Monday, 19 August 2019

Monday long song: Pictures of You

Bob and the boys seem to have had a bit of a resurgence this year - Glastonbury no doubt helped. All the excuse I need to wheel out this.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Sunday shorts: If You Found This It's Probably Too Late

" Now we concentrate on being off the cuff, not sure if we're ready but we're probably rough, frightened that honesty isn't enough, and its nothing on the early stuff..."

Friday, 16 August 2019

Who likes news? Me ... I hope.

For the last four weeks or so, Martin Rossiter has been tweeting some fairly oblique references to his past as frontman of Gene. It started on the 24th of July, with this:

For absolute clarity, that's an extreme close-up of the first Gene album, Olympian, on vinyl, presented without comment or explanation. And five days later came a similar uncommented vinyl close-up of the third album, Drawn To The Deep End, thus:

Six days later, To See The Lights got similar treatment (close-up sleeve art this time) ...

...as did Revelations (close-up vinyl again), four days after that:

Then, on August 13th, this:

Followed by this, the next day:

So fans of Gene and the Rozzer are in mild meltdown as to what all this might mean, and are counting down the days 'til the bank holiday Monday when we find out. Some are hoping it means those first four albums are getting a vinyl re-issue - something that didn't happen in the great remastering of 2014. Seems plausible, especially as Martin didn't tweet a close-up of a vinyl Libertine, the one album that did get a vinyl re-issue in 2014. Yes, very plausible indeed, and the most likely explanation.

Of course, plausibility and likelihood haven't stopped fans (including me) getting over-excited. Some hope for new solo Rossiter material, and an accompanying tour. Others (including me) hope for the holy grail... for yes, whilst Rossiter has made it very clear in the past that he would not countenance a Gene reunion ("... I would rather eat my own penis. Fried. With shallots."), there are plenty of people (including me) who wonder whether the recent successful comebacks of Rozzer-mates Sleeper and My Life Story might have swayed him somewhat. So imagine my reaction when I saw this yesterday:

"... some very special guests will be joining us ..." Because yes, if you were reconvening a band after a long, long lay-off, it would make sense to try out supporting one of your mates first, wouldn't it? And Rossiter is quite matey with MLS frontman Jake Shillingford, so...?

So, clearly I went into tenuous theory overdrive, and tweeted a response to all concerned along the lines of "Given @MartinRossiter's recent cryptic tweets, will your guests be Gene?" To which the only response, thus far, has been a "like" from the venue, the Islington Assembly Hall.

It's just a theory, and a biased theory at that - biased by years of desperation to see Gene live again. I have no proof that this is in any way right (a "like" from the venue is hardly grounds for a Q.E.D.), or that Gene are reconvening anywhere else, or even that Martin is doing something new solo. And of course I know that the vinyl re-issue explanation is by far the more likely (I'm biased, not stupid). But I also know what I hope, and that I will be keeping November 2nd free in my diary, just in case.

To close, here's one of hundreds of reasons why I love Gene so very much. Enjoy... and keep your fingers crossed.

EDIT: and tonight, this, plus a tweet denying that the news is reissue related... so is it really on? Watch this space...

Blue Friday: Ghost

No, not the Jam song (that's Ghosts plural, anyway). This is by Such Small Hands (aka Melanie Howard, bass player with The Wedding Present) and it might just be my song of the year so far. I think that "more" forty seconds in clinches it for me. I also think this would fit nicely in all manner of hipper-than-thou soundtracks.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Just for the Man of Cheese

It seems like an impossible number of years ago, but I recently found a golf scorecard highlighting my one and only hole in one. My playing partner that day was, as ever, the Man of Cheese. We didn't get to see the ball drop, because of the ridge in front of the green but, in this modern era in which we live, naturally the course in question now has drone footage of every hole so you can inspect the lie, so the speak, from the other side of the world, if you're so inclined.

It wasn't like that in our day, was it mate? As I recall, it was overcast and a bit blowy, I scuffed my tee-shot a bit (okay, quite a bit), it bounced along the fairway, over the ridge and out of sight... and to our mutual amazement, on walking up to the green, there it was, in the cup. An ace, but through no skill on my part. Bloody hell, eh?

I think I still owe you a drink for that, don't I?

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Friday, 9 August 2019

Blue Friday: Goodbye

Ah, Harriet Wheeler (insert obligatory sigh here). And such a joyous, trademark jangly guitar motif, at odds with the blue lyric...

Monday, 5 August 2019

Monday long song: Fool's Gold

I know you all know every beat of this already, and maybe it was the beginning of the end for them... but God, it stills sounds good, doesn't it? Play loud. Oh, and read this essay about the song over on Circles of Life.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Sunday shorts - Reverend's Revenge (live)

I can't tell you how much I like this. Or how youthful it makes me momentarily feel...

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Terms and Conditions Apply

At the tail end of my post about the brilliant Stanley Kubrick exhibition, I wrote that I would have stayed for longer had I not been up against the clock to get to a TV studio on the other side of the city. I added, somewhat cryptically, "...but that's another blog post, for another day." Well, today is that day, and this is that post.

Specifically, I had to get to the BT Studios in Here East, Stratford. In their own words, Here East is "a unique campus where creative businesses growing in scale join businesses of scale growing in creativity." In reality, it's a concentration of very fancy new buildings that have sprung up in the Olympic Park, close to the Copper Box Arena, where lots of very fancy, high-tech companies have set up shop. That's where I had to be... and I was going to be late. For I had a free ticket to watch the filming of Dave Gorman's new TV show, Terms and Conditions Apply. Doors opened at 3pm. I rocked up at 4.15...

I almost didn't bother. The only other people in the queue when I arrived were a couple who had turned up too early for the evening recording. Still, I waited my turn and spoke to the guy on the reception desk. And fair play to him, he didn't hang about. "Let's see if we can sneak you in," he said, before slipping a BT Sport wristband on me, and leading me through a maze of corridors. "You haven't been through security," he said, as we walked, "so I'd better just look in your bag." Which he did, just as we arrived at the studio.

The house lights were already down. The audience were all in their seats. Dave Gorman was on stage, having a conversation with whomever was on the other end of his ear-piece. Guest panellists Rose Matafeo, Phil Wang and Marcus Brigstocke were also on stage, quietly waiting for proceedings to start. I had clearly missed the warm-up. But filming had not started. My receptionist friend had a quick word with who I assumed to be the floor manager and I was ushered through to the audience, stepping over cables and weaving between cameras to get there. I took the nearest available free seat, to minimise any disturbance or inconvenience, and settled down to watch, laugh and learn.

