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

Monday, 3 November 2008

Vision Thing

On American Elections and being careful for what you wish.

I have never been to the USA, and given my dislike of flying I doubt I ever will, however, judging by the British media, it feels I have lived there my entire life. I don’t dislike the US or my image of the US; as world leader I certainly prefer a strong US to ‘certain other countries’. So the following is very much an outsider’s view based on coverage provided on television and in the newspapers, for good or ill.

I don’t like Blair, Bush, Brown, Major, Thatcher and I’m not keen on either McCain… or Obama. ‘Heresy!’ you cry, ‘you’re European, you’re vaguely in the media industry, you’re ostensibly left-leaning- how can you not be head over heels in love with Obama?’. In Britain and the EU it is not so much expected as obligatory to love Obama. But I have a few small problems promising my unquestioning loyalty.

Through the prism of the somewhat wall-to-wall British coverage of the US elections over the last 18 months I have become increasingly dispirited by US politics. Assuming that the serious UK news programmes (Newsnight, Channel 4 News) are reporting the best and brightest bits it leads to a suspicion that the level of debate is somewhat lacklustre and, dare I say, shallow. (Although British politics is not exonerated from the Joe The Plumber-moments- anybody remember ‘Jennifer’s Ear’?) The levels of spending seems ludicrous- Obama seems to have over half a billion dollars with which to sell himself. Could there be anything more discomfiting than a candidate being able to buy a half-hour infomercial across seven mainstream channels? Maybe that McCain appeared in a skit on Saturday Night Live and Obama appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Is this what the contest for leadership of the free world has actually come down to- who can do the better appearance as a straight man? These comedy shows (as shown in the UK) seem alien in their partisanship towards Obama but presumably this is only natural and acceptable in the land of Fox News. I can’t help but find Britain’s strict election rules somewhat reassuring and comforting in comparison: all political comedy and satire is removed until the votes are all cast, scrupulous fairness is required in news and current affairs television coverage, spending limits per candidate, set party political television broadcast slots and so on.

However, over and above such electoral niceties, I find I have a minor problem with Obama (and McCain for that matter). I don’t know what he stands for. Moreover, from the coverage on Channel 4 News and Newsnight, it has become worryingly apparent that seemingly neither does the vast majority of the voting American public. Despite how deeply they delve into policy issues on Saturday Night Live! When asked what Obama stands for and why they are voting for him, every supporter interviewed said their man stands for ‘change’. Sounds good. After eight years of the Bush presidency ‘change’ has a nice ring. Pretty much sells itself. The British news crews then asked ‘how will Obama change things?’ and this is always followed by deafening silence. Can I be the only one who finds this somewhat worrying? After 18 months of campaigning and coverage this is still a mystery?

Some of the things Obama stand for include tax breaks for the poorer members of society- leading to cries that he is a Socialist trying to redistribute the wealth- but why has nobody compared this with one of Bush’s first actions to provide tax breaks for the very rich on average saving them the cost of a Lexus? Is it so much better to redistribute the wealth upwards? Obama wants some sort of nationwide health insurance coverage to help the quarter of the US population that can’t afford to become sick. Apparently, McCain also advocates something similar. However, this is decried by many because it is Socialist and would lead to an abysmal system like the (to paraphrase one commentator) ‘two-tier National Health Service where there are nothing but queues and everybody dies waiting for service’. This is, of course, nonsense- the NHS may have its failing but at least everybody has a right to treatment ‘free at the point of delivery’. And how isn’t the US system two-tier where the rich get top-notch treatment and the poor apparently barely get treatment. One ‘God-fearing man’ said it wasn’t for the likes of him to bail out people who need medical help because they should just work harder. (That would be based on a quote from the Director’s Cut of The Bible where Christ says ‘every man for himself’.) Another policy? It is claimed Obama will pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan- except senior Obama aides have already approached Britain warning them that British troops will be required for an Iraq-style surge in Afghanistan. He also says he will bomb terror targets inside Pakistan if the leadership there won’t act. And the only other major policy that I can find for Obama is that he favours protectionist trade tariffs. This would hit Britain hard- the UK exports as much to the US as it does to the whole of the EU- it will hit British Manufacturing and British jobs- people will lose jobs.

I would be deeply surprised if many Europeans and Brits really know what either candidate stands for. They just know they didn’t like Bush and that Obama is nothing to do with that era… while McCain is… therefore Obama is ‘a good thing’. A lot of the Left-leaning on this side of the Atlantic seem to be supporting Obama because he’s African-American and adopt the seemingly patronizing view that the US ‘needs this’ (as someone put it). But would they support an African-American if he was running under a Neo-Con ticket? Moreover, the African-American population is currently about 15% which is about the same proportion as the Hispanic minority but by the middle of this century the Hispanic population is estimated to rise to 30% while the African-American population is estimated to remain almost static. So, why has there been little consideration of a Hispanic president? And if some of this relates to correcting past sins- why has there been no suggestion of a Native American/ Amerindian president- surely correcting the first and greatest sin in the foundation of the USA. Yet why aren’t the British and European Leftists worrying about the fate of the working-classes of their home countries if this new American protectionism is made real- maybe the worker doesn’t matter so much to them any more. (Though how different it might be if this protectionism included the television and film industry!)

Then there is the unspoken and, to my mind, scariest part of these Presidential elections- the Vice-Presidential candidates. Someone once said ‘the job of VP isn’t worth spit’. Never before has it mattered more. Everybody mentions that McCain is old (though seemingly still fit) yet they only joke about the possibility of his dying in office. They forget it is a very real possibility and if he dies two years and a month into his first term the world could have ten years of Sarah Palin*. Then there have already been at least two thwarted Neo-Nazi plots against Obama and there is no reason to believe there won’t be more and no reason to believe given past history (Kennedy, Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) that one might not be successful. And only one has to be successful. Then the world will be led by Joe Biden. Sarah Palin is incredibly scary and Joe Biden is… incredibly anonymous.

Now everybody will criticize me for not supporting Obama, for criticizing the USA, for not criticizing McCain enough and so on… truth is I can’t support either candidate and it doesn’t matter because I don’t have a vote but whoever emerges triumphant the world will change about as much as it will stay the same. My main criticism is reserved for those who have left the policies unexamined, allowed the candidates to remain unquestioned and for the paucity of political debate and coverage on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the words of that great British export to the US, Jerry Springer, I have ‘one final thought’: Obama is praised for being young, dynamic, charismatic, religious and moral though not overtly so, against war, pro-talk, pro-equality and social justice, a great orator, a little inexperienced but a beacon of change and hope after years of division and stagnation. So maybe there’s the real reason I distrust Obama as much as any other politician- I’ve heard it all before- it’s how they described Tony Blair in 1997.

*that would be two terms plus the remainder of the previous incumbent’s term if they’ve made it past the halfway mark.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


I have just noticed the following on the label of one of the supermarket medicaments I take to rein in my arthritis… ‘JOINTS!’

Is this another case of dumbing down; false advertizing to hippies, diversification (I’ve never checked the list of active ingredients) or are they just taking a leaf out of the Gospel According to Ronseal?

How long has this been going on? Why haven’t I noticed this before? Maybe I should check whether my bread is marked belly or the Piriteze is marked nose?

All rather inconsequential but does give me an excuse to include some clips from the now surprisingly prescient Alex Cox written and directed film Repo Man from 1984. If I had a short list of favourite films it would probably be on it.

***clips contain a near full house: violence, sex, swearing, drug abuse, hardcore punk and spoilers***

The Opening 10 Minutes
In which the anarchic and counter-cultural Alex Cox proves that he is not immune to following the mainstream Hollywood rules. Check the supermarket products in the scene from 4’20” to 5’50”. You also get some rather cracking music.

Miller explains the Weirdness
No relevance to the post but I like it. The logic is so perfect, so impeccable and yet so wrong.

Support the ongoing Alex Cox project by buying Repo Man and/or Highway Patrolman.


Currently, 70 pages into the first draft of the TV episode- so far it’s very flabby with too much dialogue including way too much very bad dialogue. A week had to be spent initially editing and re-writing the original episode plan when a re-reading discovered several problems not least amongst these that a character actually dies twice. Not good. However, I think this current draft- which no-one will ever read- has entered the home stretch. Then the red pen can be wielded with due ferocity!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


It must be about four weeks since the deadline for the first 10 pages of the Red Planet Prize. And I have been ploughing on with the full version of mine ever since… just in case I hear the call. However much I suspect this to be highly unlikely but it’s surely better to have something ready and not be called than be called and have nothing.

In the immediate aftermath of the deadline I was comfortably thinking my entry is safely in the post- it’s not an absolutely terrible piece of writing- and I can have a couple of minutes break. It was a good feeling, most definitely it was. For as long as it lasted. Then I started to read the musings of my fellow blogonauts… big big mistake. The brick of reality flew through my window of hope. As I mentioned, I changed horses mid-race, and have probably come a right cropper, but it didn’t stop me from thinking there was some quality to what I’d done. Then I read other people’s accounts of their ten pages; how some got read 5 times, 15 times, 327 times; how they’ve been read and re-read, drafted and re-drafted; mentored, buffed and polished until the gleam would take the retinas from the pilots of passing jets… while I merely thought hard, put something down as best I could, revised it and redrafted it then put it in the post. And I realised what rather smart people I am up against. And that last year’s winner had been working on theirs for years and was mentored by someone smart as well.

