"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Gold Against The Soul: Solidarity

The Writers Guild strike is actually very simple to understand. Writers appear to be the only creators to whom the rules of copyrights and patents do not properly apply.

Invent a food processor and licence it… you get a royalty; write a piece of music and licence it… you get a royalty; write a novel and licence it… you get a royalty…

Write a script and… er… er...

Without the originators of the ideas there are no ideas, no innovations and no products!

Hopefully the US Strike will prove conclusively that in any creative endeavour the worker truly does control the means of production.

Monday, 26 November 2007

War Ensemble

So, as you may remember the other week, Muppet that I am, I managed to fall like a sack of spuds and managed to land on my wrist and give me what was a ‘minor sprain’. Unfortunately I have a high pain threshold (my 'physio' told me that a decade ago- I’ll tell you why some other time) and a relatively weak connexion to the real world so I was left with two choices… ‘A’, I rest the wrist and let it get better or ‘B’, I decide to ignore it and get on with it… well, I asked the audience and they said ‘A’ so I automatically chose ‘B’! Hoorah for sheer unrivalled pig-headed stupidity! After a day of trying to continue as normal I realised that there’s a reason the audience votes for ‘A’. So, having managed to successfully exacerbate the problem for twenty-four hours I decided to settle… now, my wrist is strapped up which at least reminds me that I really have to try and stop using it. It really is hard to avoid using your right hand! By the way, this episode made me realise I have a USP for any future spouse: I’m immune ‘man-ill’! So, if any future spouse can cope with my wonderful ability to get physical injuries that I don’t notice until they’re properly damaged they’ll discover that at least I don’t get ‘man-ill’. While I’ve been trying not to do anything, I really can’t stop my mind mulching thoughts around and I can’t stop scratching little notes on pretty much everything. So, here’s just a simple, easy-to-type, non-contentious thought I had recently before I return to my hibernation…


I found out a couple of weeks ago that Kenneth Branagh’s new film is a big-screen adaptation of Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). ‘Hoorah!’ I thought, ‘culture for the masses!’. But wait… there’s more! This is Mozart’s The Magic Flute set in the World War I trenches!.

As far I’m concerned it’s not hard:

  • Mozart on film: fine…
  • Opera on film: fine…
  • WWI on film: fine…
  • Mozart Opera set in WWI on film… conceptual disaster!

The first problem is that, while Mozart is a great composer*, opera has always had a rough time in translation to the screen. The problems are diverse but the biggest tend to be:

  • operas are often very long (Wagner’s Parsifal clocks in at just over 4 hours, Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg is about half an hour longer and Messiaen’s Saint-François D’Assise is recognized as the longest standard repertoire opera at around 5 hours); ironically, there are some short ones extant because they were commissioned for television or written for audiences of children;
  • operas are full of singing (I know it’s obvious) and while people are standing around singing they’re not actually doing very much of anything else like blowing up Mittel-European terrorists, spearing sharks or, often, even moving around very much; effectively operas are visually static and for a medium like film which thrives on visual action this is not a ‘good thing’;
  • casting an opera for the theatre is primarily done for vocal considerations rather than acting ability so opera singers are rarely any good at the acting part any way;
  • casting operas for the stage still ends up with weaker singers due to the unavailability of the ideal performer for a role- this also happens with the recordings (opera recordings are very expensive and the first recording officially topping one million pounds was Solti’s recording of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau Ohne Schatten for ‘the Opera company’ Decca in the early ’90s. It could be argued that Solti’s recording sessions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle would be more if they were adjusted for inflation.) So, if you can’t assemble the perfect cast for a run at the opera house or the recording sessions why should it be any easier to find a 6 week window for a film?
  • operas are frequently unrealistic and fantastical yet somehow get away with it, presumably due to the 'willing suspension of disbelief' that is more easily achieved in a stage setting than in more realistic film- from the destruction of Valhalla in Götterdämmerung to Violetta in La Traviata warbling on over-dramatically for 10 minutes about how she’s dying from consumption when in reality she’d mainly be lying back on the bed coughing up blood while people poked her with sticks from quite a long way away.