Dave's new show looks like it's going to pretty much pick up where the lauded Modern Life Is Goodish left off, except this time Dave - who famously ended MLIG after revealing he spent 100+ hrs per week on it whilst filming - has some help to do the heavy lifting, in the form of a panel of his comedy chums. So whilst we are used to Dave poking fun at the absurdities of modern life, this time he leads others down that path, via a series of games inspired by the weird and wonderful things that he finds on the Internet. One such game during this episode revolved around the ridiculous names companies like Farrow and Ball give their paint colours (which made me wonder whether Dave had been reading C's blog... or just decorating his new home in Brighton).

Anyway, I don't want to review the whole show, for fear of inadvertent spoilers. I will say that it looks like it'll be worth watching, when it hits our screens later in the year. Phil Wang started slowly and was cooking by the end of the show; conversely, Marcus Brigstocke started strongly and went a little bit the other way; Rose Matafeo was consistent throughout. And Dave was Dave... and it is always good to see him clicking his way through Powerpoint slides on a big screen, whatever the format. I hope this works for him. Some years back, he tried to transfer his Genius radio show to TV, and it didn't quite work so well. I hope this fares better.

What I really wanted to capture though was the experience of being in the studio, watching a programme of this nature being recorded. I counted seven cameras in all, six conventional and one mounted on a jib that swung around over the audience. Because of my late arrival, I was sat directly behind the camera with Dave's autocue attached, so whenever he spoke to camera, it felt like he was talking to me. The audience - I'd estimate 200 people - were mostly my age and older, perhaps unsurprising given the mid-week, afternoon recording time. They were very into Dave's slide-based japery, again unsurprising since his mailing list (including me) get first dibs on free tickets like this. Interesting to note though that the loudest applause was always from the floor manager - as were the whoops and whistles you'll also hear from the audience. I was also interested to learn how the pick-ups work - pick-ups are bits that are unclear or mangled on first recording, so are re-recorded for clarity. In this case, each time the show got to what would be a commercial break, Dave would have a bit of a conversation with whomever was on the other end of his ear-piece, the floor manager would do the same via a little walkie-talkie, and then a certain line would be re-shot. Presumably the rest is then done in the edit, for our seamless domestic viewing pleasure. Another interesting point of note was that other end of Dave's ear-piece, i.e. the production team sat above and behind me, in a gallery looking down on the studio. I didn't know they were there until something Dave said in one of those "ad-break" one-way conversations made them all laugh out loud. I don't know how many were in that gallery, but I counted fourteen people on the studio floor, including the floor manager, cameramen, make-up women, and various runners who, among other things, moved props and assembled stage furniture.

All in all, I was in the studio for about an hour and three quarters, for the recording of a single show. Bearing in mind I missed the warm-up and set-up, this was quite a long time. I found the whole experience fascinating, and had one of those "I wish I had a different career" moments - not for one moment would I want to be up on the stage with a camera pointing at me, but I do think being up in the gallery, directing proceedings, could be very interesting.

Anyway, this is an interesting post for me, but maybe not so much for you. So as a reward for reading, here's a bit of Dave from his masterpiece, Modern Life Is Goodish, specifically an example of something missing from the new show: a Found Poem.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Sunday shorts: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Cheating, a tiny bit, by using a session version (rather than the regular studio recording) to squeak in under the two minute limit...

Friday, 26 July 2019

Blue Friday - Surf

Roddy Frame is one of those artists for whom I have a bit of a blind spot. I know, I know, what a parochial heathen I am. But I heard this on Radliffe and Maconie's 6Music show a few weeks back and it floored me. So here it is.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Trawling back through the memory card on my phone, I'm reminded that in August 2015 I found myself at the market in the French seaside town of Dinard. The outside of the market building had a series of tiled mosaic pictures around the outside (and still does, look). I took poor quality photos of my favourites, and remember wondering at the time whether these pictures depicted French folk tales with which I was unfamiliar, or were merely ways to evoke the produce on sale in the market (seafood and fruit, in these examples). But I never did find out. Two minutes' basic Googling leaves me struggling to find any kind of folk tale about a mermaid turning a suitor into a lobster. I haven't even bothered looking for one about magpies eating cherries... but look - that cherry has a skull inside! What's going on?

I think they're quite interesting, whatever their backstory, but does anyone have any thoughts? Or knowledge of French/Bréton folklore?

Click to enlarge

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Go!

To anyone quibbling the timestamp on this post, the Eagle landed at 02:56:15 UTC on July 21st. UTC pretty much lines up with GMT. So in BST, as we currently are, that's 3:56am.

Don't you wish we had a leader of the free world today who would stand up and say something like "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before [a] decade is out, of halting and perhaps reversing the effects of man on the climate of the Earth." Because here, perhaps, is the ultimate example of what can be achieved with motivation, enthusiasm, knowledge, funding, ingenuity, bravery and ambition.

Can't hear this enough right now either.

Sunday shorts will (might) return next week, when there are fewer momentous historical events to post about.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.

This is going to be a long post. So, as a public service, I'm going to offer up an abridged version first, before the main event.

TLDR / Abridged version (contains a bold, underlined spoiler)

If you have any interest at all in film and/or the art of film-making, the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum is an essential, must-see event, regardless of how far you have to go to get there. It's on until 15th September 2019. You can, and must, book your ticket for it, right here, right now. The end.

Unabridged version
[All photos can be embiggened with a click...]

The Design Museum, established 30 years ago this year by Sir Terence Conran, sits at the southern tip of Holland Park - this affords you a lovely, leafy approach from the Tube. The Museum is worth a visit on its own merits but right now, and until 15th September, it is pretty much an essential part of your trip to London, for it is home to "Stanley Kubrick: the exhibition". It is hard to imagine a more detailed or more lovingly curated insight into the mind, and work, of the godlike genius; if you are a Kubrick nerd, like me, you will be in raptures but even if you're just a film fan and/or interested in the mechanics of film-making there is still so much for you to enjoy here.

On entering the museum, the first thing you see in the foyer is the striking orange beauty of the Adams Brothers' Probe 16, aka the Durango 95 that Alex and his droogs steal for a night of the old ultraviolence in A Clockwork Orange. One of only three made, this is a properly rare car even without the film provenance, and is a striking (if impractical) piece of automotive design that evokes an immediate Pavlovian response in film connoisseurs and petrolheads alike.

Once you've got your timed-entry ticket (and you'll want to book in advance, it's proving very popular), you enter the exhibition through a passageway that is carpeted in the famous tessellated pattern of the Overlook Hotel, between a bank of 32 monitors that provide what amounts to a montage of Kubrick's greatest hits, clips spliced together from his most famous works and scored with Also Sprach Zarathrustra (what else?) - the effect of all those monitors is slightly kaleidoscopic and, to this reviewer at least, also served to highlight Kubrick's well-known love of symmetry in a shot (I felt the need to walk down the very centre of that short passageway as a result). The montage ends with a shot from 2001, entering the monolith, which seems apt as you enter the exhibition proper...