I read somewhere that someone had tried to put a small cliff-hanger at the bottom of each page (apparently the new thinking) and yet if I’d tried that, catastrophe would have ensued- I would have gone back, lopped out a line or added a new one and the whole thing would have ended all over the shop pretty sharpish. So, I’ve pretty much convinced myself that I really only stand a chance if the entire pile of other scripts spontaneously combusts. Bizarrely, I will continue writing the project despite this being entirely counter-intuitive.

However, in the end it did start a new train of thought… presumably, everybody gets some ‘reading’ and notes done. Fair enough. Very sensible. And yet… is there such a thing as too much ‘script-reading’? Is it possible to have too many notes? To do too many re-writes? When I was doing the whole giving and receiving notes thing at University, in a group of four and a tutor, most people would get a reasonable consensus while I would get a pretty even split of opinion- two who loved the draft and two who hated it. I never knew why and I have no reason to suspect this situation might have changed in the intervening period. So, who should I listen to- the ones who happen to agree with me- or the ones who don’t? And after a while what happens to the essence of what you’ve written? What happens to the fire that produced that first draft- is it quenched after buckets of notes have been poured over the flames until all that remains are a few struggling embers. What comes of the happy accident? Can it just be that the ur-text is the one that really worked best, the one that retains the anger or the fire or the passion or the pain that inspired the writer in the first place? When I was learning to paint I was told it was not only important to know when to start but, crucially, to know when to stop. To stop before it’s ruined.

So, here it is, my own unique and special skill. Other people have innate talent, some have passion- I have self-doubt. I am neither naturally artistically talented or technically gifted so this self-doubt may not be such a bad thing. For a start, with low expectations there’s less chance of disappointment; also you already know you have to work hard because you know life’s not a level playing field and you will always have to go that extra mile; you work harder, think harder, revise and redraft harder because you will never really match your own exacting standards. With the self-knowledge of self-doubt you have a clearer view of your limitations so are less afflicted with ego; you’re less certain the world owes you a living and ultimately you’ll be more grateful for what you get.

So, if there’s one thing I would be destined to meet in my own personally Room 101, it will be doubt. And yet I should be grateful for it!

Of course there’s self-doubt and then there’s sheer horrible hateful reality…

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Positive Thinking

Well, the deadline for the Red Planet Prize has come and now gone… and despite nearly giving up on several occasions in the past few weeks I did finally get something in the post- though it was a very close run thing. It has prompted me to offer the following advice- try not to completely change projects 4 weeks before the deadline! (Annoyingly this didn’t leave enough time to farm it out to herds of people for criticism.)

To some people writing comes naturally and they can probably carry off this sort of thing. Unfortunately I’m not one of them: I find this writing lark pure hard graft- emotionally draining and physically exhausting. And frustratingly I don’t have the first idea whether I’m actually any good at this writing thing in the first place- so for all I know I might just be wasting time that I could instead be spending on my plan for ‘total world domination in the next five years’. So, I’ve had to maintain radio silence for the last few weeks to keep up the work rate- that and it gives away position to the U-Boats! Now, as a contingency for the (highly unlikely) event that I receive the call for the full episode, I now have 4 weeks to write the remaining 45 pages. What fun.

However, to all those who got something in and will spend the next few weeks anxiously waiting for results, cleaning, tidying and generally buffing up their pilots; and all those that couldn’t get anything ready for this year and are already thinking of something for next year, I dedicate the following from The Magnificent Two…

…and by a staggering coincidence this, for the time being, is a rather nice response to the recent meme (“a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics and why you've chosen it”) which various people have left as 'open tags' (and especially Elinor). I suggest it’s less about the being a writer and more about the continuing as a writer. I’m sure I have another song that is a better answer for the task but for the moment…

“When you feel down, try positive thinking,
That’s what I told them and said,
Don’t wear a frown, try positive thinking,
Laugh at your troubles instead.

You’ve got to look on the bright side,
On hope so much depends,
With your confidence sinking, positive thinking,
Helps you on the way my friend.

When things look black, try positive thinking,
Treat every season as spring,
No glancing back, try positive thinking,
Trust what tomorrow may bring.

This crazy world what we live in,
Will keep on spinning round,
But with good, strong, positive thinking,
We’ll get together and life won’t let us down.”

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

When You Don’t See Me

Thought it might not be too bad an idea to bore you rigid with an update on the writing situation… and gives me an excuse to waste time with which I could be doing something, er, useful. Like writing.

The great thing about a lack of internet connexion is that it liberates a lot of time- this is because the internet is in fact a seductively evil time-stealing monster- enjoyable but evil… the bad thing about the lack of internet is that if what you are attempting to write is going hideously and unbelievably wrong there is nothing to take your mind off it. And little by little, hour by hour and day by day, you start to steadily go insane…

Way back in July I had a nifty little idea for my entry to the Red Planet Prize. ‘Hoorah’, quoth I. ‘That’s nifty!’, I did reiterate. Then I wrote down the bits that I knew and realised that it was only 5 episodes and didn’t have a ‘cracking opening episode’. Alright, that’s not a huge problem, I can come up with an opening episode. Could I ‘eck as like! Truth be told, while I watch a vast amount of TV I’ve never really been able to comprehend how to work it- it’s that having to roughly return things to the status quo at the end of each episode so that things can start again at the beginning of the following one that partially flummoxes me. I’m not that hot at film-writing either but at least I have a vague understanding of it. While at University I had to have a stab at writing an episode of a returning series, in this case Doctors… suffice to say it went disastrously wrong… it featured religious fanatics and an exorcism and the first draft clocked in at over an hour and a half. This was bad. Finally, I got it down to forty minutes… it was still bad.

Having a ‘nifty idea’ was rather encouraging, not having the first episode… less so. So there then followed a considerable period of procrastination… and now that period is over what have I to show for it? I have a decent outline for a feature film, a new short film script and I’ve redrafted two previous short scripts. What don’t I have? A first episode. Oops! So, with the Red Planet Blog Clock Vorderman-esquely pointing at the 28 days left on the clock I am now wondering what to do... Oh and the other big problem with the ‘nifty idea’ is that it’s really a serial. Not a series. And I’m not even sure if there’s enough material to make it a whole hour long per episode. Or is there too much? I just don’t know. I really don’t understand writing for television.

So, where do I go from here? The words are coming out all weird. Ha!. Well, I’m still going to try to think of a world-beating first episode for the possibly very boring, very parochial and very tedious serial. However, I’m also trying to think of something more series-esque. All I can come up with is something rather derivative and a bit similar to something that used to be on the telebox (whether the other thing is coming back or not, I don’t actually know). The trick will be to make it less similar and more brilliant. But is that really possible? Really?

Who knows? Or even dares to care?

Oh well, 600 hours of writing time left until the last posting date… assuming I ignore sleeping and eating… but they’re pretty over-rated.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Silence Is Platinum

…except it’s not…

…it’s quite annoying!

That was bizarre… I broke the internet! Yes, I admit it, ‘twas me… I broke it… Except to be more accurate… it wasn’t the internet… it was just my little bit of it… and when I say broke I mean incapacitated… and when I say I it should actually read Microsoft. So, I was pretty much accurate apart from the actual details…

All of a sudden, a few days after my last post, I started having some ‘connectivity’ issues. I tried pulling up IE and Firefox but all I was getting was the ‘site not available’ thing. I was definitely getting a connexion to the web but just no screens so I deduced it was a software problem rather than an ISP fault which just made me more confused. Now, I’m no computer expert so I found running round like a big headless chicken rather a good idea and it sure made up for trying to actually work out what had gone wrong. Just as I was about to give up and ring my friendly neighbourhood computer engineer I thought I’d give my ISP (Demon) helpline a try. My ISP were their usual brilliant selves and after literally seconds they’d solved the problem and got me up and working despite it not being their problem. They asked some pretty simple questions: had I had a recent Microsoft update, what anti-virus/ firewall do I use, could I open it and follow their list of alterations and… lo, the internet was un-broken! So, my anti-virus had all of a sudden decided that my browsers were a serious security threat and were blocking them- who knew- I’d certainly never heard of such a thing! And a few days later an urgent security update came from the anti-virus people designed to solve the problem that Microsoft’s update had caused. So, that was weird!

Anyway, anybody else catch the British 7 minutes at the Beijing closing ceremony? Anybody else cringe with embarrassment as we wheeled out a zebra-crossing, a queue, a fight for a bus, an ageing hippie, a reality TV star and an overpaid footballist (Britain has Olympic football?!?!).
Best Of British??? All it needed was a hoodie stabbing someone and a couple of puking binge-drinkers to complete the picture! Imagine this expanded to 2 hours for the opening ceremony. We’re told the 2012 Olympics is going to be ‘youthful’ and ‘cutting edge’. So they get said reality star and hippie for Beijing… meanwhile in London... Will Young, Heather Small and the cast of a 70’s themed musical. So youthful, so cutting edge! Anybody else thinking Millennium Dome contents or Jubilee Spam Fritters? And what was this dispiriting farrago meant to represent?

Anyway, there’s a herd of cobwebs cluttering up the corridors here at Castle Overbombing… time to blow them away…!

