Posts from April 2005

Apr 05

The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy would not be improved by being directed by Terry Gilliam

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Now this makes it unique among film that aren’t already direct by Gilliam, but the comparison doesn’t do it any favours. Mostly because the visual styles are so close, from the beautiful Shynola-made guide animations in between scenes, to the rubbery Jim Henson aliens. But also because it’s an exploration of the eternal battle between the English and the British, between a sensible hero and a surreal bureaucracy, through space rather than time or dream, and because it’s about beautiful English cynicism as it spreads through the universe.

This actually explains the most interesting casting. Zaphod is fanstasically annoyed, Ford is permanently hung-over, Alan Rickman hits the one note of Marvin bang on the head, and Trillian is… well, Trillian is a good reference point for Arthur, as in the books. But Martin Freeman basically plays Arthur as a repeat of his role in The Office, the last great examination of modern English/Britishness. And Bill Nighy steals the show as Slartibartfast, happy and excited to be doing work that he is entirely sure is of no use whatsoever.

Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold

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The first blurb on the back of the jacket is by Michael Chabon, and that’s very apt, because this is a perfect companion piece to his Kavalier & Klay on just about every level. The comics period he covered was known as the Golden Age, and so was the stage magic world covered here. Both tie their tales in to real world events and people. The balance of lives and work is similar. Gold even thanks comic giants Lee, Kirby and Ditko in his acknowledgements.

Gold treads a fine line with his descriptions of magical effects, between giving us an insider view but not revealing all the secrets, not removing the magic. I think he pitches it about right, and doesn’t cheat to solve problems and resolve dangerous situations. The big set piece finale spans over 80 pages, and is a wonderfully sustained show of suspense, drama, excitement and twists, mixing fake danger on stage with real threats. I thought the characters were generally a little thin, a notch underwritten, and there was at least one story strand that rather fizzled and vanished, but generally it’s a very enjoyable and satisfying read.

Is it my imagination, or are there an awful lot of novels these days set in the past, telling a fictional story with strong ties to the real world? I guess it’s a natural consequence of some elements of Postmodernism, but are there any substantial analyses of this phenomenon and its meanings, if it isn’t just my mistaken impression?

Dick and Dom’s “Ask The Family”

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One of Private Eye’s more sanctimonious regular features is “Dumb Britain” – a record of stupid answers given by quiz contestants on telly/radio. Not withstanding the fact that Family Fortunes has been providing such wonders for years (“Name something red” “My cardigan” being my favourite), the implication is that we as a country – or at least the proles who descend to appearing on telly quiz shows – are getting stupider. Because our education system is going to hell in a handbasket of course. Comprehensive education is to blame. etc

Just to ram this point home the current issue has a “Dumb Britain Extra” that contrasts the questions from the two generations of Ask The Family.

Robert Robinson: Which of these calculations gives the same answer: 1/2 x 1/3, 1/2 + 1/3, 1/2 – 1/3, 1/2 ÷ 1/3
Dick n Dom: What breeds of dog do you have to cross to get a Labradoodle?

Ha ha, so so stupid – everyone was so much cleverer when watching ITV was rightly frowned upon and brown and orange were the only colours you were allowed to wear if you went on a BBC quiz.

What’s curious about the implied criticism is how badly aimed it is. More astute sanctimony would have noted that the 70s/80s show did not feature a final round where the family have to eat large cream cakes as quickly as possible to win the game. Unless my memory really is playing tricks on me. Worse still D&D explicity compare the shows by having a round of two questions from the old show on VT. Point being that the old questions and the question-master are self-evidently both demented and fabulously dull. In a bad way. It’s not just the “ha, ha, the past was funny” (though it is of course), Robert Robinson’s burbling is actually a cause for concern. Worse still, the modern families get the questions right as often as the old families do. There was even one stunning example about football strips where the question was contemporary for the old quiz, but the modern-day Dad still got it spot on.

Ask The Family was then, and is now, a very cheap filler show. I watched the old show when I was 9, and I’m watching the new show now I’m in my 30s, but this time I’m enjoying it because Dick & Dom are, no strings, great TV entertainers. The faint Reithian whiff of “educate and entertain” about the old show was a nonsense. What educational value is there in marvelling at the clever kid who got the 1/2 x 1/3 question right? Conversly, what entertainment do you get sitting through the minute of them working it out for themselves? “Labradoodle” was a question that took up seconds of the show (in a quickfire round) and was, in a very real sense, “just a bit of fun”.