The first room focuses on Kubrick's life and development as a film-maker, and his uniquely meticulous preparation for, and approach to, each new film project. This is also where his early career is covered, both as a photographer for New York's Look magazine (there is a separate, and free, exhibition of his photos from this period on the first floor of the museum if you have time) and nascent film-maker: Day of the Fight, Fear and Desire, The Killing and Killer's Kiss are all covered in this room. There's also this great quote, that describes how he came to transition from still pictures to moving ones...

My fantasy image of movies was created in the Museum of Modern Art, where I looked at [the work of] Stroheim and DW Griffith and Eisenstein. I was starstruck by these fantastic movies. I really was in love with movies... I remember thinking at the time that I didn't know anything about movies, but I'd seen so many movies that were bad, I thought "Even though I don't know anything, I can't believe I can't make a movie at least as good as this." And that's why I started, why I tried.

There's also a great illustration of Stanley's research process - there are shelves of books that constitute a small part of his personal Napoleon archive, for example, along with hand-written, colour-coded notes for the great unmade film that he thought could be so good. I also got disproportionately excited about some of the scripts and screenplays on display in this room - these felt more like quasi-religious artefacts to this fan-boy... as did the array of lenses, some custom made to Kubrick's personal order, and clapperboards. Most quasi-religious of all is Kubrick's editing table - I hadn't realised the extent to which he was involved in the editing, cutting film by hand with a razor blade. That's one of many ways in which this is perhaps the most fascinating room, especially for fans who already feel they know the more celebrated films inside out. I loved a notebook of Stanley's, open at a page from 1965 which began "A story is a means of holding interest and steering matters into certain areas of interest."

There's more here, of course, so much more, especially for 2001; Kubrick's Oscar for its special effects; a detailed explanation of the slit-scan methodology developed by Douglas Trumbull for the Stargate sequence; a scale model of the centrifuge used to enable the "jogging around the Discovery" sequence, and more besides. And perhaps of more niche interest, certainly less well-known, are the black and white photos of Kubrick's early years, behind the scenes of those first four films. Oh, and a exploration of the importance of chess to Kubrick, not least as a way of hustling income as a young man but also in his films, and on set. I blew an hour in this room alone, and could happily have stayed longer.

After this, it's essentially one room per film for each of his more renowned pictures, starting with Paths of Glory, a 1957 anti-war film based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. Interestingly, I learned that all of Kubrick's films save one were based on novels by other people (+5 kudos points on offer here to anyone id'ing the exception). Kirk Douglas starred as the French officer with a conscience, an experience that would undoubtedly benefit all concerned when later reuniting on Spartacus. There's also an interesting aside about the only woman cast in the film, Susanne Christian, who would later become the third (and final) Mrs Kubrick. She's pictured left, looking for all the world like she belongs on a Smiths album cover. There's also a looping video of the film running that splices key scenes together, here ending with the firing squad scene and Douglas's return to the trenches a changed man - powerful stuff. The looping video montage idea is repeated for every subsequent film in the exhibition, and works very well too.

I had sort of expected, hoped even, that the films from thereon would be in chronological order but no - rather, the films have been loosely grouped thematically, or at least that was my interpretation of the ordering. For the next film is Spartacus, again starring Kirk Douglas as the titular slave turned gladiator turned rebel. This was the only Kubrick film over which he did not have complete artistic control, having been drafted in by Douglas's production company after original director Anthony Mann was fired after only a week. It was also notable for going public with the fact that Dalton Trumbo was the screenwriter, at a time when he was blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, following a McCarthy-led witch-hunt investigation of communist influences in the film industry. Hence, Kubrick described Spartacus as the "only picture I've worked on where I was employed." Of course the looping video montage in this room includes the famous "I'm Spartacus!" scene but other note-worthy props include a costume worn by Sir Laurence Olivier. This room also has what might just be my favourite picture of the whole exhibition, not just for its scale and vague sense of the abstract but also for its illustration of Kubrick's meticulous nature - here it is. Stanley gave every extra on Spartacus a number, so that he could direct them all individually. Fine, if there were five or ten extras... but Spartacus had hundreds...

The third in what I thought of as the war-themed rooms centred on Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick's Vietnam masterpiece. Memorably a film of two halves, the looping video included clips from each. Notable props on display included Joker's iconic "Born to kill" helmet, complete with CND badge. There were also a lot of photographs of Hue, taken by Don McCullin; these, and Hue in general, were the basis for the shell-struck town Joker and his fellow soldiers encounter the sniper in. Since Kubrick, by that point, famously made all his films in the UK, great lengths were taken to recreate Hue: Beckton Gas Works, a derelict coke-smelting plant of more than 600 acres, deputised ably, after six weeks of selective demolition and the addition of 200 living palm trees flown in from Spain... plus 100,000 plastic tropical plants from Hong Kong, four M41 tanks from Belgium, M79 grenade launchers, M60 machine guns and a whole host of leased Sikorsky helicopters painted the appropriate military green - such were the lengths Kubrick would go to, to avoid flying around the world to make his films. Much is also made here of a Kubrick quote: "I don't see the characters in the story in terms of good or evil, but in terms of good and evil." Although not explicitly tied to FMJ's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, it is shown next to a recruitment poster featuring an uncannily similar drill sergeant...

Now here's where my amateur interpretation of the sequencing of the films comes unstuck, for if it was as simple as "stick all the 'war' films together" then Dr Strangelove would be next, right? But no. Instead, the exhibition turns at right-angles into what I think of as a sex/desire/controversy triptych of films, the first of which is Lolita. Interesting to learn that a lot of promo for the film at the time centred on "how did they film this?" The answer, as you'll know if you've seen it, is to reverse the book's storytelling order, to make for a more conventional narrative, emphasise Humbert's infatuation with Lolita rather than his lust, and cast 13-year old Sue Lyon to play the titular character. Also key to the film's impact was the fact that Nabokov himself wrote the screenplay, although this was not without its complications - seemingly unwilling to cut much, early drafts of his screenplay were unworkably long. Lolita was another Kubrick-Harris production; here's a photograph of the director and producer with their starlet, Sue, that I'm not sure how I feel about. Easy to draw parallels with how they're looking at her with how Humbert would look at Lolita... or am I just adding that interpretation because of the context the film adds, perhaps? Either way, a great photo. Sue would make a few more pictures after Lolita but then fade from the limelight, but she continued to write to Stanley regularly throughout his life - the exhibition includes one such letter from Kubrick's correspondence archive. Also, the looping video clip for Lolita includes Peter Sellers making an "I'm Spartacus" joke - not the last time Kubrick referenced his own work.