KLF with Extreme Noise Terror: 3 a.m. Eternal (Live At The Brits 12th February 1992)

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Neon Dream

Now, that the blood in my alcohol-stream has returned to its traditional caffeine-carrying role I can open my little festival notebook and see if I can read my writing (which is genuinely terrible)… if this occurs successfully then I’ll flurp my thoughts down. (So there!)

This shall be Day One… expect not humour… do expect editorializing- in italics…

Barbara Machin: Opening Speech
Barbara Machin was/is responsible for Waking The Dead- this makes her alright by me- and her opening address was suitably enthralling, provocative and readily-received. Of course, she had home-court advantage.

Machin started off with a clarification that needs stating every now and again: ‘Every age before is a Golden Age’. (Rose-tinted spectacles are a terrible blinker- although I might suggest that British Television is perhaps more in the Doldrums than in the recent past.) Her main thesis was that in a world where ‘lifestyle and talent shows’ are filling the gap for ‘must-see television’ there has been a ‘loss of the nerve, verve and fervour’ in a ‘ratings-driven, risk averse’ television industry which screenwriters must rediscover. She pointed to the American model of ‘high concepts’ and writer-producer-led show-running that have produced such hit US TV series as ‘Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under, Lost, Twenty-Four, Dexter and Damages’ whilst also singling out Life On Mars as evidence that when given the opportunity the British can manage this as well. She called for ‘the brave, the different, the fresh and the unorthodox’; for ‘brave and inventive storytelling’. Again, she clarified the notion of the Sixties as a Golden Age, ‘in the Sixties innovation was rife’ but this was clearly television was in its infancy and ‘everything was new’. She also mentioned that the creators were from ‘other backgrounds’ citing theatre, novels, etc.

This was a point that could have borne more investigation- now, the screenwriters are being trained in University straight from school; then, they were not only coming from theatre or literature, many had served in the Second World War, done National Service (e.g. Bennett, Potter, Rosenthal); been shop workers (Shelagh Delaney), teachers (Bleasdale), lawyers (Kneale), hairdressers (Willy Russell)- they had actually done something. Is it not notable that one of the most praised guests at the SWF ’08 was Tony Jordan, who did a multiplicity of jobs before starting to write?

Machin understood the logistics of television (‘money and ratings’) but called for a change in attitude an end to the ‘smash and grab’ thinking; more thought about scheduling and trailing of programmes. Particularly irksome to her were notions of ‘Lazy Audience Syndrome’ where television is ‘dumbed down’ and ‘pre-digested’ for the audience; nothing was more emblematic of this than ‘pre-trailing’ the next episode at the end of the just viewed- a pre-trail that would invariably give away most of the salient plot twists and big scenes effectively negating the necessity of watching the next episode and ensuring that the ‘audiences no longer care’. She called for a ‘full menu’ of programming.

Machin concluded by assuring us that she is not ‘a prophet of doom’; that US television can have a ‘halo effect’ raising everybody’s game and she predicted the end of ‘reality television’ (possibly a little optimistic).

Machin left the audience with the following ringing in their collective ears, the writer must ‘run and be brave’, ‘don’t be browbeaten, be inspired’ and above all…

‘Dare to dream’.

How To Make A Living Writing
A panel with screenwriters Tim Telling, Robbie Morrison, (graphic novelist; creator of 2000AD’s Nikolai Dante) and Stephen Morrison (just had first novel published)…

I was not entirely sure what I was meant to come away with from this somewhat ragged session other than that feature writing is incredibly hard so try doing other writing assignments like radio, stand-up comedy, novel and graphic novel writing and so on and so forth…

10 Producers’ Secrets…
After the slightly lacking-in-focus nature of the previous came a greater diversion…

Stephen Woolley (The Crying Game, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, etc.) and Kevin Loader (Venus, The History Boys, etc.) were the producers in question who were spilling all the dark secrets of their midnight arts… and most enlightening it was although we were assured that there were almost certainly many more…

1. Agree with what you’re attempting to do. If you’re doing a comedy make sure it doesn’t turn into a horror film.
2. Don’t get distracted by the research.
3. Structure- don’t worry about it too much.
4. Long scripts go to the bottom of the pile- be careful about over-writing- remember producers have weak backs and don’t want to lug these things about.
5. Don’t take rejection personally and don’t burn your bridges- it takes too long to rebuild them.
6. Always listen- even ogres have something to say- even if it’s once in twenty comments. Listening costs nothing!
7. Work to the pre-determined budget- don’t price yourself out of the market.
8. It’s easy to put in clichéd phrases- don’t! These would be including 'Rembrandt dawns' and Dali floppy clock allusions.
9. It’s easy for a writer to become a pawn in the politics- don’t! Try to be crystal clear and transparent in meetings; speak your mind.
10. Don’t become possessive (of your script).

Kevin Loader added for writers to ‘be careful of over-zealous agents’ and ‘expect to be banned from the Set’. Kevin Loader on the problem of woman protagonists: ‘Hollywood wants to sell to adolescent boys’. Stephen Woolley on adaptation: ‘Adaptation is [considered] a safety valve.’

I had a lot of time for Stephen Woolley going into this session as it was through a number of films with his name at the front that I found myself becoming steadily seduced by the silver screen… and if you’re even remotely interested those would include The Company Of Wolves, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, Hardware, Dust Devil and Interview With The Vampire… I am thankful to say I was not disappointed by him!

There then came a Scriptbite (café-based smaller discussion session) with Kevin Loader. The main message here was that people are after good writing and good storytelling; and that appearances do matter- on the page.

Breaking Down Your Walls
A discussion-cum-interview between a psychiatrist-chap and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, the man responsible for adapting The Pianist, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly and a personal favourite The Dresser.

This was a highly entertaining session which wasn’t especially bullet-point friendly especially since it was so engrossing that such matters flew out of the window!

The more memorable points included:
• On a good reason for writing: ‘money is a great incentive’.
• On purpose in his writing: ‘identity… the constant search for a centre’.
• On characters for films: ‘nice people are boring’.
• On how the writer sees (or should see): ‘[mostly they] they remain as a child’.
• He was most forthright on the position of the writer being largely neglected and urged those younger than himself to fight for the just recognition of the writer- adding that he was far too old to engage in this battle himself. This, unsurprisingly, drew a round of applause.
• On the philosophical core of his work: ‘[thinks of himself] as a moralist’ but with the caveat of ‘being wise after the event and at a distance… historically [and] geographically’. He also mentioned that he ‘despairs of people taking the high moral ground when they don’t know what it is’.
• And shared the following advice told to him by Graham Greene: ‘when you’ve finished a day’s work only stop when it’s going well’.

I could happily have listened to this man for several more hours… but, as he mentioned, he was being denied his ritual daily afternoon nap as it was!

Scripts And Scriptability
Deborah Moggach (writer, Love In A Cold Climate, (cinema’s) Pride & Prejudice, etc.) in conversation with Head of Series and Serials, BBC Drama, Kate Harwood.

This wasn’t a particularly engaging session to me… seemed very chatty without the benefit of being terribly enlightening. And having seen some clips from the forthcoming television adaptation of The Diary Of Anne Frank… I was somewhat perturbed… Moggach described it as more video diary style…

…there then followed some mooching about as the session I was after seeing was somewhat full… my name wasn’t down, I wasn’t going in… which was a shame as it was on how to write The Correct Treatment… which would have been nice to know.

Key Note: Mike Leigh
I haven’t ever taken to Mike Leigh’s films… I’ve seen maybe six or seven and again and again I have the same complaints- not very realistic, patronizing about those he portrays, sneering at anybody from the ‘lower orders’ who dares to want to better themselves, doesn’t believe these people are either emotionally literate or capable of education, the romanticizing of a milieu he frequently doesn’t seem to understand, know or even like and, possibly my biggest gripe, that he ostensibly makes film about people in a style those same people would never want to sit through… who is he making films for? Compare and contrast with Bleasdale and Russell!

However, Leigh has now made some eighteen features in a long, varied and successful career and must have something of interest to say about the writing and film-making process… This session was an abject lesson in discovering how wrong you can be!

Mike Leigh acquitted himself quite badly, there was none of the good-humour or vivacity of other speakers; he seemed quite aggravated to have to be there; his lack of passion and lifelessness were rivalled only by his curmudgeonliness. Rude, prickly, snippy, annoyed that in a Q&A people might dare to ask Qs and even more annoyed that he might be required to give As- the only person he seemed to treat respectfully was fellow ‘name’ Julian Fellowes. Trust a man of the people to dislike the
‘oi polloi!

Leigh’s actual conversation primarily revolved around a biographical account of his life and a description of his ‘improvised’ workng methods. All in a voice more tedious than Alan Bennett’s monotone. On mogadon. I kid not when I note that two people in the row in front of me fell asleep. It was upon the issue of his improvisational technique, when questioned, that he became most annoyed. Several people wondered afterwards what he might actually have had to say to a collection* of screenwriters given that he basically has the actors make up his films as they go along (alright during the rehearsals- but it’s hardly heavily pre-scripted film-making!). This could be why his films tend to lurch between the poorly paced and undramatic sections to the melodramatic and hysterical (I’m thinking of one specifically awful screeching performance from a great actress!). The most bizarre thing I discovered in this session was that Leigh doesn’t tell the actors what film they’re in or who those around them are playing until they see the finished film. This removes whole areas of how life works: rumours, Chinese whispers, second-hand information, etc. Effectively, it means that a character only has a life when the character is on them! Which seemed to say it all for me.