Die Zauberflöte is one of the most fantastic and unrealistic of all operas and features a story which nobody has ever quite untangled which goes on about ancient figures from Persian and Egyptian mythology coupled with a narrative primarily revolving around some kind of expression of the various Masonic trials**. I can’t recall ever reading anybody actually having fully deciphered it though some people have suggested that it may well just have been nonsense that Mozart and his librettist, Schikaneder, cooked up as a mickey-take. The opera has a very bizarre complicated story which has much to do with symbolism, mirroring and a symmetry of structuring and characterization.

The First World War, for those who live on Mars or are Rachel and Joey from Friends, was a nasty incident that occurred from 1914 to 1918 and primarily involved aristocrats ordering heavily laden soldiers to walk slowly through thick mud towards heavy machine guns. Less frivolously put, it was horrendous and even ITV’s otherwise excellent My Boy Jack, I suspect, downplayed the truth considerably. The First World War was true horror. On the notorious first day of the Somme some 19,000+ British soldiers were killed in about 12 hours: this works out around one death every two seconds for half a day. These figures don’t even include 38,000+ British casualties; 7,000 French and 10,000 Germans. Is it really appropriate to set a light, essentially frivolous opera amongst this misery and suffering?

The Magic Flute project has apparently cost some £13million (or £27m on The Late Review although I suspect they meant dollars). You can see the trailer on the official site and there gaze in bemused awe at the bizarre nature of it all… nuns dancing in the middle of the battlefield, soldiers tied to burning windmill sails, giant lips, bad CGI… it is actually quite hard to work out where the money went. Lengthier sections were shown on The Late Review complete with a stylized (idealized?) version of the First World War complete with pastel uniforms. Through these excerpts it also seemed to be somewhat kitsch, quite ‘camp’ (for want of a better world) and very ‘eccentrically’ directed with wild camera movements and angles of such a hallucinatory feel as to make Apocalypse Now look sane. To me the key to filmed opera is surely to prevent the audience from thinking that what they’re looking at is of an essentially theatrical or artificial origin, to make the whole thing become so immediately alive and real as to distract from the peculiarity and no matter how light the opera may be it should be made in all seriousness- as they say comedy is a serious business! Consider how many film-makers deal with the fantastic without making the audience step out of the reality of the fantastic: Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Tim Burton, etc. It would be intriguing to see what they might do if filming an opera! More worryingly, from looking at the clips one questions recurs, who is this expensive creation aimed at? People who don’t like opera won’t go; people who do may well be put off. This would make it seem like work done solely for the benefit of a select few (mainly the creators): certainly it’s not an attempt to disseminate culture to the non-opera house masses^. Of course it’s always possible to make strange elements work, Cabaret shouldn’t work and does so amazingly well^^ and if you compare it to the straight dramatic version, I Am A Camera (1955, Henry Cornelius), it’s possible to see how well Cabaret really does work.

The Magic Flute libretto has been re-translated from the German by Stephen Fry so will be nothing less than literate (even if, in my not-so-humble opinion, he did completely miss the point of Vile Bodies- Waugh didn’t like the rich fly-by-night lifestyle and satirized it while Fry seemed enamoured of it and content to lionize it, this may not have been his intention but it’s certainly how it comes across to me) but I fear nothing will save a creation, a Frankenstein’s monster if you will, born of such disparate and jarring elements. The whole conceit of the film seems to be wilful, elitist and borderline offensive.

They’ll be doing musicals of singing nuns and Nazis before long… just you wait and see!

*Mozart worked bloody hard at his work and his scores are over-written with a large number of corrections despite what that Schaffer wrote in Amadeus. Amadeus is a rather good film but it’s so factually inaccurate it might just as well have called the composers Pinky & Perky. To paraphrase ‘Shattered Glass’… ‘is anything accurate here?’ ‘there was a Mozart apparently’.
**For a good starter you could try watching Inspector Morse: The Masonic Mysteries… it’s shown on a TV channel somewhere often enough!