Next up in the sex/desire/controversy theme is A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick's 1971 adaption of the Anthony Burgess novel. There are some great props on display here, most notably from the Korova Milk Bar. Although perhaps I shouldn't call them props, after learning from this exhibition that artist John Barry almost withdrew permission to use his work over use of the word "prop" to describe it. Of course, such art (including the penis rocking chair, reproduced here) wasn't the only stylistic method Kubrick used to evoke a near-future dystopia - the exhibition nicely draws attention to the use of Thamesmead, then a relatively new development, as a key location, and highlights the brutalist architecture (especially in the film's second half) as reflective of the society in which Alex lives. Given the furore that followed the film's release, with allegations of copycat crimes and the like, Kubrick eventually withdrew the film from release, where it effectively remained until his death. Viewers had to seek out underground screenings. In light of the (somewhat hysterical, in retrospect) moral outrage that forced Stanley's hand, and the feared impact that such a film would have on the nation's moral fibre, I found this quote from him to be especially interesting:

The point I want to make is that the film has been accepted as a work of art, and no work of art has ever done social harm, though a great deal of social harm has been done by those who have sought to protect society against works of art which they regarded as dangerous.

Oh, and if you have good eyes you can spot another Kubrick self-reference in one of the many photographs on display for this film. And of course, the looping video montage includes, but is not limited to, this famous scene:

The third film in this thematic block is Kubrick's swansong, Eyes Wide Shut. Ostensibly a film about desire, and the paths it can lead you off onto, Kubrick pulled off a masterstroke in casting (then) real-life husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as the film's married protagonists - it definitely added a certain something for the viewer, especially in scenes of particular emotional intensity (love-making, arguing). One criticism often levelled at the film is that the New York street scenes were unconvincing; of course, by this point in his career Kubrick would not leave the UK to make this or any other film. The exhibition is at pains to illustrate just how much time and effort was spent identifying locations in London that could double for parts of New York, to no avail - in the end, Kubrick had his streets built on set. Perhaps they aren't completely convincing but it doesn't detract from what is an under-rated entry in the Kubrick oeuvre. It's an provocative film that examines the power of secrets when revealed and, perhaps, examines the knife-edge relationships (especially marriages) tread in maintaining their equilibrium. Perhaps this is why it wasn't an out and out smash, and continues to feature some way down any list of Kubrick's best films - it's uncomfortable viewing for many. Anyway, there are some great original props here (and I emphasise original, since some of the props in other rooms are reproductions): a selection of masks from the secret ball, the "Fidelio" napkin, and the letter given to Bill (Cruise) to advise he desist in his quest to understand what has been going on at the ball...

My theory about thematic linkage of rooms/films starts to fall down at this point. Never mind because next up is The Shining, for my mind one of the greatest films of any genre, by anyone, ever. On the one hand, this is a conventional horror film about spooky goings-on in an isolated location. On the other, this is a disturbing portrayal of the unravelling of Jack Torrance. Kubrick was intrigued by this duality, and is quoted here as saying that the source novel, by Stephen King, "seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological." Of course, King would famously profess not to like Kubrick's interpretation, perhaps because too much was changed in the transition from page to screen. I have to say, much as I love him and his work, I think there might be some small element of hubris colouring King's judgement, for Kubrick's Shining is a masterpiece. This room in the exhibition has some terrific props - the Grady girls' dresses, Danny's Apollo 11 jumper, a scale model of the Overlook maze (complete with cryptic instructions on how to escape, that could be enough on their own to tip an unstable caretaker over the edge), some prototype axes, and more. The exhibition also highlights the fact that this is, in part, a film about obsession - for Jack, his writing, and his inability to write. In that regard, perhaps this room follows on thematically from Eyes Wide Shut rather well. Oh, and although I have seen it dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, that scene, included in the looping video montage, in which a wigged-out Jack confronts a freaked-out Wendy, only to receive a baseball bat to the face... well, it's a powerful movie, how much more can I eulogise?

Next up is Dr Strangelove, a film that could quite easily have been placed with the war-themed movies (so perhaps that's another hole in my sequencing theory). Kubrick's A-bomb paranoia movie, featuring a notable dual performance by Peter Sellers, is rightly regarded as an anti-war classic. It some ways, this room does follow nicely on from Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining, given the similar themes of how sanity and equilibrium are such fragile qualities, easily derailed. The exhibition includes a beautiful 1:20 scale model of the war room, pictured left, plus plenty of sketches highlighting Ken Adams's terrific design work for the film. In what is essentially as much a very dark comedy as a piece of socio-political observation, it was interesting to learn from the exhibition that Kubrick spent five long days filming a pie fight scene for the end of the movie... only to not use it at all. Turns out he feared the slapstick, clownish nature of the scene would lessen the film's anti-war message. Good call, Stanley.

The penultimate film room in the exhibition concerns Barry Lyndon, Kubrick's 3hr historical drama. Now I'll be honest, this is the film on Stanley's CV that I've always struggled most with. That's not to say it isn't a beautifully crafted piece of work, because it is. It's just... I don't know. Maybe I'm just not, by nature, going to be interested in 18th Century historical dramas, however wonderfully crafted. Maybe I just don't buy American pretty-boy Ryan O'Neal as the titular hero (I wouldn't be alone in this view). Tellingly, the only photograph I took in this room was an information sign next to a display of three-wick candles; Kubrick specially ordered these as they produce a brighter flame than regular candles, allowing more light to be captured. Such attention to detail (and the specially commissioned lens he used, a reconstruction of a NASA lens design originally used for shooting in space) enabled an authentic look and feel to the film - indeed, Barry Lyndon, as much as any other Kubrick film, stands up as a visual work of art. I just need to appreciate the story more. A repeat viewing is in order, I think... whenever I have 185 spare, uninterrupted minutes.