Entering this session I didn’t like Mike Leigh’s film, exiting, I didn’t like Mike Leigh either.

At the end of this session, while other things were being announced, it was revealed that BSSC-Kaos Films would not just be doing a short film this time round; this time sees them doing a competition for a feature film script, which will be made with a budget of no more than two million dollars.

…there then followed a packed evening of ‘carousing’… the pictures are worth a thousand words… also had a long chat with an ex-tutor of mine at some time during the day… nice to catch up on what some of my fellow students were (or weren’t) doing! Small ‘après-bar’ back at Piers’ place…

…if I can continue to decipher my mysterious scribblings then, my dear reader, I shall bore and frustrate you with yet more ‘revelations’.

*What is the collective noun for screenwriters: a herd, a desk-top, a sheaf…???

At The Gates Of Silent Memory

I spotted this on the studio briefing of IMDB. Genuinely wonderful news for film buffs, cineastes and spods.

"Less than two weeks after New York-based Kino International had announced that it had completed a frame-by-frame restoration of Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis and would release it in 2009, a long-lost and badly scratched original cut of the movie has turned up in Argentina, where it was shown to reporters for the first time on Thursday. Paula Felix-Didier, director of the Museo de Cine in Buenos Aires, told the reporters that the three-and-a-half-hour print is the only known copy of Lang's complete film. The film that has been shown in theaters since that time and which in recent years has become available on home video is roughly half that length. Kino said Thursday that it may include the newly discovered footage in its 2009 release."
This would be the 210 minute version unseen quite possibly anywhere in the world since the films 1927 premiere.

…and renews the candle in the window for those who hope against hope that anything from Murnau through Steptoe to Dr. Who might possibly still turn up.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Event Horizon

Right so, the postings from the wonderful wacky world of the SWF will be brought to you through the random mediums of interpretive dance and Sisters Of Mercy unofficial release titles… you lucky people!!! This may not be a nightly occurrence, of course, so lap it up while you can… these golden nuggets verily drip from my pen! Say what?

This very evening I found myself at the first annual (hopefully) Arnopp-Beckley Scribomeet… and I know you’re all just itching to know just how things went… sadly I fear you may be pinning your hopes on the wrong person for I, your humble narrator, did shamefully fall victim to the parlous evils of intemperance and, dare I say, strong drink… So tonight I can only express simple opinions as befits one to whom the torpor of liquor has tainted; for whom the fingers are ever so slightly numbed and the brain most likely addled! Or coddled.

The basics: this was, to put it mildly, a lovely evening spent in the company of many lovely people, oft-times too numerous to mention but I’ll try to give creditable names to them what has it due!

There was a veritable smorgasbord of Scribonauts… a Jason Arnopp, who you must all know by now as the fine and stand-up gentleman that he is, to whom, sadly, I may have mentioned that some Dr. Who episodes could have been better than maybe they were- yet as such a fine and stand-up gentleman he declined to enrich me with the lamping that I so rightly deserved; Piers Beckley, another gentleman of some renown; Lee Thomson, who looks nothing like his photo and presumably is in cognito (I won’t give away as what); Stuart Perry, yet another gentleman; Gavin Williams, what knows stuff; Dom Carver, who I regaled with too much information but mainly bored with abundant tales of crashed cars; Jennifer from Ireland, with whom I talked at length about religion and regionalization; Sara of Italy; Jeremiah; Ricky; Cecile, Isabelle, Tony, Steven and quite possibly literally hundreds* of other rather lovely and altogether spiffing people whose names I either didn’t catch or can’t quite, at this late hour, remember…

…of course, I knew there would be an embarrassing point and, yeah verily, I did find it! Nobody mentioned that the chap standing right there in front of me was the Adrian Mead! So what did I talk of? Offal, mutton and, specifically, why people weren’t eating enough of it! It was some time later that the irrepressible Arnopp told me with whom I was speaking and mentioned that I may be recalled for all time as the Mutton Man. Over all analysis of the night’s pre-festival festivities? Three words…

…it was good!!!

…and now to bed with the hope that I still don’t get hangovers! I feel the fear of meeting people nigh-on drip away from me in a molten fashion! Be good!

PS: One of the cats gave me a snide look as I came in... they don't like to see me in an unfit state for feeding duties!

*Not literally hundreds!!! But literally some…

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Paranoid Android

Well, the SWF looms ever larger on the horizon…

…and how are things going? Well, at this precise moment the nerves are really starting to hit home- I have to go out in daylight; so I’ll probably turn into dust; I can’t recall a single person on the delegate list not even The Arnopp* (eep!); can’t recall who’s actually speaking or what they’ve done; just in case I’ve tried to sort out my pitches for the couple of specs I’ve written and they’re rubbish- they always are- I’m terrible at pitches and pitching- always have been; do I bother to do anything for the rough projects that are starting to look promising- they might be lovely- actually their dark and miserable… but in a lovely way.

And what of the Festival itself? Worries course through me. What if nobody talks to me? What if I forget what people look like after I’ve already spoken to them at length? What if I embarrass myself and everybody beats me about the face and neck with fresh haddock? What if they’re all undercover cannibals and think I look mouth-watering? What if I take a can of pilchards instead of a notebook and start inexplicably hurling them at Mike Leigh? What if I don’t deodorize? What if… what if… what if… ?

...excitement is mutating into mild fear…

…and yet having just watched the documentary on the WWII comando raid on St. Nazaire dockyard I wonder what right I actually have to feel scared about what is essentially walking into a room. Albeit a large room full of people I don’t know who might, at some point, hold my fate and the course of the rest of my life in their hands. Still a bit daft really.

*Isn’t this a paradox?

Forever Delayed

Tomorrow, I am officially one year older and one year closer to the grave… that sounds right miserable! It’s true though. If you haven’t worked it out- that would make it my birthday. Unfortunately, I’ve tended to have to go to funerals in this week in previous years and it’s possibly for this reason that tend to find myself looking back as much as forward…

It’s been a strange year, this last one, there’s no doubting that. I have a few more lines around the eyes, white hairs have started to streak the beard and, seemingly overnight, long white hairs have appeared down the full length of my hair. There’s been the SWF 2007 followed, nipping at its heels, by torrential rain, terrible flooding, being marooned and a complete loss of water for several weeks; the Red Planet Prize (or rather lack thereof for me!) at one point done by candlelight due to the flooding; Digital Shorts, for which I was upbraided for not giving my characters back-story… there was Jason and Dan’s premiere (which was fun) and annoying painful dislocations (which was less fun) then there was pestilential near-death experiences (which was about as far from fun as anybody’s currently found). And the writing has suffered badly. All the stoppages have disrupted the thought-flow, the worries have overwhelmed and there’s been a general loss of momentum. But, I’m reckoning that I’ve now pretty much covered the whole gamut: disease, death, flood, pestilence… let’s be done with it- bring on the rain of frogs and swarms of ravenous locusts! I’m ready and I’m waiting!!!

It’s after years like this that a sane person might begin to wonder whether making plans is actually a sensible thing at all… but I’ve tried sanity and, in the main, it’s over-rated.

I’m thinking this year to try and keep things a little more simple: maybe give competitions and prizes a bit of a miss (I just end up hurrying and getting slapdash). Of course, it will depend on the competition and the prize! I’m figuring that now’s the time to just get on and write. I’m looking towards the UKFC scheme (if, by the time I’m ready, it still exists); I’m looking to get a third spec written- then I can start stalking agents; and I’m churning around three stories at the moment which seem half-way reasonable and can’t think of any reason to stop now.

Yet, at the back of my mind, I find myself taunted by the thought- ‘am I any good?’ Not with putting words down, anybody can do that; not with structure, that can be taught; not with formatting, that can be taught or Lucy can tell you why writing in crayon isn’t the best way forward. No, I’m thinking about that unteachable intangible- the ideas themselves- do I have any? Are they any good? Am I just wasting time? In part this comes from noticing that so many people I was at University with were dealing with fantasy and the snippets of ideas I’ve heard on the Scribosphere all tend to be fantastical- there seems so much about new worlds that need saving, standing-stone gateways, flying death-fish, mythical creatures, time travel, horror, space battles- and I find myself continually wondering am I being too prosaic, too boring, too hung up on the real world. By not doing the fantasy thing it almost makes me wonder if I wasn’t listening in on the right conversation…

But as the painter Hopper said, “maybe I am not very human- what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” There aren’t the fantasy elements in anything I write now- they’re just about people who are trying to cope with the modern world as best as they can… maybe that’s my painting the sunlight on the side of a house… oh well, all got a little more introspective than I intended!

Anyway, this next week there is a Screenwriters Festival- no wait- the Screenwriters Festival, where hopefully this year I won’t be hamstrung by the desire to hide under a table when anybody turns to talk to me. And as I’m knowing that a bunch of Scribonauts are away to it, I presume and hope I’ll be seeing some of you lovely people in the flesh… so to speak!*

*Please, for the love of God, please keep your clothes on!!!

