Posts from 12th March 2004

Mar 04

The return of Black Books did a very neat thing

Do You SeePost a comment • 244 views

The return of Black Books did a very neat thing. It reminded us of the relationship of the three characters by splitting them up. It also did a tremendous sight gag without ever having to show it. The plot was simple. While Fran was on holiday, Bernard and Manny had split up due to Bernard accidentally toasting Manny’s hand in a Breville. We never see this, and the damage caused was represented by a piffling flappy bandage.

Sometime I think the show is a little bit too generous to its guest stars. Whilst Simon Pegg’s robotic bookstore manager was a great creation, I really just wanted to get the three regulars together. Though as seen, the realisation that they are all they have in their sad pathetic lives was both the best reintroduction, and marked for nice movement for the show. Black books is the best tradiional sitcom on British TV at the moment, and this run does not seem to have flagged.

THE ICK FACTOR: confirmed

Do You SeePost a comment • 225 views

THE ICK FACTOR: confirmed

There were always two problems with my First Iron Law of Cinema, that “No Good Film Has Ever Been Made by Someone Whose Name Ends in the Letters I C K”:
i: You had to do some fancy (not to say fraudulent) spelling footwork for the theory not to be a slightly undeserved cheek to the memory of Alexander MacKendrick, and
ii: I had – out of a mixture of perversity and indolence – never actually watched A Clockwork Orange.

Well now I have. It doesn’t help with (i) much, but OH DEARY DEAR what a terrible movie to have finally stopped putting off!! I guess you can’t entirely blame El Kubo for the dozens of indie layabout-LaYMoRXor who raided the picture to wrap themselves in names replete with borrowed authority. And – I hear you gearing yrself up to sputter – it is hardly SK’s fault that it was (of all name directors ever) KEN RUSSELL that made the subsequent career out of all the former’s very extremely bad ideas. But you are wrong, because it is. Ken may be no good whatsoever, whenever and however – why he even makes Rick Wakeman look a clown! – but boy is he better than this…

(When I have more time I will do a point by point, not with Lair of the White Worm – that would be too easy – but I think with Lisztomania…)

The Marriage of Figaro, Hackney Empire

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 296 views

The Marriage of Figaro, Hackney Empire

Whole cities have been built in the time it has taken to refurbish Hackney Empire. It has reopened to muted fanfare aware that a big gap in the outer brickwork doesn’t add to its aesthetic value. Inside, however, all is restored Victorian opulence and for two nights it welcomes English Touring Opera’s Mozart production.

The Marriage of Figaro is set in 18th century Seville. Transporting sweltering Andalusia to drizzly East London is tricky, and the set designers appear to have sub-contracted the work to Ikea. It kind of works. There are so many comings and goings throughout, that anything other than Swedish minimalism would be dangerous. What starts as a window, becomes a closet, reverts to a window and ultimately ends up in the garden. All it takes is a few turns and a slice of audience imagination.

The opera itself is a wry comedy, full of farcical set pieces, unravelling throughout one long summers day. A combination of misunderstandings, secret assignations and misplaced letters, Figaro is the 18th century’s greatest sit-com. What elevates it above the Terry & Junes’ of its time is the score. Mozart was the Brian Wilson of his era and Figaro is his most complex musical accomplishment, his Pet Sounds. We’re talking half a dozen of the greatest arias ever written, plus an overture that the average person must hear five times a day in mobile ringtones.

The Countess has the big showpieces. The aria lamenting her love grown cold could tear your heart apart. Figaro’s fiancee, Susanna, wore a permanent sultry look as she wove her way through the twists and turns of the plot. Her role is difficult, she flirts and then imagines herself a victim. She covers this range of emotions with a series of pouts, ranging from frisky to downtrodden. The depth of the stage affected those with more fragile vocal chords; songs floated into the air and disappeared into the orchestra pit. But this is a minor gripe, the venue is intimate enough to pick up the general drift even if odd words fall by the wayside.

The star of the show? Well, Susanna was thrilling and The Countess the most accomplished, but Hackney Empire itself was the showstopper. Appearances can be deceptive, a phrase neatly summarising the plot of Figaro. And the Empire too.


I Hate MusicPost a comment • 429 views


Imagine if you will that you are a jazz musician (horrible thought I know). You’ve played with the – ahem – greats such as Miles Davies, Canonball Adderly and Quickdraw McGraw. You have even survived the prog-rock, acid jazz phases to make it out to a new hip-hop, electro audience in the 1980’s.

And what single track are you remembered for? What track will be played on the obiturary on Liquid News on the announcement of your death. A track that is played on the zip to a parka jacket.

You couldn’t make me laugh more than if your first name was Tony.
(Those famous Herbie’s in full. An annoying Volkswagen. An annoying robot from the Fantastic Four cartoon. Um, that’s it.)

Lite Brite, Schmite Brite

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 526 views

Lite Brite, Schmite Brite: At first, I thought sciencists were jonesing on a scatological gene-splicing tip – “And for our next trick, we will breed pigs with break away tails! And then cows with incisors! Sharks with opposable thumbs! Ha ha!” But instead, our Jr. Dr. Moreaus mixed butterfly DNA with jellyfish DNA – the process is called germ-line transformation – to aid in their research of butterfly wing patterns. In case you’d like to conduct your own pattern research, here’s a Java applet for your tessellating pleasure. (BBC News link courtesy of humanitarian Warren Ellis.)

RUSS CONWAY – ‘Side Saddle’

Popular13 comments • 3,703 views

#83, 27th March 1959

If you look at the top TV hits of the late 50s the lists seem to be dominated by cowboy shows. I could try on some spiel about the stark contrast between good and evil in these shows reflecting the political situation of the time, but probably the plenitude of westerns was down to cheap costumes and reusable sets. Russ Conway meanwhile was an ex-Navy man and pub pianist who became a favourite of the Queen Mum, but the mood and title of ‘Side Saddle’ makes me think of cowboys. It’s two jaunty, inconsequential minutes of piano pop, partway between Wild West saloon and East End joanna, as 2-D and appealing as a TV western set. After the startling pop advances of the previous year it sounds particularly time-lost, but also rather innocent.