Dick & Dom are not the new Ant & Dec. D&D have the potential to be (and often already are) a lot funnier than A&D were, and their humour is more Vic & Bob in its delight in the arbitrary and just plain silly. The regular characters remind me of the regulars on Big Night Out. The “old Ask The Family questions on VT” round is hosted by a James/Lauren Harries*-type character, complete with bubble-perm blonde wig. Piggy Cowell is a knitted pig that thinks it is (and sounds like) Simon Cowell – he pops up to advise D&D about a great new reality telly idea, and is usually cut short by Piggy doing a double-take on Dick eating something. Upon learning that it is indeed a “bacon sandwich” or “pork sausage” or “ham sandwich” or “pie… with PIG in it”, Piggy feints on the spot and the show carries on. The voice of the scores “HA HA HA… RUBBISH!” is equally random in it’s pronouncements, and I’m pretty sure is the cat from “In Da Bungalow” who reported back on his trips to places like Rye, Rochester and Sandwich, picking out unimportant civic buildings and chip shops. Bring on the man with the stick.

Anyone left hankering for more of the “1/2 x 1/3…” questions are referred to BBC4’s Mind Games – a more boring game show I have yet to imagine, who’s viewing figures must be in the low teens. Mind Games regularly trots out Chicken/Fox/Corn/river-crossing type “puzzlers” that if you know them you know them, but the contestants here are obliged to scratch their heads before feigning interest in coming up with the right answer. Not an argument for switching to digital.

*Lauren Harries (and family) were the topic of this old Keith Allen doc

Where are they now?

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At this time of the year, my interest in what’s now termed the Championship increases a lot – the playoff final, in particular, is one of my favourite fixtures of the year. But there’s a depressing aspect too. You see the one match I ever saw at Wembley was a playoff final between my beloved Bristol Rovers and Huddersfield, for a place in this division, nine years ago. We were 2-1 down with a couple of minutes left when Marcus Stewart hit the woodwork. That was the end of our fightback. Huddersfield went up, we didn’t. We sold them Stewart in the close season, and we’ve been sliding downwards ever since. No money, no success, so we’ve been selling our best players regularly – most of them strikers. And they’ve all ended up in the Championship.

Jamie Cureton did well for a while at Reading, but has had less success at QPR (5 goals this year). Barry Hayles had a good top-level run with Fulham, and has scored 12 for Millwall this season. But watching Sky last night and as I write, two big games feature four ex-Rovers strikers. Last night Bobby Zamora, briefly at Spurs, now at West Ham (9 goals this season), and Marcus Stewart, who had one dazzling Premiership season at Ipswich, and has 17 for champs Sunderland this year. Today Wigan might join Sunderland in promotion, thanks to their great strike partnership of Jason Roberts (some top-tier experience with WBA, 19 goals) and Jason Ellington, with 23 the division’s top scorer.

I like to see ex-Rovers players do well – I enjoyed seeing three in the top division at once, for a while – but it is frustrating and rather bitter to look at us, lower half of the fourth level, more draws than anyone else this year, and imagine how things might be different if we had been able to hold on to just one or two of these players. Our top scorer this season is the gloriously named Junior Agogo, with 19 – maybe he’ll be playing two levels higher in the future too. I only wish I could believe that would be with us.

Apr 05

Bizzy Bone achieves transcendence

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 230 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.)

The Crossing Line

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 382 views

I just used the phrase “blue-sky thinking” in an email. And I meant it. (To the extent that one can mean the meaningless.)

Suggested penances in the comments box welcome.

EMP FALLOUT #2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Rolling Stones

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The Rolling Stones – “Wake Up In The Morning (Rice Krispies)”

One of the most enjoyable presentations at EMP was Douglas Wolk’s piece on the secret history of bespoke jingles recorded by seriously credible rock bands and soul artists, specifically the “Things go better with coca-cola” jingle that Coke ran with throughout the later 60s. Each band would record something that could be one of their own tracks, and then seque into their version of the coke jingle.