The final room in the exhibition is, for this reviewer, the most important of all. It focuses on the film that got me into Stanley Kubrick in the first place - 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a childhood fan of Arthur C. Clarke's fiction, especially that which would now be called YA, making the transition to 2001 was easy, especially as I then won a early form of laser disc player, complete with 2001 and Logan's Run on disc (you had to manually turn the LP-sized platters over half way through - no wonder the CED format didn't catch on). Anyway, it is a glorious, glorious piece of visionary film-making, that I've blogged about numerous times before (and watched far more times than is healthy)... so I'd better try to keep my eulogising on topic here, i.e. about the exhibition, not the film. There are holy grail props galore here, for starters, including the Moonwatcher primate suit and highly intricate head, Dave Bowman's flight suit, the PanAm stewardess's "bump" hat, Dave's space helmet and various other parts of his space suit, a recreation of HAL and his monitors, a recreation of a section of the orbiting space station (featuring the Hilton Space Station 5 and Howard Johnson's Earthlight Room), the actual watch and cutlery used in scenes on-board Discovery... I could go on. Such were the innovations in this film, the 2001 room could have been a lot, lot bigger - bear in mind, for example, that an explanation of the slit-scan technique and discussion of the centrifuge built to shoot "revolving" sequences are covered in the earlier, introductory room. And I haven't even mentioned the Harry Lange drawings, the technical design nature of which lends them the air of blueprints. Oh, and the models... lots of models: the PanAm Orion III space plane that takes Heywood Floyd into orbit; the moon shuttle that takes him to the Tycho monolith; and a beautiful, elegant, long Discovery, complete with tiny pod in front of it. cradling Frank's body in its arms and waiting, hopefully, for HAL to open the pod bay doors. Of course there is also a looping video montage too... and then, finally, you past underneath the Starchild, suspended from the ceiling in front of a sign that says simply "The End". How fitting is that?

There is, of course, a fine exhibition gift shop, next to the regular shop, at which you can buy all manner of Kubrick-related merchandise. I had to restrain myself quite hard here, but still blew £35. What I can tell you is that the Taschen Stanley Kubrick Archives book is an absolute steal at £15. Even if you can't make it to the exhibition, you might want to consider buying that.

I realise, scanning back through what might be the longest post I've ever written, that there's lots I've neglected to mention. The most glaring omission is the coverage given to Kubrick's characteristically intense interest in getting the soundtrack for his film's exactly right, whether that's Nancy Sinatra and Surfin' Bird in FMJ, Beethoven in ACO or the choral works of Ligeti in 2001. Tarantino gets lauded for his use of soundtracks as plot devices, but Kubrick did that too, every bit as much. Also, whilst I mentioned Napoleon, I didn't mention AI. Or the iterations of film poster design for The Shining. Oh, and I really wanted to include this quote, about editing, that should apply to writers every bit as much as film-makers:

When I'm editing, I'm only concerned with the question of "Is it good or bad?", "Is it necessary?", "Can I get rid of it?", "Does it work?". I am never concerned with how much difficulty there was to shoot something, how much it cost, and so forth. I'm never troubled losing material. I cut everything to the bone. When you're shooting, you want to make sure you don't miss anything and you cover it as fully as time and budget allow. When you're editing, you want to get rid of everything that isn't essential.

All in all, I spent well over three and a half hours in this exhibition, and could happily have spent much longer had I not been up against the clock to get to a TV studio on the other side of the city... but that's another blog post, for another day. In summary then, it's exactly like I said at the top: "Stanley Kubrick: the exhibition" at the Design Museum is an essential, must-see event; go while you can.

+3 kudos points if you read this far. Who did?

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Sunday shorts: Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want

With some short songs, however good they might be, you can't help but feel they would be even better if they were just a bit longer...

...but not this. It is perfect, a short song archetype. 112 seconds of Morrissey/Marr that will still sound perfect in ten, twenty, a hundred years.

I know you all know it already, but pop on your headphones, close your eyes and listen...

Friday, 12 July 2019

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Earworm

Woke up with this in my head, so am blogging to put it in your head too. Sorry.

Should I ever produce a gentle, Sunday-afternoon-on-ITV4-type crime drama, where someone who isn't a police officer solves crimes as a hobby, this will be the hero's theme music.

N.B. The spoken word preamble here isn't part of the song, but has been added by the YouTuber.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Monday, 1 July 2019

Things I haven't blogged about

As I mentioned last month, I'm consciously blogging less in the hope that: (a) I have more time for other writing; and (b) I blog better when I do blog. So far the jury's out on both of those ambitions, but anyway.... For the record, here are some things I would have blogged about last month if I had been posting more...

  • The brilliance of film American Animals, which cleverly mixes documentary talking heads with the dramatic retelling of a bizarre but incredible true story. You can (and really should) watch for free on Amazon Prime if that's your bag.
  • Seeing Paul Weller live, for what I think was the sixth time, and, with his second encore, being treated to what I think might be the best encore run of songs I've ever experienced: Start!, Precious, Move On Up and A Town Called Malice. Top that, anyone!
  • Seeing Stereophonics live, and being struck by how they are a Jekyll and Hyde band - when they are indulging their obvious heavy rock tendencies, they almost bludgeon you, and listening live is like being hit with a club hammer. But when they take their foot off the pedal just a little bit, go more AOR, they are so much more engaging and effective.
  • Wanting to watch Good Omens so much, and loving how the opening minute of episode one put me in mind of the 1980s TV adaptation of Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, but then being unable to stay awake beyond the first fifteen minutes. Am I too tired, or is it not good enough? Should I try again? Third time's the charm, as we used to say...

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Pulsing Pulsing

A 95 second B-side (to Making Plans for Nigel) about blood by the wonderful XTC... and maybe a hint of future direction too?

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The unlikeliest of rabbit holes

In replying to Rol's latest Hot 100 post, I stumbled across Terry Christian's YouTube channel. Yes, you heard me. Terry Christian has a YouTube channel. As far as I can see, it consists solely of band performances from 90s late-night music show The Word and, if the quality is anything to go by, most of them are ripped from poor quality VHS recordings. But it's a real Internet rabbit hole, and once you disappear down there you might be gone for hours...

Easy to dismiss The Word now, with its laddism, neon/lairy backdrops and token dancers, but I used to like it. Even easier to forget how, back in those pre-web days, you had to rely on programmes like this to hear live music and discover new bands.

Anyway, here's a selection from the rabbit hole to whet your appetite...





Sunday, 23 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Doll

Proving that bigger isn't always better, here's 83 seconds of Foo Fighters that open The Colour and the Shape. Of course, they then revert to type with track two, Monkey Wrench.

Think this might have fitted nicely into the Blue Friday theme too.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

About John Barr

I've been thinking a lot about Jonbar points, specifically how I came to be here, at this point, in this state. I've also been thinking about how, if I could go back in time and tell the 15 year old me what I've done with (or rather, let happen to) my life... well, he wouldn't kick my arse, because the 15 year old me wasn't like that, but I can't help but think he would be disappointed... which, of course, is far worse.

I'm not sure it's such a good idea to dwell on Jonbar points. Don't try it.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Street View stupidity

The good thing about Google Maps Street View is that it lets you fritter away your time doing stupid things, like checking out the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see how many people run up the steps. As you might imagine, there are lots and lots and lots and lots of examples. If you have more patience than me, there are even some shots of people with their arms aloft, like their inspiration, above.