The Missing

A few years ago there was a story about a recording of the two string quartets by the major 19th Century French composer Saint-Saëns. Had this been a recording of the Beethoven, Shostakovich or Mozart quartets there would have been barely a flicker of interest in anything other than the quality of the performance and recording themselves. However, what made these recordings noteworthy was not only that the compositions were of very high quality but that these were the world premiere recordings. In the classical music industry these days an eye is kept open (especially by labels like Naxos and Chandos) for rare and unusual recordings to give a disc a unique USP. Lost and/ or previously unknown works do appear, not least because many of the major music archives still haven’t been catalogued thoroughly and have centuries of manuscripts residing in them. After centuries of European wars, private sales, clearances, thefts or simply mislabelling things have inevitably been displaced but what made the episode of the Saint-Saëns quartets more peculiar was that these were not lost works they resided in the archives, people knew they existed, but for over a century nobody had even played them let alone recorded them. As a musicologist noted on the radio at the time, this was terribly sad… they were simply neglected.

We all know about the missing episodes scandal that has left many of the Hartnell and most of the Troughton episodes of Doctor Who lost for all time; the same goes for the four missing first series Dad’s Army episodes, virtually all of The Likely Lads and the missing episodes of Quatermass. Many aficionados know that a vast amount of early cinema has gone forever (about 80% of all silent film), not least of all because it was filmed onto highly unstable, highly inflammable nitrate stock, films such as Murnau’s illegal 1920 Dr. Jekyll adaptation Der Januskopf or Chaney’s turn in 1927’s London After Midnight. And how tantalizing is a 1920 Roumanian film entitled ‘Drakula’? But these are gone. Probably forever. Maybe one day someone will look in a can and find cause for their heartbeat to quicken as they open a mislabelled can and find… who knows? And so we should be thankful for anything that survives from the era when films were considered throwaway. Of course, sometimes films do come back, a mini-masterwork The Most Dangerous Game (made back to back with King Kong), Boris Karloff in The Ghoul and perhaps the best example being a pristine, full length print of Carl Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion Of Joan Of Arc from 1928; long thought lost, it was discovered in a Norwegian mental asylum!

However, as with the Saint-Saëns quartets, there seems to be another category: the neglected film, works that are known to exist and yet seem to be languishing in limbo, unreleased on disc or tape, unbroadcast on television. The EU did have a scheme to make sure that certain classics of European cinema remained on catalogue (EVE) but this seems to have long since gone and it seems more likely that a film (or television programme) will be released if it comes through a smaller company. Even the classic, Witchfinder General was apparently not going to be released on DVD because the rights had ended up with Sony Pictures who had decided on a policy of not releasing films over a decade old because their profit margins would be too small- and I do realise that profit margins are a large part of the problem- which is peculiar when you consider how they kept telling us we were coming into an era of greater choice. We must be grateful to companies such as Network, Eureka, Artificial Eye, Tartan and Redemption-Salvation for throwing light through some nigh on forgotten classics but there are so many more…

Among the films and television programmes that seem to have fallen through the cracks and I would like to see appear on DVD in the UK include…

• The Student Of Prague (1913 and 1926 remake) (Essential early horror works.)
• Genuine (1920) (Footage from Robert Wiene’s film was placed on the end of the NTSC and some Pal tapes of the same director’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari- known to exist in its entirety.)
• City Girl (1930) (Murnau’s third American film- of four- and the only one unreleased.)
• The Naked Spur (1953) (the only one of the Anthony Mann-directed James Stewart Westerns not available on DVD- bizarre!)
• Fear And Desire (1953)(Kubrick’s first feature, withdrawn by the director)
• The Colossus Of Rhodes (1961) (Sergio Leone’s credited directorial debut- it may well be terrible but without a release- how would anybody know?)
• The Big Gundown (1966) (Sergio Sollima’s first Western)
• Privilege (1967) (Peter Watkins’ first feature film. Rights owned by Warners- I think- who have no interest in a release)
• Poor Cow (1967) (Ken Loach feature film briefly released since disappeared)
• Up The Junction (1968) (the film version of the BBC play)
• Run Man Run (1968) (Sergio Sollima’s third Western)
• Gladiators (1969) (Peter Watkins’ second proper feature film)
• Leo The Last (1970) (The film John Boorman directed between Hell In The Pacific and Deliverance; won him Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.)
• Deep End (1970) (Apparently a classic from the end of the sixties from Jerzy Skolimowski and said to be Jane Asher’s greatest role.)
• Face To Face (1976) (Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar- and Bafta-nominated, Golden Globe-winning classic. Unavailable.)
• Bloodbath Of Doctor Jekyll (1981)(Euro-auteur Walerian Borowczyk’s grimmest film. Rights issues)
• Chinese Boxes (1984) (Chris Petit’s fourth feature with Will Patton and Robbie Coltrane)
• Drowning By Numbers (1988) (Peter Greenaway)
• The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover (1989) (Peter Greenaway)
• Prospero’s Books (1991) (Peter Greenaway)
• The Baby Of Mâcon (1993) (Peter Greenaway)
• The Pillow Book (1996) (Peter Greenaway)
• Dracula Rising (1993) (Not the most widely known Corman production but effectively the companion to his Frankenstein Unbound)
• Se7en (1995) (Seriously! This modern classic is currently unavailable at HMV online!)

(I have not included any films that remain unreleased for actual censorship reasons. That’s a different subject entirely…!)

And from television wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have releases of amongst others…
• 1984 (1954) (controversial Orwell favourite saved for posterity by the Queen- I kid you not- but even Royal Appointment isn’t enough to command a DVD release!)
• Up The Junction (1965) (the acclaimed BBC Wednesday Play)
• Ghost Stories For Christmas: The Stalls Of Barchester (1971); Lost Hearts (1973); Treasure Of Abbot Thomas (1974); The Ash Tree (1975) (The BFI released two- Whistle And I’ll Come To You and A Warning To The Curious and then… stopped.)
• No Man’s Land (1978) (classic filmed version of Pinter’s play with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson sits languishing in the BBC’s vaults)
• The Muscle Market (1981) (pre-Blackstuff Play For Today)
• A Very Peculiar Practice (1986, 1988, 1992) (early Andrew Davies: first series released briefly; second series and one-off special… nowhere to be found)
• The Woman In Black (1989) (much sought after chilling Nigel Kneale adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel- apparently the rights are now owned by Universal and they refuse to release it- because they think they may do a big-screen version at some point in the next century.)
• Mother Love (1989) (chilling Bafta award-winning Diana Rigg starring 4-parter)
• Chimera (1991) (scary as hell, proto-genetics story)
• Blackeyes (1989) (controversial Dennis Potter classic)
• Lipstick On Your Collar (1993) (the final Dennis Potter shown during his lifetime- starring Ewan McGregor)
• Karaoke (1996) (the first part of Dennis Potter’s posthumous flourish- filming arranged so quickly that rights were not properly sorted out)
• Cold Lazarus (1996) (the second part… same reason for lack of release)

Then there are some that were available briefly and have long since returned into rights limbo: The War Game, Culloden, The Stone Tape…

I can’t help thinking I have merely scratched the surface and that there are plenty more classics (and curios) which have been lost under the welter of Star Wars re-issues, Ed Wood and Jess Franco releases.

Perhaps the thing that first made me interested in the rights and releases issue was the intriguing case of Johnny Got His Gun, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s sole directorial outing and pacifist film from 1971. The rights were bought by Metallica solely so they could use extensive footage in their promo for the track One They had no interest in making the film widely available and so the film languished in obscurity. A couple of years ago the film got its DVD release. Until then this was all you could see of the film…

…I haven’t yet bought a copy!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Know Your Enemy

This week it was revealed that documentary film-maker Sean Langan had been released by Taliban kidnappers after a three month captivity. This can only be welcomed- I wouldn’t wish this experience (kidnapping, constant threat of death and mock executions) on my worst enemy.

Sean Langan first came to my attention with his series Langan Behind The Lines featuring episodes with titles like Taking Tea With The Taliban: the series was filmed and shown in early 2001, pre-9/11. These programmes, which seemed to give Langan unusually free access to, amongst others, the camera-shy Taliban, continually portrayed the militants, warlords and fundamentalists he met across Iran, Iraq, the Gaza Strip and Afghanistan as lovable, friendly chaps who were only too willing to break bread with him and invite him into their homes. I couldn’t help feeling very uncomfortable watching their portrayal in these and his subsequent programmes: could these lovable people have been the self-same who hold mass-executions in their football stadium, bulldoze walls onto homosexuals and stone to death adulterous women?

I was not the only one to feel uncomfortable; reporter Saira Shah was so angered by these programmes that she went undercover in Afghanistan and filmed the more disturbing distaff side to Langan’s all-too-cosy portrayals- ‘Beneath The Veil’, I think it was called and it was broadcast a few months after Langan’s, just before 9/11. It completely undermined the vision of Langan’s films and stripped them of any illusion and made them seem deeply disingenuous.

I can’t help admiring Langan’s bravery- I have no deep yearning to go into active warzones- but I do find his apparently deliberately contrary version of the scary types he meets to be somewhat disturbing… this is the equivalent of his meeting Hitler and admitting that, while he may have been a bit mean to the Jews, on the other hand he did like his dog and threw an excellent dinner party. When I heard of his release, and therefore his kidnapping, I tried hard to suppress a grim smile and thoughts of ‘chickens roosting’. I can’t help thinking its best not to put your head in the tiger’s mouth too many times because at some point the tiger may grow tired of playing along with the game.