^Which certainly excludes me: the tickets are excruciatingly expensive!
^^One of the best films ever made… see I do actually like some films!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Pretty Vacant

As you will now know, unless you have been ‘living in a box on Mars’*, 25 million Britons’ details (15 million adults, 10 million children)… names, addresses, dates of birth, child benefit numbers, National Insurance numbers, bank and/or building society details have been put onto two computer discs by the Child Benefit Agency at the HMRC by request of the National Audit Office. These were then sent to the NAO. By post. Unregistered. And got lost. And could be coming to a post office, letterbox, ditch, criminal mastermind’s mountain lair near you soon…

This isn’t the first Government data security disaster: 42 HMRC laptops containing confidential information have been lost already this year, including one containing the details of 15,000 customers of just one building society; the junior doctor application system was unsecured and personal details were open to all online; the UK Visa applications system was unsecured and personal details were open to all online and the DWP had the details of 1,500 staff swiped and used in a tax fraud…

Thank God this Government isn’t thinking of setting up some kind of vast national database with the details of every man, woman and child on it; and thankfully this database won’t contain any important details like National Insurance numbers, iris scans, fingerprints and potentially another 47 pieces of information; thankfully this Act hasn’t already been put before, and passed by, Parliament in some sort of sinister fait accompli…
…I just hope they spent the price of not registering that mail on something really worthwhile because it’s going to cost a lot more!

*Thank you The Simpsons.
**By the way, the wrist’s now nicely swollen and I’ve had to type this, letter by letter, with the end of my nose… I share because I care!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Facts Of Life

Today you’ll just have to put up with a random unfocused musing. My leg went numb in my sleep and this morning when I was got up I tried to put some weight on it, fell ass-over-tip and, of course, my hand went out to break the fall. Minor wrist sprain, no great shakes... I'm more concerned about the landing on my ribs, given that I broke three of them many years ago since when they've never stopped hurting, particularly when I do that whole breathing in thing... So, what you’re getting is spell-checked but not especially brain-checked! (The bulk of this post was actually written yesterday though- so not much of an excuse really!)

So, on Sunday those good people at the BBC showed the enjoyable comedy How To Murder Your Wife (1965, Richard Quine*)^ starring the ever dependable Jack Lemmon and, surprisingly, Terry-Thomas. The basic story is of Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon), a newspaper cartoon strip writer-artist who lives a happy well-ordered playboy bachelor life aided by his British manservant and general factotum, Charles (Terry-Thomas). The cartoon strip chronicles the travails of a super-spy named Bash Brannigan. Stanley tests out the basics of his stories for the character in real life before inking them up. Then, after a drunken party Stanley wakes to discover he’s married to the Italian Miss Galaxy contestant who wants to change pretty much everything about his well-ordered life and Charles quits his employ. So, Stanley writes this marriage development into the Brannigan strip (and doubles his audience) but as he vents his (humorous) frustrations through the strip his thoughts turn to murder: he rehearses Brannigan’s wife-killing murder plot in reality (though without wifely participation) then inks it up and publishes. Of course, his wife leaves him and he’s promptly arrested for her murder… the evidence is damning and his confession witnessed by 80 million readers of his syndicated cartoon strip…

Right, so what’s actually happened is a bloke researches and rehearses a plot for a fiction which is then mistaken for reality. A slightly more obscure film, the comedy Please Turn Over (1959, Gerald Thomas), from the writer that brought us the early more gentle black and white Carry On films, Norman Hudis, tells of a small 50’s English village that gets fired up over the publication of steamy novel written by the Headmaster’s over-imaginative teenage daughter who has clearly drawn all the characters from life but precisely none of the situations that she puts them in. Reputations are all in this village and so, for example, the imaginary revelations of womanizing by the local doctor are damaging. But what is so wrong, all this young woman has done is draw her characters from life and that’s what writers are meant to do, isn’t it?

So, here’s where I’m going. Where does fiction end and life begin or, alternatively, where does life end and fiction begin. In doing the research for a project these days you run the risk of breaking the law without knowing it: if you research methods of poisoning or bomb-making you could be unwittingly breaching one of the myriad recent Terrorism Acts. (Fight Club and Spooks both require- and give- information that could be material in the 'preparation of an act of terrorism'.) If you write your murder plot story in the wrong way it may end up looking like you’ve been plotting to kill your nearest and dearest.

For veracity’s sake you should research things but if you draw too shady a character from life you could end up indicting them and end up with both criminal and police on your back. (And how are you really meant to get in touch with these various nefarious characters in the first place?) If you delve too effectively into the underworld you may end up looking like you have been enjoying a bit of a double-life yourself! And if you just ground your characters too closely in people you know you may end up losing all your research subjects!