You may also enjoy the Philadelphia shooting locations documentary Rocky Jumped a Park Bench. Or maybe that's just me.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Fell In Love With A Girl

Any excuse for this wonderful Lego-ful video, soundtracked by what, for me, is one of Jack and Meg's finest moments. Here's 115 seconds of White Stripes.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Phased retirement

I composed this post in its entirety in my head on the way to work this morning. This written version is unlikely to be as good, so apologies for that. But here goes anyway.

Some eight years ago, when next to nobody read this, I wrote at length about lazy blog posts, identifying half a dozen blogging tropes that I perceived to be slack at best: things like bandwagoneering, embedding YouTube videos with nothing new to accompany them, old chestnuts, whimsy, that sort of thing. Back then, I typically posted less than once a week. These days, I'm posting two to three times a week, but many (most?) of these posts are of the type that I previously lambasted. And it's not that I'm lazy, it's more that I've become trapped, I think, in the post/check-pageviews cycle, whilst also being time-poor. I don't have the time to write something good, or original, or new, yet I don't want to drop the baton, so I've just started churning stuff out on autopilot. Oh, the dilemma...

So. I have a few Sundays Shorts posts scheduled, and a Blue Friday for some time next month. I have the next ten Counter posts scheduled too, but they're only one a year and are for me only, no-one else. I will, at least, finish the Nineteen in '19 series because a challenge is a challenge, after all. But beyond that...? Well, I'm time-poor and should be writing fiction... so why am I spaffing what little writing time I have up the wall, churning out lazy blog posts?

Or could it be that I've just run out of words? The standard line, when facing a crisis of blogging confidence like this, is to say that the mojo has been lost, and that it will come back. But maybe it's more than that - maybe it's gone for good.

Either way, something has to change, so this might be the start of what my current employer calls a phased retirement. Let's celebrate that with an appropriate live performance from the Pope of Mope, back when people still liked him.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

About escape

Yes, another "on this day in history" post... or another post in which I look desperately to the past in the hope that it will prompt me to write something. Anyway... on this day in 1962, three prisoners escaped from the supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz, using a spoon, papier-mâché heads and a makeshift raft. Yes, it was the escape that was later dramatised by Don Siegel in the film Escape From Alcatraz.

For me, it's a good if uneven film. I do like this scene though, in which new inmate Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) is introduced to the Warden (Patrick McGoohan), not least because it highlight's the latter's brilliance in this type of role. I do wonder whether he had a hand double for the closing shots though...

Monday, 10 June 2019

Nineteen in '19: Thin Air

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

10/19: Thin Air by Michelle Paver

The blurb: The Himalayas, 1935.

Kangchenjunga. The sacred mountain. Biggest killer of them all.

Five Englishmen set out to conquer it. But courage can only take them so far. And the higher they climb, the darker it gets.

The review: make no mistake, Thin Air is, as the front cover proclaims, a ghost story. But there's a broad spectrum of such tales, with obvious jump scares and physical horror at one end, and unsettling, psychological horror at the other. Paver's book is definitely at the latter end of this scale, with genuine chills rooted in the psychological. Like her previous (tremendous) book, Dark Matter, there are lots of reasons for creeping unease, sprinkled liberally throughout Thin Air: the unknown, unnatural and uncanny; isolation; physical and environmental extremes; sleep and sensory deprivation; the juxtaposition of the rational - our protagonist, Stephen, is a doctor, grounded in logic and process - and the irrational - we feel Stephen's disbelief and disquiet as he comes to realise that maybe not everything in life is ordered and explicable; and more, so much more.

Also of note is the skill with which Paver uses setting as a character - Kangchenjunga, the untrodden peak, is the third highest mountain in the world, and stands apart from surrounding peaks in the range. It looms over this tale from start to finish, a malevolent, brooding presence, unseen but intimated in the early chapters, but revealed, increasingly, as the story progresses. I find the whole "setting as character" thing fascinating; the physical aspects are more obvious, with the mountain's rocky presence, glaciers and crevasses increasingly dominating our hero as time go by. But beyond the physical, the mountain is given an actual character, both from fictionalised accounts of previous summit attempts, local superstitions and reverence, bordering on fear, from the expedition's Sherpa guides. This is brilliantly done, in my view. That time in the future when I finally get around to doing my creative writing PhD on the use of place as character - I'll be using this as one of my examples.

There is also a nice sub-plot about sibling rivalry here too - Stephen's older brother (and charmed-life-leading golden boy) Kits also features. Again, Paver treads a delicate line here, illustrating the tensions between the siblings well, from our narrator's perspective, and keeping it plausible without making Kits explicitly unlikeable - no mean feat.

Finally, a lot of research has gone into this book - not just about the mountain and surrounding area, but of mountaineering in the first third of the twentieth century. Like all research, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Thin Air feels entirely credible throughout.

The bottom line: if old-school ghost stories and/or unsettling, psychological horror are you thing, you will love Thin Air. I certainly did, and expect it to stay with me for some time.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Norgaard

Monday long song has been a theme on lots of blogs for some time. Swiss Adam at the reliably excellent Bagging Area is one regular long-songer. The Swede at Unthought of Though, Somehow is another. I've even done it myself, now and then.

So here's the obvious flip-side: Sunday shorts. Or excellent tunes that clock in at 2 minutes or less... not every week, but now and again. I'll kick things off, shall I? Bloody love this, 98 seconds of catchy, uplifting brilliance from The Vaccines. Good video too.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Gnoomic

I went to see Wooden Shjips at the start of the week. They were pretty good, despite having so little variation in their rhythm section as to be metronomic. If that sounds critical, I don't mean it to be. They put on a good show with terrific visuals, I enjoyed the gig, and I enjoyed the company.

The support act though... the support act knocked my socks off! They were Gnoomes - yes with two O's, proving that the headliners weren't the only ones with an interesting take on spelling. Gnoomes are from Russia. I didn't glean this from Wikipedia but from talking to two of the band at the merchandise stall after their set (I even got to trot out the little schoolboy Russian that remains in my brain from 30+ years ago). Anyway, how to describe them? Two guitarists, one of whom sings. A keyboard player who also plays bass synth. And a drummer with a dubious haircut but who put the Wooden Shjips drummer to shame.

I've since listened to several of their studio-recorded tracks, courtesy of YouTube and, whilst worthy, they don't really knock my socks off. But in a live setting, there is something about their sound... it builds, swirling, euphoric, irrepressible, irresistible. Luckily for us all, someone was filming their set, so here's an example so you can see what I mean (play loud). Not sure why the cameraman was using the 70s sci-fi saturation effects on the video, but it shouldn't affect your enjoyment. Gnoomes - better live than recorded?