The Man Who Gave Away The World

The good news is that there is a free 12 track David Bowie CD available on Sunday (29/06) in the UK. The bad news is it comes with the Mail On Sunday. The good news is it could be worse- it could have been The Scum.

The CD has 12 tracks; favourites personally chosen by the man himself including a new mix of Time Will Crawl. Bowie’s own comments on each will be in the paper.

The tracklist includes, Life On Mars, The Bewlay Brothers, Loving The Alien, Time Will Crawl (New Remix), Lady Grinning Soul, Sweet Thing/ Candidate, Win, Some Are, Repetition, Fantastic Voyage, Teenage Wildlife, Hang On To Yourself (Live at Santa Monica, ’72).

Presumably this is all a sweetener for the first official release of ‘Live in Santa Monica ’72’ (recorded during the Ziggy Stardust tour) which is to be released on CD/LP on Monday (30/06/08). But the big question is will there ever be a new LP?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

God Save The Meme!

Having had a bit of scout around some of the posts I’d not seen while I was AWOL I noticed there’d been a meme thing what I’d missed… and I rather like memes… they give me a chance to make lists… I wasn’t tagged but I’ll be guessing that this here counts.

The brief would appear to be…
"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."

I don’t have an iPod put on shuffle (or actually an iPod) and I don’t have anything on the laptop. I just pick a CD every now and again. Then leave them lurking by the side of the stereo, on the speakers, on the turntable, in great stacks on the floor... So, here’s a track each from the discs I’ve been spinning more than others recently… To what extent the music I’m listening to influences the new writing project or if the writing influences the musical choice, I’d be reckoning must be six of one, half dozen of the other, so I’ll reckon. I was going to put some fascinating and erudite blurb but maybe the music doesn’t really need it.

Portishead: Silence (previously entitled Wicca)
from the CD imaginatively named ‘Third’ (2008).

Coruscating, exhilarating, on a ragged nerved.

(Clip from All Tomorrow’s Parties premiere- there’s an excellent soundboard quality download available in various places round the web.)

Lisa Gerrard: The Host Of Seraphim
from the CD ‘The Serpent’s Egg’ (1988).

Ethereal. Always makes me think of deserts…

Portishead: Half Day Closing
from the equally imaginatively entitled CD ‘Portishead’ (1997).

Clip and version from ‘PNYC Live’.

Massive Attack: Mezzanine
from the CD ‘Mezzanine’ (1998).

DJ Shadow Vs. Unkle: Lonely Soul-Guns Blazing Mash-up
from the CD/DVD set ‘In Tune And On Time Live!’ (2004).

Contains language some may find objectionable

Sisters Of Mercy: On The Wire-Teachers-One The Wire
from the unofficial CD ‘Event Horizon’ (Live at the Forum, London) (1998).

The CD has near soundboard quality audio; unfortunately the only clip available doesn’t- it’s from a different gig- recorded on a mobile. On The Wire is a B-side from 1984, of which I still don’t like the studio version but live… it shines. Teachers, a live standard for them since their very first gigs in ’81, is the Leonard Cohen song. I can’t believe it’s nearly 21 years since I bought my first Sisters’ disc. Scary.

Bowie: Heart’s Filthy Lesson
from the CD ‘Outside: The Nathan Adler Diaries’ (1995).

Contains imagery some may find objectionable

PJ Harvey: White Chalk
from the CD ‘White Chalk’ (2007).

Sugababes: Stronger
from the CD ‘Overloaded The Singles Collection’ (2006) and ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ (2002)

Aren’t the strings reminiscent of Unfinished Sympathy? Heartbreaking yet tinged with hope…

Massive Attack feat. Terry Callier: Live With Me
from the CD ‘Collected’ (2006)

(The string led version of the track used on the other video is the better but the Jonathan Glazer directed promo is so appalling I refuse to give it house-room. But if you’re desperate, watch it here- then pluck out thine eyes!).

Public Image Limited: The Order Of Death
from the CD ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’ (1984)

Contains imagery some may find objectionable
May contain spoilers for the film Hardware (1990)

The clip is a pretty well-concocted assemblage from Richard Stanley’s excellent (and unfairly over-looked) first feature, Hardware. The track, Lydon intoning the same phrase over and over, is like a mantra for the wasteland…

Radiohead: Street Spirit (Fade Out.)
from the CD ‘The Best Of Radiohead’ (2008) and ‘The Bends’ (1995).

Moby: When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die
from the CD ‘Everything Is Wrong’ (1995)

So, that’s where my head’s at this moment I’m thinking. I hope it enlightened if not exactly uplifted…


Here’s some general random thoughts I’ve had which I haven’t had a chance to share… if they get too long I’ll do second post, if and when… and then it’ll look as if I’m actually posting more than I actually am… Cunning, heh?

As it has been made abundantly clear antanddec did not know anything about the massive dodginess (which some have suggested could be referred to as fraud- though not I as it hasn’t been to court, nobody has been charged and I don’t want to be sued for libel!) perpetrated on various shows that they presented and executive produced through their own production company and through which millions of pounds were erroneously expropriated of people for competitions they had no chance of winning (because they rang too late and weren’t entered; weren’t pretty enough to appear on television or just weren’t living near enough to London). Antanddec knew nothing about any of it. This, they have made ‘clear as an unmuddied lake’. We have no reason to disbelieve them.

So, the questions I found ran through my head and find hard to answer are…
• Are they fit to run a company?
• Should they have been paying a little more attention?
• Should they actually have executive producer credits? What do they do to earn such?
• Should they hire new company accountants?
• Are they really androids created by some evil genius to make the television audience stupider?

The Ruby In The Smoke
The other night I managed to catch the repeat of the television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Victorian England set The Ruby In The Smoke (which I haven’t read and probably won’t) because they cancelled the football (and there was much rejoicing across the land- well- from me at any rate) and I was reminded of several things that I thought strange the first time around. I must make clear that it is a likable enough romp though for whom I’m not entirely sure: skewed too young for adults yet too dark, violent and mired in opium for children. However, to the peculiarities…

Firstly Peculiarity I had to scratch my head when on two separate occasions characters were twice described so as to be pointed out… firstly, when the villainous Mrs Holland warns her underling “Didn’t you know there was a stabbing in Kent this morning; only eye-witness is in shock, poor soul; ain’t breathed a word but one nod from me and she’ll swear it was a sharp young feller in a check suit and a bowler hat she saw standing over the body with a knife in his hand.” Peculiarly, Mrs Holland apparently didn’t notice the more salient point in this Victorian setting might have been that the chap was black. Alright, fine, thinks I, this must surely have been an oversight. But lo, not 10 minutes later, Miss Sally Lockhart describes the self-same miscreant (who has just stolen her note-book) as not being Mrs Holland but rather “No, it was a man, a Spiv*.” Again, she neglects to mention that he’s black. This second omission seemed more than mere coincidence. I’m perfectly happy with and supportive of colour-blind casting but there are some problems when this is applied to various period settings. In the UK, presently, the non-white population numbers between 5 and 10% depending on to whom you listen, what definitions they’re using and what point they’re trying to prove. In The Bill they still give the IC code to aid identification. Only recently I heard a historian say that Victorian England only had about 10-20,000 non-white people which in a population of around 20 million (0.05-0.10%)- works out as about 1 in 1-2,000- I realise the percentages were higher in places like London, Liverpool and Bristol but still hardly high enough to become negligible. You’d have thought that some Victorians (even in fictional TV programmes) would have thought that being non-white would have been worth mentioning. It is the unusual that people recall and mention when describing individuals, events, places or items: if I was mugged by a three-armed, cycloptic unidexter my description to police would probably not focus on his blue jeans and tidy hair. It just seems odd, given the number of throat-slashings and the later propounding of the benefits of opium, that there should be such apparent squeamishness about this particular element. Left me intrigued but is only a minor thing- and I sincerely hope doesn't come across as being racist.

Second Peculiarity. Something that actually strikes me as of far greater importance is the treatment of class. Ruby In The Smoke was a story about a trio of arty, attractive, well-scrubbed, well-educated, upper-middle-class dilettantes (Sally, a roving something-or-other of military background; an Oxbridge-educated photographic dabbler and his actress sister**) who struggle against evil, ignorant, ugly***, dirty working class types possessed of nothing more than animal cunning- with the only good working class types portrayed being the sort of typical forelock-tugging ‘noble savages’ so beloved of Victorian melodrama who tend to die nobly so the beautiful people may live. Assuming this is accurate to Pullman’s novel- isn’t it curious that while he thinks religion is evil and divisive he actively promotes an upper-middle-class, (bourgeois) view of class that is no further advanced than that of the world of Brief Encounter?

Third Peculiarity. At the end of the piece the main villain explained their part of the plot and recounted a back-story that would presumably make them seem moderately sympathetic (too little, too late) and then a further previously unseen, only mentioned a couple of times, villain popped up to describe his bit of plot which seemed almost unrelated to the rest of the story. This particular villain was Sino-Dutch… and presumably in the running for the Fu Manchu award for most culturally stereotyped villain!

