Lemongrass and Coconut Flavour Crackers are a marvel.

SPACE: FLYING VISITS is a little ten-minute filler programme on BBC2 (Tue, 9.50pm)

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SPACE: FLYING VISITS is a little ten-minute filler programme on BBC2 (Tue, 9.50pm) which allows them to play around with presentation and formats, CGI, cartoons, talking heads at thumbnail size next to a multicoloured diagram, in ways they never do with grown-up full-length documentaries… actually it looks a bit like one of the fact-files Jody or whoever pull out of the Enterprise’s databanks, all 3-D cutaways turning through 360′, with Sam Neill doing the voiceover. Last night’s (no link that I can find) was about what will happen to the Earth when the sun becomes a Red Giant = move to Mars, then off into the cosmos in a fleet of vast, gleaming space lifeboats. The most curious thing was the music: not present-day electronica or spacebeatz or this month’s Wire coverstar, but a seamless medley of mainstream pop and rock, almost all from the 60s and 70s, chosen mostly for the comment-value of a single line of a song. And it’s true, presentation aside, the very idea of the discussion of Earth’s longterm future, practical address thereof, seems old-fashioned, nostalgic even. “Memories of the Space Age,” as Ballard called it.

God forgive me for discovering this

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God forgive me for discovering this, but the CBBC channel is currently repeating one series per week of early Eighties schools’ programme Look and Read. Sadly you’ve missed Dark Towers and The Boy From Space but ‘ even more sadly ‘ there’s still time to start faking symptoms ready for a week off sick for Badger Girl.

This tale of conservation and pony rustling on Dartmoor ends with a scene of quite graphic savagery in which Stripey the Badger knocks the two villains to the ground and tears at their throats (download the clip if you don’t believe me). The series holds a special place in my heart because on a 1984 family holiday to Devon I actually got to meet Mary, the badger who plays Stripey in the show, and have her lick my face. Like most celebrities she was friendly and approachable, though very much part of her own sett.

Another Mysterious Brand

Pumpkin Publog1 comment • 555 views

Another Mysterious Brand: except this one I do like. Tastes like nothing else, has heroically resisted the tides of ‘brand expansion’, has never IIRC changed its packaging, and you never see adverts for it. Every time I see it I’m disappointed that it’s made by evil Nestle rather than some stout-hearted family business in the Midlands run by a Mr.Caramac.

I like Cherry Coke.

Pumpkin Publog3 comments • 1,694 views

There, thus proving the blinkered prejudice of fellow publogger. Think about it, would the mighty Coca-Cola Company, even if trading thru Schweppes, be so stupid as to continue making and marketing something if it did not sell. Before you say “maintaining a world-wide presence” I bring you the sorry tale of Tab Clear in the UK. It was sugar-free. It tasted a bit cokey, but even worse it came in some bizarre plastic can that you could see the contents were clear in. Apparently the clarity of said product was its major selling point. It certainly was not the taste. The Coca-Cola Co withdrew it in the space of six months.

Of course I quite liked it.


Life’s Cruel Lottery

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 552 views

Life’s Cruel Lottery: related to Dave’s anguish below – brands that refuse to die! I reached for a can of coke this morning as I picked up my paper, but the newsagent was temporarily out. Of Cherry Coke, however, there was no end. You never see anyone drinking Cherry Coke. You never see discarded cans of it. The shelves stocking it remain full no matter what incentive is offered. This has been the case since about 1992. Why is it still on the market?