The paper was fascinating not only for the glimpse it gave of a pop/commerce interzone at the height of rock’s most fetishized period (a franchise in Eden, so to speak) but also for the demonstration of how easy it is for most musicians to pastiche themselves. The coca-cola jingles show how consciously reproducible “style” is for a band – as an insight into how ‘filler’ is created they’re a rich resource.

The Rolling Stones did not record a coca-cola song. But they did, at the dawn of their fame, do this jingle for Rice Krispies, a rockin’ endorsement of the rather unhip breakfast snack. I mentioned it at a post-EMP meal to general gogglement so I said I’d let them hear it when I got back to England. And now I have.

Gravel Voiced Homage In Hitch-Hikers

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Much has been written about how much Douglas Adams is honoured in the new Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy movie. Nothing has been written about an equally significanct nod to another god of radio. Look at the posters to Hitch-Hikers, the ones on bus shelters. Quickly, and think to yourself the following:
John Malkovitch is Tommy Vance.

Hi Records show at the Barbican

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If you want to know how I feel about the Hi house band, backing for Al Green and other soul greats in the ’70s, I revere them at length in this article. I was disappointed at the absence of Howard Grimes, the nest best thing to Al Jackson on drums, and Charles Hodges especially – no one else ever played organ like he did, and it didn’t feel at all right with a different sound in there with his brothers Teenie and Leroy. This was, I admit, a bit unfair. Percy Wiggins was the first guest singer, and he’s a really good mainline soul singer, but I wasn’t getting into it. Then he sang the first (a capella) words of one song, and I felt myself tense.

I’ve written some about great moments in music recently. I’d been working on one about the moment after Al Green’s first lines of ‘Love And Happiness’, when Teenie Hodges gets going on guitar. It was when Percy started on this that I knew instantly that this was a make or break moment for my feelings about the gig. Would they retain the perfect simplicity of that, or fuck it up. My hands came together in a prayer position and I was wishing so hard… and Teenie nailed it perfectly, as if it had never been in doubt. I don’t really imagine their playing got better after that, but from then on I was theirs.

I was surprised when Ann Peebles came on next – I had assumed she was headlining – and with two new musicians. She did a couple of fine quiet numbers with them, then the house band returned and she did some classics – with her organist being intensely annoying, gesturing at the Hi musicians as if he was conducting them. They were obviously paying no attention. Peebles looked, I thought, better than she did in the ’70s, which is remarkable for a 58 year old, and sounded great – she’s lost nothing of her strength, range and control. Why the hell wasn’t she top of the bill? I mean, I like Syl Johnson a lot, but could he really top her?

Of course, I’d not seen him live. A minute in, and it was hard to imagine many bills he wouldn’t top. He’s a better singer than I’d grasped, a good harmonica player, a very good guitarist, a terrific mover and dancer (at 67, an astonishing one), great at patter, like stand-up comedian good, and overloaded with charisma. Suddenly it felt like he was in charge, that these people I revere like few others were his band. As impressive and commanding a performance as I’ve seen from a singer since, I should think, Jarvis Cocker a decade ago – though maybe a bit too much of the patter and not enough serious singing at times, but he can get away with it easily.

Before his biggest number, the great ‘Is It Because I’m Black’, he said he’d sign things for people afterwards, then pulled out two CDs and said “But don’t ask me to sign these. They’ve been out for a few years from Ace, and I’ve not seen a dime.” A guy in the audience jumps to his feet and says he’s something or other from Ace, and he could discuss this after the show. “I don’t want a discussion, I want paying.” “We can discuss that after the show…” Cue a list from Syl: the Wu-Tang Clan used this song on one of their records. They paid me good money… And others who’d covered or sampled his songs, labels that had reissued things and so on. I should add that I’ve no idea of the truth of anything there, it’s just what he said.

Anyway, it was a storming and triumphant show, from that key point on, and I felt honoured to see these people playing in the UK for the first time.

The Seven Stages Of Ageing

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 348 views

Oil Of Olay, unlike other anti-aging creams, deals with the seven signs of aging, not just wrinkles and lines. Seven stages? What are these? And how exactly does a face cream deal with cellular degeneration, senility, impotence and tutting when youngsters come on the television with their modern rap music?