I’ve realised that the artist, writers in particular, is effectively committing themselves to a lifelong public Rorschach test, exposing their inner self on a regular basis for little remuneration. So, you’re meant to do the research without getting arrested, draw some characters from life without getting a ‘contract’ taken out on you or losing your friends then weld these to some original ideas and characters and situations. No matter how many times I’m told to the contrary I have never believed anything other than that the writer’s personality and stance seep in: they’re cutting their cloth from their imagination they can’t help but add some of themselves. A diamond may no longer be coal but its raw stuff is still carbon; such is the case with the writer. So now, the writer’s trying to avoid arrest, being the subject of a hit and worrying about giving too much away… such as their dark desires to invade Antarctica or ride off into the sunset with Skippy the Bush Kangaroo…

Now, if a writer puts the same characters, themes and situations in repeatedly there must be some reason, from trauma to obsession to deeply held belief, even if this doesn’t manifest itself in the most obvious of manners it will still be there. If you continually show shots of bare feet there may just be something going on; if there’s always a character plummeting from the heights the author may just have vertigo… There was an anecdote on The Culture Show the other week while Cronenberg was discussing his new film Eastern Promises. Cronenberg said that in the early 80’s he was at some event and saw Scorsese across the way. The two men finally spoke to each other and Scorsese confided that he’d been nervous about meeting someone he’d assumed to be disturbing given the nature of his films. Cronenberg thought this was amusing coming from the man who brought us Taxi Driver! But if a Scorsese can make such an assumption what hope for the rest of us…

I’d love to think I can keep myself covered and make sure I give nothing away but I’m sure as my body of specs are (when completed and) read in concentration they’ll give me away with every word on the page!

So to my conclusion… er, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t! So, I suppose you just have to get on with it and be damnd... or do nothing! I don't know... why you looking at me?

*Script by George Axelrod who also wrote the wonderful Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
^apologies for my continued use of the pro-director, anti-writer format but it’s how I was taught on my aborted Ba. and is the usual way these things are done.

In Deep Water

Anybody watching the news in Britain today will have seen that the Fishing Industry has come up again. And again the issue is over the quota business. In short: North Sea fishermen (particularly) can only land catches of certain varieties up to the quota limit. Anything of these varieties over the limit has to be thrown back into the sea to preserve the stocks… even though by this time it is dead and is now good for nothing but gull-food. It was quite clearly lunacy when I realised this several years ago and it’s clearly lunacy now. There are a couple of problems to contend with: firstly, if you let the fish land and be sold you are rewarding people for breaking the quotas and this will end up being flagrantly abused no matter how understanding the authorities are to genuine over-catches; next, the fish in the sea are a finite resource and must be protected; lastly, the throwing back of perfectly saleable edible dead fish is unethical, immoral and unbelievably wasteful. Trawling for one type of fish is the equivalent of taking a scoop of hundreds-and-thousands and hoping you'll only pull up red ones!

Personally, my idea, which is totally naïve and daft of course, is to allow the over-quota fish to be landed and sold but, instead of directly benefiting the fisherman (the under-quota catch to be sold for their direct benefit like now), the money goes into a hardship fund for the benefit of the whole fishing community: to be used when the quotas are fully filled and the fishing fleet is laid up. The fishermen don’t benefit directly and have no incentive to over fish; the fish aren’t wasted; once the quotas are filled the fishing stops as always but there is money available to benefit the fishermen during the off-times. I know… it’s stupid and I’m entirely sure the politicians will come up with something far better and more sensible… maybe some kind of quota system which involves throwing good fish back into the sea. Dead.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

We Can Work It Out

I found this in the Sunday Times’ Culture section a couple of weeks ago then promptly lost it before I could share. Now, I’ve found it once again…

“US television series are shaped by focus groups: the blond cop in Heroes was originally a redhead, but focus groups prefer blonds. More depressing is the case of the new Bionic Woman, starring the ex-EastEnders export Michelle Ryan, whose sisters was, in the unaired pilot, deaf, and spoke as if she were deaf. That made viewers uncomfortable, and now she is a “normally troubled” pot-smoker. Such cowardice may explain Bionic’s tumbling ratings.”
-14th October 2007