Fourth (Minor) Peculiarity. The explanatory voice-over, though sparingly used, was just annoying… as people insist on telling me… ‘show, don’t tell’.

However, I’m not sure where the fault for any of this lies. I checked the writer (Adrian Hodges) on imdb and found he has a nigh on impeccable CV (including Heaven On Earth which I thought most excellent and which is criminally unavailable on DVD). Maybe there was some dabbling from others or maybe the novel’s ‘problematic’ to start with but something went slightly skew-whiff at some point. Answers on a postcard. But it enjoyably passed 90 minutes… and that’s what counts…

Now from the deep and meaningful to the shallow and pointless…

The Cherry & Whites
Isn’t it time to rid ourselves of the farrago of the Rugby play-offs? Ridiculous, stupid and patently unfair. Rugby now works like this: after a season of playing the Premiership, the Cherry & Whites come top of the Guinness Premiership and, instead of getting a trophy, they get to do an end-of-season play-off mini-championship tournament in which they loose. This hasn’t happened every year- but it has happened three times in the eight years since its implementation… and it’s getting silly. I’d like to make abundantly clear that I do not actually understand the rules of the game, if indeed there are any, but if it’s on TV I’ll try and catch it. And I’d rather like my team to win- especially when they’ve won.

…and that is the end of today’s miscellaneous ramblings. Take care you groovy-funkers!

*Did Spivs exist at this time- according to the BBC’s own Balderdash & Piffle… no! Didn’t arrive until at least the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
**It was ignored that at this time ‘jobbing actress’ was near-synonymous for ‘prostitute’.
***Don’t you just love the classic conflation of ugly and villainous?

Sunday, 22 June 2008


Well, it’s been a fair while, so it has. Longer than it should have been but needs must when the Devil vomits in your kettle*. Firstly, I’d like to thank all those who left comments and were generally concerned. I probably ought to give you a quick rundown as to what happened…

Those of you who have been successfully cloned with elephants will recall that I dislocated my thumb a (long) while back, put it back in and thought that would be that… but as you may also recall there’s a phrase about best laid plans… I actually managed to yank the tendons into the middle of who-knows-where until they started to feel like they were burning and all swelled up. So, I was basically told that if I wanted it work properly quickly (or again) I’d have to stop using it. Have you ever tried not using the thumb on your right hand- and hence your right hand? Almost impossible. It also becomes very frustrating very quickly… bizarrely when it felt alright to start doing stuff again I discovered I couldn’t actually remember how to handwrite. Seriously. Took several days.

The whole episode was, in hindsight, a minor inconvenience…

Just as I was starting to think what my next post should be my sister’s youngest (my 3 year old nephew) was rushed to hospital having contracted Meningoccal Septicaemia" (or Bacterial Meningitis for short). In the first few hours after diagnosis it was a close race with death. He then spent a couple of weeks in Cardiff ICU before being moved to their High Dependency Unit and ultimately transferred to Swansea for skin grafts, dialysis, etc. So, the whole family switched onto a war footing. The good news is that he has made a remarkably speedy recovery- suprising even the medical types- although there’s still a long road to go. Initially he wasn’t expected to make it through the night; then he was expected to survive but lose his feet, fingers, kidneys and need extensive skin grafting to knees, legs and elbows… now, he’s getting to keep his feet, even his toes; his kidneys started working again; the skin grafts are taking well and he’s only lost three fingers on his right hand. Now, he’s even been released back home and is learning how to walk again and sending everybody insane with a non-stop diet of Fireman Sam, Ballamory and The Midnight Garden- proof that psychedelics are rife in the TV industry???- if they made these programmes in drink form they’d dissolve teeth on contact and be banned across Europe and all fifty states of the Union! So, things were bad; now they’re not so bad and looking better daily... and make my minor thumb problem seem entirely trivial.

…and now I’m (maybe) back… what next? Well, I’ll tell you I’ll probably be increasingly misanthropic, snarly and ranty and eventually convince you all to hate me. There’s a lot to snarl about: the world’s turning to shit on a daily basis, nobody seems to have an iota of sense, people become more stupid; democracy evaporates on a global scale; television has abandoned all pretence to being interested in the audience and now treats them with a mix of paternalistic pity and thinly veiled contempt and finally unfettered free-market capitalism is increasingly appearing to be to the human race what myxomatosis is to rabbits…

So, one last thought to conjure with…

A while back young Master Oli spoke about the downgrading of language (such as ‘excruciating’); as did Matthew Parris many years ago in The Times (the way politicians have devalued ‘pledge’, ‘promise’, etc. to the point where they have become meaningless). What about ‘nightmare’ and ‘hell’- as in ‘my diet hell’ or ‘my cellulite nightmare’- so, given that having to diet or a little cellulite are considered a nightmare or a hell what word is left to be used to describe counting the seconds, watching over a son fighting for breath while a resuscitation team hover in the background, and while blood blisters form all over the child’s limbs, body and face until he’s unrecognizable and turning black, as people do with frostbite? Is the epithet ‘nightmare’ or ‘hell’ suitable for that- or is it just not up there with diets and cellulite? Tricky isn’t? But let's get serious we don’t get to have ‘living hells’ or ‘nightmares’- we’re just little people. After all celebrities, well, they have it tough don’t they?

Not that I'm angry...

*I thank you Messrs. Curtis and Elton…

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Channel Zero #8

Well, I hope you’ll forgive my not posting for a little while but as you know I managed to do my thumb in. Having popped it back in place and tried to continue as normal I wrote some long emails to various people and various notes and things and discovered something rather important…. I shouldn’t have done. While typing itself hasn’t been that bad, using the mouse has just been aggravating things to the nth degree. In the end I came to the conclusion it was best to not use mouses (ha!), keyboards and anything else that might be making the recovery slower than it did ought. The weird thing is that I can’t recall the last time I did a finger like this taking this long to recover after being popped back in… then again I was younger and it was the left hand any way- so I wasn’t using it nearly so much. Mind you I can’t bend that finger properly and at least my thumb is currently still bending properly. Stupid human body- if I was a skink I’d have regrown my thumb by now!

So, all this time away from laptops, blogs and so on has given me plenty of time to ponder deeper more meaningful things… like why cheese is a bit nasty. That was a lie by the way… there is no why… cheese just is nasty. Unless involved in an ongoing pizza interface scenario…

Actually, more importantly, I finally found my spine and submitted my story synopsis to the inimitable Lucy and she pointed out some pretty useful and important things which I am now trying to fix. She was, of course, too polite to actually write in her notes ‘you have made a rookie mistake you pillock!’ but she would have been right to do so! So, I’ve been trying to sort out this problem. It’s proving difficult because, while there are immediate solutions, I can’t help thinking that I have to find the one that I can live with. It would be easier if I could grasp a pen or pencil properly as well and just get on and scrawl my thoughts down quickly. Anyway, we learn from our mistakes, not our successes. And anyway, that’s why we do the sensible thing and use readers rather than asking our pets to give our stuff the quick once over. It’s also why I write story synopsises rather than just plunging into scripts. Why rewrite 110 pages when you could sort out the problems in rewriting just 8?

Muscle Of The Week (for MJ)…
The right ventricle… essential for all your sanguinary needs!

Music Of The Week
Just to mark me out as massively behind the times I nominate…

2004, The Grey Video. Directed by Ramon & Pedro.

“Encore” from The Grey Album by Dangermouse. (Click this link for the full story.) What you basically get is my favourite Beatles LP providing backing tracks for the words of my favourite collaborator on Rihanna’s Umbrella under the auspices of my favourite Gorillaz producer… I’ve only just found the ‘virtual album’ because for a long while EMI were too successful in removing it from the Interweb. Whether it should have been counted by so many critics’ as ‘best album of the year’ is another matter when 2004 turned up new albums from Björk, PJ Harvey, Leonard Cohen, The Killers’ Hot Fuss and Miss Kittin’s solo debut. I suspect there was an element of ‘I’ve got something that you don’t have’ to the decision. Anyway, this isn’t the best track from the album but it is the only official unofficial promo video for this deeply unofficial album. Visuals ‘sampled’ from A Hard Day’s Night- previously directed by the criminally neglected Richard Lester who was also responsible for Help!, How I Won The War, Robin & Marian, the great The Bed-Sitting Room, the brilliant The Knack and the perennially enjoyable Three and Four Musketeers. There is no getting away from the fact that those Musketeer films have to be some of the most purely enjoyable films ever made…

Bonus Music

Manic Street Preachers’ Door To The River (Live at Cardiff Homecoming, 18/11/02)

Something rather nice I found a few weeks ago. I was going to keep it to myself but that would be mean! Don’t know much about the provenance… except it looks like a TV broadcast and is a very rare public performance of this particular track here augmented by string orchestra.

Now for “television, the drug of the nation… breeding ignorance and feeding radiation…” possibly…

BBC1: 11.40 pm: Below: a rather unnerving supernatural thriller set on a WWII submarine. Written and directed by that David Twohy…

Film4: 1.10 am: Dog Altogether and Shane’s World: award-winning short films from Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows.

BBC1: 8.00 pm: The Passion: First part of a week-long version of what’s been called the Soap Opera version of The Passion story… hoorah, more soap!

BBC3: 9.00 pm: Gavin & Stacey: Series 2. Television Of The Week Two episodes back to back.