Friday, 7 June 2019

Going back

NASA has kopped some flak recently, especially after announcing their plan to open up the International Space Station from 2020. Specifically, the flak seems to be their implication that it will be available "for all Americans" (not very international) and for using the phrase "establishing a viable economy in low-Earth orbit." Urgh. So, much as I love NASA, I understand both sets of flak.

This, though... this is much more exciting. Back to the moon within five years...

Blue Friday - I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday (cover)

This might be the last Blue Friday post. Sure, they're easy for me - pick a vaguely maudlin song, embed it with one line of accompanying text and Bob's your uncle, the blog keeps ticking over. But very few people interact with these posts - hardly any comments, and visit time stats suggest not many actually play the song. So what's the point?

If this is the last Blue Friday, what better way to close than with a cover version I have mixed feelings about. For comparison, the original. Your thoughts?

Thursday, 6 June 2019

About our playground

44 years ago today, the results of a referendum on EU membership were being reported. Harold Wilson's Labour government has asked the question "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" and 67% of voters had answered "yes". That's two thirds - a resounding victory for the pro-Europeans.

Of course, not everyone was happy, even then, but members of the "No" campaign accepted their defeat and promised to work constructively within the EEC, in a manner we can only dream of these days. For example, Industry Secretary Tony Benn, who had come under criticism from Wilson during the campaign, said, "When the British people speak everyone, including members of Parliament, should tremble before their decision and that's certainly the spirit with which I accept the result of the referendum."

Similarly, the trade union movement was also opposed to remaining in Europe and had boycotted key advisory positions in Brussels and Luxembourg since Britain joined in 1973. In the wake of the referendum, TUC General-Secretary Len Murray said the boycott would be lifted but he remained adamantly opposed to the EEC. "Many of the most important decisions about our future can only be taken here in Britain," he said. Which just goes to show that some things never change.

I don't think we should be leaving the EU, by the way. There's a lot about the 1970s that wasn't great, by modern standards, but they got the question of EU membership right, and then got on with it. Fast forward forty years and the British electorate got it wrong, marginally, after which no-one really got on with anything particularly well. In my view, successive politicians' inability to advance or deliver the result of this most recent referendum just adds weight to the argument that it was the wrong result. I applaud all those that are not trembling before this latest decision, that are still fighting to stop something calamitous happening.

Sigh. A song, then. In the run-up to, and wake of, the 2016 referendum, I engaged in some pro-EU playlisting on Facebook, of all places, and was joined in doing so by The Man Of Cheese's younger brother, Rob Base. Between us, we compiled an excellent list of songs, but the best of the lot came from Rob - here it is.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

(More) About Wefail

Like Tim Footman over at the uniformly excellent Cultural Snow, I've only just become aware of the Wefail art collective. In fact, I only became aware of it thanks to his post, today. Tim brilliantly describes Wefail's work as "pretending that Francis Bacon is alive and well and still gloriously aghast at the horrors of the world." I can't do any better than that, so won't try. It's definitely worth a look though - here are some examples:



Cultural Snow is always a good read, by the way. You'd like it.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

About legends

I have one of those Amazon Echo devices. I've mentioned it before, but for the avoidance of doubt I didn't buy it, wouldn't ever buy it, it was a freebie. Still, it does get used a bit, even (occasionally) by me.

Anyway, every week Amazon send a promo email, highlighting new things that the Echo or, more precisely, the Alexa app it runs, can do. Today's email was promoting the Alexa "skill of the month" which, brace yourselves, is a Deal or No Deal game. The email includes this artwork...

We define our legends very differently, Alexa, you and I...

Monday, 3 June 2019

Monday (really) long song: Supper's Ready

Peak era Genesis, this song is basically one whole side of an album (Foxtrot)...

Am hoping this excellent, fan-made comic book video will encourage you to keep watching... oh, and make yourself a cuppa before you start in on this.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The end of May

The more things change...

"Feigning concern, a Conservative pastime,
Makes you feel doubtful right from the start.
The expression she pulls is exactly like last time.
Got to conclude she just hasn't a heart..."

Friday, 31 May 2019

Blue Friday - The Lonely

"Just like Liberace, I will return to haunt you with peculiar piano riffs..."

By the by, I had started working up a notional BSP imaginary compilation album for JC over at The (New) Vinyl Villain, but then I remembered that Tim Badger had already contributed an excellent one. Go and have a read.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Adulterants

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

9/19: The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne

The blurb: Ray is not a bad guy. He mostly did not cheat on his heavily pregnant wife. He only sometimes despises every one of his friends. And though his career as a freelance tech journalist is dismal and he spends his afternoons churning out third-rate listicles in his boxer briefs, he dreams of making a difference. But Ray is about to learn that his special talent is for making things worse. Brace yourself for a wickedly funny look at the modern everyman. The Adulterants is an uproarious tale of competitively sensitive men and catastrophic open marriages, riots on the streets of London and Internet righteousness, and one man's valiant quest to come of age in his thirties. With lacerating wit and wry affection, Joe Dunthorne dissects the urban millennial psyche of a man too old to be an actual millennial.

The review: in some ways, The Adulterants starts off like a David Nicholls book - you know, Starter For Ten or One Day, that sort of thing. It puts a likeable, relatable character in an increasingly difficult situation, in such a way that the reader can join the dots and see what is coming. To offset the increasing challenges our narrator faces, again like Nicholls, Dunthorne uses humour, often very dark humour. This is a good thing, by the way. The difference between the two authors though is how they resolve their books - Nicholls would enable his protagonist to somehow turn things around and triumph in the sort of feelgood ending beloved of rom-coms fans and film studios. Dunthorne, however, eschews such temptations, preferring to deliver a resolution that feels so much more real. Because life isn't like that. You know it, I know it and Joe Dunthorne knows it too.

Of course there is a flip side to this. Some readers may feel cheated out of an ending. They may come to the end of this book and think, "Oh. Is that it?" That would be a shame, though, because often in life, that is it. And what's more, to feel disappointed is to have missed the point, and to not have enjoyed the ride. And there is so much to enjoy here. Dunthorne's prose is fluid and natural, so much so that beautiful turns of phrase and combinations of words slip by, almost unnoticed. I lost count of the number of times I read a line and thought, "Ooh, that's good." What's more, his protagonist Ray remains likeable even when going off the rails, making bad choices and doing things he really shouldn't - this can be a tough trick to pull off, yet Dunthorne manages it with aplomb.