I realise movies have been subjected to test-screenings for many years and changes have been made accordingly: for all I know they’ve been doing it to TV forever (so let’s all acknowledge in advance that this could be some ill-conceived spleen-venting). However, I do find some of the above slightly disturbing and I’m left wondering about a few things. Makes me wonder whether this is a step on the path to the ultimate in team-writing… why don’t we just give the audience a long list of clichés and ask them to vote on which they’d like to see in their TV shows (and maybe this is how the writer’s strike will end- with audiences collectively writing the shows!). Also makes me wonder where that ultimately leaves the role of the creative imaginative writer who is capable of thinking outside of the ‘dressing-up box’. Makes me wonder about all those poor redhead actors whom the studios have just discovered don’t sit well with their audiences. More seriously, it makes me wonder how Marlee Maitlin is going to continue working. Makes me wonder about notions of equality. Makes me wonder why it’s acceptable to remove the disabled* just because they make the audience feel uncomfortable: do these same audiences cross the road when they see a wheelchair come towards them on the pavement; do they ask for a different shop assisstant if the one they’re talking to just happens to be deaf… because Heaven forbid that they should be made to feel uncomfortable.

Anyway, on a lighter note, it also reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago about the making of Friends. I read that in later series each episode took about 6-7 hours to film because when the studio audience didn’t laugh sufficiently loudly (did they use the infamous clapometer?) they got the writing team to rewrite the line until they got the requisitely loud laugh. How an audience who were sitting through tiny chunks of dialogue being flung at them could find this funny is beyond me. (‘Laugh or the doors will not be unlocked!’) Maybe the story was apocryphal. But it’s a good stick to beat Friends with… arguably the funniest and yet blandest sitcom in the history of television!

*Which I know is not the correct word but I’m no longer sure what the correct word is. Apologies! However, as I was registered disabled at University maybe I shouldn't get too worried about it!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

A Drug Against War

There was a story that seemed to sneak out over the weekend which didn’t garner much coverage. Is it hilarious? Is it sad? Does it even make sense? It doesn’t have anything to do with writing or the media but it seemed quite indicative of something or other.

Here’s the situation as far as I’ve deciphered it: Britain is currently suffering from a major shortage of morphine (for pain relief). Morphine is made from opium poppies. So, the government has approved the growing of opium poppies in Britain for the first time but it’s all got to be done in secret locations under tight security. However, I have heard of a place where there’s quite a lot of Opium. I’ll give you a clue, begins with ‘Afghani’ and ends in ‘Stan’.

Now, it seems the original plan in Afganistan was to take all the ‘evil’ opium (destined to be heroin) and destroy it. This plan hasn’t been working terribly well. It seems the Afgan opium farmers aren’t entirely happy with this it. So, over the weekend there’s been a new policy announced… we buy the opium off the Afghan farmers then we destroy it.

Now, here’s a vague thought, a little blue-sky thinking if you will… we buy the opium and then we… use it!

Now I’m no top-level politician so I’m not all smart so I may well be wrong but I could imagine a couple of advantages…
  • if we buy the opium (for a fair price… Fair Trade opium anyone?) it will break the supply chain of the 80-90% of heroin on British streets originating in Afghanistan,
  • we can ensure that the money goes straight to the Afgan farmer rather than going straight to the Taliban who promptly buy things like guns with it,
  • it frees up UK fields for stuff like ‘crops’, you know, food, which by a strange quirk of fate it seems we’re actually a bit short of*,
  • it frees up the non-Afghan troops, Afghan National Army and Afghan Police to spend their time more productively,
  • it would increase goodwill with the Afgan farmers who get very upset when they see their livelihood being taken away,
  • lastly, let’s face it, Afghan farmers have proved they’re really rather good at growing an opium crop…

So, why aren’t we doing this? Why ask me? Oh yes, because I brought it up... I can only think of three reasons:

  • it’s the wrong kind of opium,
  • it runs contrary to some ideology-based theory (drugs are bad, opium becomes drugs, therefore opium is bad),
  • there's a problem with a treaty (probably money-based),
  • politicians are incredibly stupid.

…I know which one makes sense to me!

So there you go, nothing to do with writing but I thought it was 'curious' to say the least...

