Posts from 25th April 2005

25
Apr 05

FORTY LOST YEARS by Dan O’Shea

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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.

Light Years Ahead

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Stadiums shared by two football teams have been seen as problematic for many reasons; one of the major objections is the difficulty in making a joint stadium feel like home for two groups of people. In order that the ground doesn’t offend half the users, it becomes neutral, and ends up loved by none. Maybe that underlies the novel feature of the Allianz Arena, soon to be home of Bayern and TSV 1860 Munich.

The stadium is impressive architecturally, with the exposed steelwork of the cantilever hidden behind a screen, creating a totally different shape to the building. Maybe British stadia are going for the exposed exo-skeleton look on aesthetic grounds, but it’s far more likely that it’s simply because it’s cheaper that way. As Simon Inglis points out in Engineering Archie, a book about the great British football stadium designer Archie Leitch, the cheap and functional always took pride over the aesthetic. British grounds were engineered, not designed. Not much has changed, it would seem.

But back to the problem of club identity; the architects behind the Arena have come up with an amazing solution; the screen transmits light, so the stadium

changes colour

depending on who

is playing.

James Joyce and the Adriatic

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Our first encounter was in Trieste. Back in the days of empire this city port belonged to the Habsburgs and later became the southern pin of the iron curtain. Most of the surrounding coastal towns are Venetian in character, with tall campanile towers and arched loggias. Trieste has greater subtlety, atypical of Italian cities; a kind of Vienna-on-Sea. It’s graceful rather than attractive, the squares floored with Carrera marble and behind the imposing civic buildings sits a crumbling medieval quarter built across Roman foundations.

One hundred years ago, in strode the young James Joyce. He was newly married with a degree in Latin and keen to take what we now call a gap-year, teaching English abroad. The year away eventually stretched to an on-off decade in this pretty corner of Europe. It was here, among the cafes and piazzas that he wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and large chunks of The Dubliners.

A bronze statue of Joyce stands by the Grand Canal in Trieste. He looks in a hurry, with a book tucked tightly under his arm. The sculpture is lifesize and in the bustle of a passegiate, he merges with the crowd, head down, thoughts of literary genius on his mind no doubt. After that he seemed to follow us everywhere. At the Hotel James Joyce with its traces of the 18th century and Italian copies of Finnegan’s Wake in reception, we drank cheap fiery grappa and awoke with headaches. In Pula, around the coast in Croatia, we bumped into him again. This time he sat outside a caf’ (“Caf’ Ulysses” inevitably) legs crossed, enjoying the April sun. Joyce taught English here, but showed little affection for the town. Pula has beautifully preserved Roman temples and a colossal amphitheatre and now celebrates a writer immune to its charms.

He returned to Trieste with the germ of a Homeric idea and tapped out early chapters of Ulysses. This most Dublin of novels evolved so many miles away from its backdrop. He wrote to his wife calling Trieste “the city which has sheltered us” and a century on, with its statues and plaques and literary trails, it shelters him still.

I WAS A GOBLIN: Raise Dead

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It’s surely an indictment of something that the two pop-culture events I’ve been most excited about this year have been a comics series and Doctor Who. Certainly I’ve been spending more time than is perhaps healthy exploring my childhood passions: just after Christmas I impulse bought a copy of The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain in a service station, expecting – and getting – memory-rushes from the artwork.

So what’s going on? It’s one or all of three things. i) the degeneracy of my cultural receptors into soft-option mulch; ii) a period of self-reconciliation before I move on a happier and less guilty man; iii) a tour of childhood things before I become a father myself. Not that fatherhood is impending, hold the congratulations, but that is the plan.

The big question then is – would I actually role-play again? There was a flurry of discussion around this a couple of years ago, which never quite got serious. The idea of various Freaky Trigger writers getting together for a final game of D&D is not a great one: for one thing, we’d just end up getting drunk. (OK, maybe it is a good idea). If I was serious about wanting to play RPGs, I wouldn’t ask my friends; I would look in the Internet for a local group and go along. But I’m not serious about it. Am I? …No. It’s too much of a commitment, it would hardly be the same and by the time I stopped playing I had major reservations with the genre-bound attitude of most RPGs anyway.

So what was I doing last Tuesday downloading scanned-in versions of old AD&D modules? I3-I5, to be specific, the Desert Of Desolation series that touched every Arabian Nights and Egyptology button and provided me with (probably) my peak AD&D gaming experiences. I thought I was doing it to get those memory-bursts I talked about but only the maps and cover art were fully scanned, the rest was typed in (!) by some too-dedicated archivist. And to be honest I couldn’t even remember the covers that well. I vaguely scanned through I4 and felt a bit stupid: if I ever knew anything about module design I’d surely forgotten it. Really I downloaded the modules because they were there. I was so shocked to find them, and bandwidth is so cheap, that I clicked on them without thinking: a snapshot of consumption in a file-sharing age. Of course what I remembered wasn’t the rote descriptions and bits of cardboard, it was what my friends and I did with them. Or it was just my friends.

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

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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 TheOneRing.net, 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.