Most noteworthy though is the authenticity of The Adulterants - I am not in my mid-30s but this feels real to me. Similarly, I was not in my mid-teens when I read Dunthorne's brilliant first novel, Submarine (memorably adapted for film by Richard Ayaode) but that felt real too. This is a real book, something you read because you love reading, not just because you want a book to take on holiday with you. And, as an aspiring writer, it's very much the sort of book I wish I could have written.

The bottom line: you might not like the ending but it's the right ending for an engaging, hard-to-put-down book, shot through with dark humour and with something to say about the rubbishness of modern life.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Monday, 27 May 2019

(Bank Holiday) Monday long song: Staring At The Sun

Going to see this lot soon... And is it just me that hears a bit of Buffalo Springfield in how this starts?

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Bodies

Rob (Max Beesley) and Donna (Neve McIntosh)

If, like me, you are missing Line of Duty, fear not. For whilst AC-12 might not return to our screens for at least twelve months ("Mother of God!"), help is at hand. The Beeb, in their infinite wisdom, have dug up Bodies, one of Jed Mercurio's earlier forays into television, and stuck both series on the iPlayer here. And you should take a look.

Made in 2004-6, Bodies is set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictionalised acute hospital. Max Beesley stars as new registrar Rob, who quickly becomes concerned about the competence of his consultant, Dr Hurley (Mercurio favourite Patrick Baladi, who'll LOD fans will recognise as the Huntley's slippery lawyer friend Jimmy, from series four). So there's a pressurised acute hospital setting, with patients dying or being left with brain damage all over the place, backroom machinations, intrigue, plotting, double-crossing... plenty of dramatic mileage.

However, if you're hung up on Mercurio's more recent work, like LOD and Bodyguard, well, you might initially be a little disappointed with Bodies. It shows its age a little, I think, amazing given that it is a 21st Century piece of television. I guess things move pretty fast. But in our hi-def, colour-saturated 2019, Bodies feels a bit ... there's no other word for it, grainy. And hurried too. There were only six episodes in series one; stories and sub-plots move along so quickly, occasionally unrealistically quickly, it feels. Plus, and I mean no disrespect, I don't think Max Beesley's acting chops are quite up to snuff, here at least. Lucky for us then that the wider cast (and it really is an ensemble piece) are excellent - the aforementioned Patrick Baladi, Tamzin Malleson as Polly, Susan Lynch as whistle-blowing anaesthetist Maria and, most of all, Keith Allen, who seems to be having a great time as senior consultant Mr Whitman (Keith and Tamzin are partners in real life - I don't know if they met before Bodies, or on set, but it certainly helps their on-screen chemistry). Best of all is Neve McIntosh as ward sister Donna, who would go on to appear in Dr Who occasionally as Madame Vastra - she's excellent in Bodies, even if her role is a little under-developed at times.

I think it's also worth reminding ourselves that, whilst Bodies also plays fast and loose with NHS management processes and structures (hard to believe, for example, that hospital manager and all-round bad guy Paul Tennant would be involved in every staff discipline case and suspension, as well as the hospital's inspection, departmental monthly reporting, clinical trial panjandrums and more) it only does this to serve the story - to keep the world of the acute hospital, behind the scenes, understandable for the viewer. This works, for the most part; as someone who's worked in the NHS, and comes from a family of people who've worked in the NHS, I can tell you it still feels real, despite these shortcuts. And so it should, when you realise that Jed Mercurio went to medical school and spent time working as a doctor in a hospital. He's been there, done that. Makes you wonder how much of what you see is (semi-) autobiographical... The same is true for his first TV output, the somewhat lighter mid-Nineties satirical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest.

Also worth remembering that this was (and still is) pretty ground-breaking television in what it was prepared to show - stillborn babies, premature babies being given CPR, graphic surgery, botched tracheostomies and horrible deaths. Oh, and plenty of sex too. I don't know what time of day this was on, or channel (I'd guess 10pm on BBC Three, as was) but Holby this most definitely was not.

It's not perfect but there's plenty to admire in Bodies. You can catch all seventeen episodes over on iPlayer for another ten months, or pick it up on DVD if you prefer. Either way, you might never look at a hospital in the same way again... Here's the opening moments from series one, episode one, to whet your appetite.

And oh, The Guardian agree with me...

Monday, 20 May 2019

Sdrawkcab

I was lucky enough to experience Belgian artist Johannes Bellinkx's Reverse at the weekend, as part of an annual arts festival. And I'm not quite sure how to describe it... immersive walking tour? Performance piece, where you are the performer? Neither/both?

Maybe I should just describe how it works and you can decide for yourself. Basically it is a walking tour, of sorts, but you walk backwards, following a white line on the floor (not by looking down, but by keeping an awareness of it on the periphery of your vision). All the while, you're wearing headphones which are Bluetooth-connected at various points along the route to provide appropriate ambient noise.

Sound weird? Well, it is a bit weird, to be honest. Weird in that you quickly place utmost faith in the white line (at no point did I have the urge to look over my shoulder). Weird in that it is not easy to distinguish ambient noises filtering in from the real world with those from the headphones (most notable with conversations going on behind me by the market). Weird in that passers-by, oblivious to what you are doing, seem genuinely perplexed by the sight of someone walking backwards (one bloke filmed me on his phone, at some point). And most weird of all, how the whole experience starts to mess with your senses... or rather, how the brain tries to reinterpret the stimuli it is receiving, to make some sort of sense of them. This last point most of all, for me - after a while, I started to feel that everyone else was going backwards and that I was the only one moving conventionally.

At the end of the route, 50 minutes later, the artist himself was on hand to talk to participants. He was particularly pleased to hear of my "reversal"; apparently his original inspiration was another artist who had filmed someone walking backwards through Tokyo for nine hours and then reversed the film, to give the impression that the rest of the world was running backwards. Bellinkx's intention with Reverse was to attempt to create that sensation in a live setting. For me, it sort of worked. There's quite a moment too, when the white line the participant has been so reliant on, is suddenly removed from view - I won't say how (no spoilers), but this is just one of many sensory tricks Reverse plays on the participant. Others (like a different appreciation of gradient) are picked up in this review, if you're interested. Reverse has moved on now (next stop, Copenhagen, I think) but if you get a chance to have a go at this somewhere, sometime, you really should.

Of course, The Stone Roses famously transposed some of their songs to make others, and I was going to embed Don't Stop as an example, until I saw this. Imagine creating a song by backmasking another song, but then trying to play the new, backwards song live - playing forwards something that is the artificial backwards version of something else? Here's a clip of the band rehearsing to do just that (and a reminder of just how vital Reni was to The Roses' sound...)