*You may not have heard this but believe it or not the EU are now predicting food supply shortages and soaring food prices in the EU because their encouragement of converting fields to bio-fuel crops has been such a roaring success that food crops have been ripped up like nobody’s business. That’s why the Italians had the strike where they refused to buy pasta. All the Umbrian wheat fields that have always been the bread-basket of Italy providing so much high quality wheat have been torn up and converted to bio-fuel. Lack of wheat and increased demand means soaring prices!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Enjoy The Silence

This worked for me even if it hasn't worked for anybody else so I'm passing it on for your edification! Maybe I only think it worked for me and the calls dropped off because all the companies simultaneously realised I didn't have any money!

This is a public service announcement. With guitar. Alright, I was lying about the guitar. That’s resting quietly in the other room right now. My wonderful, battered, old, incredibly cheap guitar; so patient, so loyal, so terribly badly ‘played’. And I use the word played in the loosest possible sense of the word!

So, on to the PSA. This applies to UK residents only. Inspired by this post I thought I’d bring the following to your attention in case you didn’t already know it… they don’t exactly publicize it. You may have noticed that there is a tendency for some companies, wanting to try and sell you things you neither want nor need, to phone just as you settle to meals or in the evening when you’ve just sharpened your quill for an good evening’s scribing. Very annoying. I bring you the solution: the Telephone Preference Service. It’s simple: you ring up BT (0845 07 007 07) and register yourself on the list free of charge and Paul has kindly pointed out that you can register online here. After that you are not allowed to be cold-called. By law. Then if they do ring you, you should ask the name of the company and how they got your name/ number then you listen to them squirm and virtually beg you not to inform BT about their multi-nefarious ways. If they are found guilty they are fined several thousand pounds per call.

Since signing up to this service the number of cold calls has not so much dropped as plummeted. It’s down to about one call every six months and given that previously it had been up at the five a night rate I’d say that counts as an improvement! There is only one exception to this: it only applies to calls originating in the UK. However, at present that’s the majority. Hope that’s some help!

…and talking of cold-calling… the other day a young chap rang on the doorbell. Duly, it was opened to him and as he stood on the threshold of the porch he revealed his fell purpose: he was after selling some things…

The first question, would I like a conservatory? Not really, with a North-facing garden it would be less a Summer-house more a refrigerator.

The hopelessly optimistic young chap looked at the uPVC double-glazing not one arm’s length from his very self and thus came the second question…

Had I thought about getting double-glazing fitted? Er, where exactly?

…and so the borderline delusional young man, standing in the porch, came to his third and final question…

Had I considered getting a porch? I must have fainted from the shock for when I came to the night was dark and the young man had long since fled…*

*Almost all entirely true!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Not Forgotten…

…those men and women without whose great sacrifice many more artists, writers, composers, poets and painters, would now be silent or silenced…

Friday, 9 November 2007

Night Shift

…and so the dread dates have passed, the festivals of larkness and fright, and I ascend once more to my lofty crag, there to stare mournfully into the Heavens…

Actually, I have mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. I like the idea of Hallowe’en far more than the practice. Maybe my feelings are best summed up by the statistics: five years ago Britain spent about £8 million on the festivities; last year it was £100 million. This sheer profligacy tends to irk me to a certain extent. I don’t much like the way that, like virtually everything, it’s been hijacked by the true blood-suckers, the free market capitalists. It seems to have reached the point where nothing is genuinely pure, untainted by the desire to extract the last penny. From love to death, weddings to funerals, nothing is left unexploited.

I have images in my mind of what Hallowe’en should be but the reality always fails to live up to it. I like the idea of Hallowe’en as a breach between our world and the next, a mingling of the Quick and the Dead. I see the Eastern European customs of spending the night in the cemetery commemorating the lives of the departed with food, reflection and celebration and I see a culture more in touch with something deeper. It seems strange that for all the violence in the news and on-screen death has become unmentionable and unthinkable. Personally, I’m not frightened of being dead, merely of the dying.

‘O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!’ For my part in the Hallowe’en revelry I removed the chimes from the doorbell (not that I need worry on my mountain crag… the lengthy climb usually puts off all but the most ardent trick-or-treater) and watched The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada) (1972, Vicente Aranda), which has brought my Spanish up to about ten words.