BBC1: 9.00 pm: The Last Enemy: Finale of the sleeper. (Why the Radio Times’ reviewer finds this so difficult to understand is beyond me- I would prefer it to be harder going.)

ITV: 11.15 pm: South Bank Show: Revolution 68: a revisiting of the anti-Vietnam Grovesnor Square protests; their context and consequences.

C4: 8.00 pm: Dispatches: Iraq- The Betrayal

C4: 9.00 pm: Battle For Haditha: Nick Broomfield’s would-be-controversial drama based on the true story of an Iraq War massacre perpetrated by US Marines. Broomfield’s film-making tends to be deeply biased (I wouldn’t know in this particular case) but at least he’s a film-maker who actually believes in something. And that’s something to be valued in these times.(Followed by a documentary on the same subject on More 4.)

BBC4: 9.00 pm: Auntie’s War On Smut: documentary starting the BBC Curse Of Comedy season.

BBC4: 9.00 pm: The Curse Of Steptoe: Drama of the creation of Steptoe & Son. Anybody that caught the Channel 4 documentary on the same subject should know how melancholy, and compelling, the story of Corbett and Brambell is.

BBC4: 11.05 pm: Mark Lawson Talks To Galton & Simpson

BBC1: 9.00 pm: Ashes To Ashes

Good Friday
BBC1: 2.10 pm: A Grand Day Out: Wallace & Gromit... what more could anybody want?

BBC4: 7.00 pm: Mozart Requiem in D Minor: Mozart’s masterful, moving final work. The performance edition is not noted.

BBC4: 8.00 pm: Sacred Music: Part 1 of 4. The story of the development of Church music starting with the origins of polyphony.

BBC2: 10.30 pm: The Assassination Of Richard Nixon: based on true story film for which history has already provided the spoilers!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Can’t Take My 'Eyes' Off You!

The great thing about driving places is it gives a little time to clear the mind- in the past I’ve sorted out my plot flaws, mentally sketched scenes and whole spines while its been just me, the music and the open road. And so it was as I returned from the triumphant premiere of Jason Arnopp and Dan Turner’s short film ‘Look At Me’. Jason and Dan have produced a fine film, an achievement and, hopefully, this will be the first of many premieres for them and certainly bodes well for their feature A.S.K. (whatever it might stand for!). Hopefully waves of pride are still sweeping through them and they’re still allowing themselves a bask in their success.

I’m always happy when I get back near my patch of country; when I see the foothills of the Welsh mountains start to rise in the one distance and the Malverns in the other. But, this time, as I got out of the jams and drove over the Cotteswolds, sun spilling under the lowering cloud, windswept fields bathed in gold… a mellow sense settled and I recalled Gore Vidal’s saying ‘that every time a friend of mine succeeds a little piece of me dies’. What a total fool! When the good guys succeed I couldn’t be happier!!!

* * * Congratulations once more to Jason and Dan! * * *

Channel Zero #7

Well, what a week… everything suddenly found itself exciting about four months ahead of projections. Much has been done, films have been seen, journeys have been made, people have been met, A Pitch In Time was finally entered, comments have been read and lovely people have spoken!

Right, a post… Though I reckon I’ll be trying to be a little shorter due to yet another really stoopid injury. I cannot understate how grateful I am to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jove or any other Supreme Being for my not catching colds, flu, plague, whatever especially given my propensity for rendering myself all daddaky via the medium of the perilous everyday object. On Monday I managed to dislocate the top joint of my right thumb and that was just plain annoying… the reason is so embarrassingly banal that I’ll not go into it- instead we’ll assume I was wrestling wild bears, thank you very much. Anywhen, a little ice, cold water and patience and in it popped… and all I’m left with is the sort of minor sort of throb shown when cartoon characters hit their thumbs with hammers. Currently, I’m lacquered in Ibuleve. I'm thinking of selling the format to Channel 4: I'd be calling it 'Relocation, Relocation, Relocation'. The good news is that its affected neither of my typing fingers; the bad news is that the only thing that’s previously set me above the cats was my opposable thumb but now they just sit around me laughing uncontrollably! Bastards. :)

Finally, this week, at the last minute I decided I really ought to put in something for the Screenwriters Festivals ‘A Pitch In Time’ thing… a couple of Pitches went in about eleven on the Friday night. They’re not particularly brilliant due to the last minute nature but in the end if you don’t try you can’t fail! More seriously, I think there are issues: in the seriously unlikely event that I should get through to the shortlist there would be the whole getting up on stage thing and that would be a little unsettling. And I know that audience: they’ll be well armed… tomatoes, cabbages… spanners… grenades… they claim they only have them for research but what else are they meant to do with them afterwards?

Misreading of the week: “Expert shoplifters” on the back of a van outside of Oxford… that’s just blatant thought I. Er, not really when they’re actually “Expert shopfitters”!

Music Of The Week…

…well it’s just a single solitary track without a video… but what a track! The video’s just some rather obvious pictures that have been added for instructional purposes. It’s been being given away with this last weeks NME (without irritating annnouncer at the end)… and what is this wondrous track… the Manics’ cover version of Umbrella, that’s right the Rihanna song. And it works damn well. Simply because they took it seriously.

Short and sweet: the Panorama on bottled water proved what I suspected… that bottled water is inherently pointless and evil… possibly. And the vanguard brand from the 70’s has to be possibly the vilest drink since the dawn of time. The stuff in the tap’s fine by me. With a rather more tenuous connexion… while the Daily Mail may be the epitome of evil, worse even than Hitler (*joke*), their campaign against plastic bags can only be applauded and welcomed- which will save some turtles, whales, seals and birds from horrible deaths. The Mail, after all, speaks both to and for one of the only groups that this Government cares about now: the so-called Middle England… the only other group they care about more is the super-rich especially if they have non-dom status! And you’ll never stop them from eating turtles!

My suspicions about The Last Enemy have been proved correct: the pace has picked up dramatically, there’s more tension and the increased presence of Robert Carlyle has injected much needed energy. Ashes To Ashes has seemingly bedded in and I’ve managed to put Life On Mars from my mind while watching… I assume that this can only indicate it’s acquired a life and identity of its own. The Neutron bomb conspiracy episode proved a bit of a cracker. The increasingly creepy presence and activities (watching over the sleeping Alex, creeping into her room, etc.) of the Pierrot is starting to worry me about a possible future direction that they may be heading with it: I sincerely hope my fears aren’t well-founded.

…and fair play to Kenneth Branagh, Mark Kermode and Miramax for showing the ‘missing’ Danny Boyle film, Alien Love Triangle at La Charrete, Gorseinon. Genuinely touching.

TV or not TV? That is a question…*

Well, Film4 is showing two weeks, solid, of British films so that’s a good starter. They will be giving a chance to lucky digital viewers to sample some of the best British (and in some cases all-time) films including the original caper The League Of Gentlemen, Local Hero, Withnail & I and a brace of Powell & Pressburger masterpieces A Matter Of Life And Death and Black Narcissus.

BBC2: 9.30 pm: Gavin & Stacey: the entire first series of this fine comedy series back-to-back. If you’ve not seen this then, to be honest, you must live under a rock; if you watched it and hated it then clearly you hate television… maybe… or just have different taste… which just happens to be wrong! Hmm! Gavin & Stacey really is wonderful stuff relying on a set of clear human characters involved in situations which are all to familiar; beautifully written and acted and entirely lacking in that maliciousness that often afflicts comedy. (Available here and here so now you have no excuses.)

BBC4: 10.00 pm: Sweet Smell Of Success: Alexander Mackendrick’s cyanide love-letter to the New York scene.

BBC2: 9.00 pm: The Last Enemy

BBC2: 8.30 pm: A Good Woman: Filmed Oscar Wilde play…

BBC1: 9.00 pm: Life In Cold Blood: Part 5: last chance to see…

Film4: 11.05 pm: Dog Altogether: Paddy Considine’s recent Bafta-winning short film.

Film4: 1.05 am: Shane’s World: Three short films by Shane Meadows.

BBC2: 9.00 pm: Horizon: Are We Alone In The Universe?

Film4: 9.00 pm: Oliver Twist: the new 2005 Polanski-Harwood version.

BBC2: 11.20 pm: Mad Men: the big new series of the week…

BBC3: 10.40 pm: Mrs In-Betweeny: is this going to leave the audience dumbstruck for the all the right or the wrong reasons?

More4: 9.00 pm: This Is Civilisation: New arts documentary series.

Film4: 7.00 pm: A Matter Of Life And Death: Quite simply one of the finest films ever made by some of the finest film-makers ever made: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

BBC1: 9.00 pm: Ashes To Ashes: of course…

BBC2: 9.00 pm: That Mitchell And Webb Look: turns out Thursdays can be funny!

BBC2: 11.20 pm: Ideal: Exhibit B: the third series transplanted surgically from BBC3…

Film4: 7.00 pm: Black Narcissus: another masterpiece from Powell And Pressburger.

BBC2: 9.00 pm: Last Orders: the documentary starting the BBC’s ‘White Season’.

BBC4: 10.00 pm: Motor City’s Burning: Detroit From Motown To The Stooges

BBC2: 12.35 pm: Doomwatch: the film from the BBC series.

*Quite possibly said by an actress to a bishop or vice versa… we can only wait until the Fake Sheikh exposes this entanglement!