If I’d seen The Blood Spattered Bride earlier I’d have included it on the vampire film list but I hadn’t… so I didn’t. This film caught me by surprise as, while by no means a masterpiece, it was a well-above average genre entry being far more serious-minded than some of the associated lurid artwork. It was made at the same time the Hammer studios productions were starting to wind down, and two years after the studio made their own adaptation (The Vampire Lovers) of the same story, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The two could not be more different in both execution and outlook. The Spanish production has a contemporary setting, a couple of (comparatively) shocking violent moments and a refreshing lack of obsession with the Lesbian elements (I say this not pejoratively but because other productions have dwelt on these scenes sensationally.) Many of this era’s Euro-horrors tend to portray women as grasping harpies or pathetic victims while their husbands are invariably womanizing sadists; not here, he’s actually a normal human being. And this is possibly where the film really scores, by having genuine sympathetic characters involved in the otherwise strange narrative. The most striking revelation was that the endeavour was interested in a real theme (male fears of female empowerment and female fears of aggressive male sexuality), although I couldn’t quite work out which, if either, side of the fence it chose to fall on. Though the last couple of images give a hint to the makers’ stance. There are some wilfully bizarre decisions including a woman snorkelling under the beach sand and, for no readily apparent reason, they changed Carmilla’s patronymic from Karnstein to Karstein.

I can’t help thinking there is interesting work to be done on Spanish cinema under Franco given what came out during and shortly after the regime: The Spirit Of The Beehive, Cria Cuervos, the Blind Dead series and so on. There’s also probably something to be done with the cultural differences between various different Euro-horrors of the 60’s and early 70’s. Clearly, Italian horror is different from Spanish is different from French is different from British. Of course, it’s probably all been written but I won’t let that stop me from musing.

I hope you liked my rundown of my vampiric treasures. There were a couple of titles I nearly included but didn’t; quickly here’s what and why:

The Mask Of Satan (1960, Mario Bava) a fine looking film and certainly Bava’s best. I probably should have included it!
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967, Roman Polanski), while there are some marvellous scenes (the vampire ball and the mirrors, the Jewish vampire) for a spoof it is not nearly funny enough (especially when compared with Young Frankenstein) and it’s also quite slow and overlong.
Martin (1978, George A. Romero), perhaps, along with Season Of The Witch, Romero’s least typical film. (The Crazies is more or less Night Of The Living Dead with a different MacGuffin.)
Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog), a fine film yet surely rendered superfluous by the original. However, the line of coffins being carried through the town has a power all its own, Isabelle Adjani is striking and the score has some great moments, the most unsettling and greatest being the choral piece borrowed for Kate Bush’s amazing Hello Earth (buy it!).
Nightwatch (2004, Timur Bekmambetov), this is a great fun film and a lot of care has been taken to fill it with novel touches- even the subtitles are interestingly done- but there seems something missing.

Then there’s the fun Razor Blade Smile (1998, Jake West); the fascinating Wisdom Of Crocodiles (1998, Po Chih Leong); the strange Australian Thirst (1979, Rod Hardy); the lovably daft Love At First Bite (1979, Stan Dragoti); Kiss Of The Vampire (1964, Don Sharp) and Queen Of The Damned (2002, Michael Rymer), which is just a guilty pleasure…

Of course, all this fangtastic vamping around (*feel free to groan*) has made my mind wander back to the vampire films I’d like to write. This is a very bad thing. I’ve thought on the one many times before and it always defeats me. It’s probably a novel rather than a film and yet the images that come to me seem so rooted in the cinema. I have vast quantities of notes, more ideas than a single film could support and yet at heart there is a giant problem… I can’t decide on the focus of the story. Do I go with the main character’s past or stick to their present? Do I risk comparisons with Blade or Interview With The Vampire? In my head it works, but on paper it would only ever be like Ives’ Universe Symphony*, a monumental conception probably never intended to be performed. It looks absolutely beautiful in my head but it doesn’t really make up for a lack of a coherent plot.

“O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs, more full of joy!”
-Friedrich von Schiller

*The Universe Symphony was intended to be played by three full orchestras each on top of a hill or mountain top and augmented by steeple bells. There is now a recording available but it was recorded in the same manner as Stockhausen’s Grüppen. Grüppen was supposedly ground-breaking with its three orchestra line-up but was predated by Ives’ nigh-on unperformable work by some 30-40 years.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Darling, You’re Meme

…word has reached my mountain lair that I have been ‘memed’. This means I have inveigled my way into being accepted… and thus the first stage of my plan for ‘total global domination within the next five years’ is now complete! Mwahahahaha! Until I reveal the list… then you’ll all just laugh at me! Actually, this turned out to be far harder than I thought it would as I realised I considered what I thought I was proud of deeply lame! So, here, in no particular order, are ‘five things about myself that other people may consider lame, but this writer is secretly proud of’.

I have never willingly taken illegal drugs. Why does this make me lame? Because I kind of assume that pretty much everybody else nowadays is regularly getting off their faces!* Because of this I have been able to reach the following conclusion...

I have never understood fashion. For example, why would I need a new pair of jeans with a different fit just because some gonk on a magazine thinks I do? My old jeans work fine- battered but comfortable, why buy new while they're still functional?

This applies to things thrown up by technology. Facespace? Mybook? Friends Dehumidified? Not a clue! I got my first CD player in 1993 (so I could listen to the Under The Gun and Tower of Strength CD singles amongst other things). It sounded great in ’93. It sounds great in ’07. Why would I need to upgrade? I don’t own an iPod; I will never own an iPod… I want to be aware of my surroundings. Then there are computer games: I played one in the 80’s then once again maybe a year ago. What on earth is so endlessly fascinating?**

However, I do have a mobile phone… it has a dial^. And if I was a complete Luddite you’d be reading this when the carrier pigeon knocked on your door. Fashion: an excuse to try and sell me things I neither want nor need just to keep the economy growing. Not being interested in any of this fashion stuff frees up a lot of time for other far more useful things like...

I have catalogued all my Vinyl & CDs and all my Videos & DVDs. Really. Lame. Until you consider the numbers involved. I don’t have a deep desire to start duplicating things just to avoid appearing geeky! Everything is then sub-divided and cross-referenced just to increase the lameness of the whole endeavour. On the other hand, the setting up of these lists was how I taught myself to type without looking at the keyboard. Which I’m also quite proud of… even if I can only do it on a flat laptop-style keyboard! This has no bearing on the fact that...

I seem to prefer the company of cats to humans. They’re self-contained, can be self-sufficient, they’re smarter, friendlier, more honest, less greedy, better conversationalists, don’t get drunk and keep themselves cleaner… albeit in the most disgusting of ways. Of course, this excludes all members of the Scribosphere, family members and potential employers who are all wonderful, wonderful people. I’m backing the ‘opposable thumbs for cats’ campaign! When we recognize their place as our Overlords the world will finally be set to rights! I have never catalogued my mogs but they do help with the fact that...

I believe in Ghosts. Not the nice Hippy-New Age kind that come with crystals and chanting and then do the dusting with the corners of their sheets. Oh no. These are the type that cause cats to stare into space and hiss. These are the evil spirits that throw crockery, poke you in the eye and hide the teabags (could there be a greater Evil than that?). However, I'm safer than the rest of you because I know they're out to get us. Thankfully, they won't sneak up on me because...

I never switch off. My brain is continually fizzes. Everything is there to be learned from or studied. Films, TV, magazines, books, CD’s, CD booklets, the internet, watching people… thoughts and ideas explode every second and every single one must be written down. This means I never need to take drugs...

I must sound suitably lame by now? Did I pass the audition? Of course, nothing I do is actually lame… everybody who doesn’t do what I do is! Isn't it the truth that one man's meat is another man's poison. It should also be noted that most of the music I have collected could well be considered ‘lame’…

…I shall put the mark of the meme upon…. Valentine Suicide, Rob, MJ, Tom and the person who keeps arriving here via this search or alternatively Andy

*I chose those opening words very carefully because about 20 years ago I was ONCE givena mug of hot chocolate spiked with a well-known resin by a ‘friend’ for ‘fun’. It was all a waste of time as I’d already drunk the best part of a bottle of Smirnoff. I just fell asleep. The 'friend' soon became an ‘ex-friend’ and I never felt a need to try it again. I also recently discovered the painkillers I was prescribed for my dislocated knee a decade or so ago were Class B but that was all legit as there was a prescription.

**Is this Halo 3 thing that everybody mentions a computer game of some kind?

^That’s a lie… it’s just two tin cans on a line of string!