Saturday, 21 February 2009

Where Do You Write?

The short answer to this question? In a landfill, mostly:

For me, this is a neat day (I’m missing several coffee cups, my laptop, several piles of CDs, and for some reason another two mobile phones). For the most part, I have no idea where the huge amount of crap that I accumulate comes from - it just kind of materialises, beamed down from Planet Landfill. I deal with it by piling everything up into a huge, tottering heap of the end of the day and then swearing loudly as it falls on top of me, covering me in endless back issues of Private Eye and junk mail I’m too lazy to throw away.

At least the Screaming Monkey behind his own personal set of finger drums looks relaxed about it all. The swine.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Deja Vu

Ten minutes into watching The Assassination of Richard Nixon (TAORN), it occurred to me – haven’t I seen this film before? The more I watched, the more it became apparent – I’ve definitely seen this film before: its title then was Taxi Driver.

The similarities are too apparent to be ignored: both protagonists are demented, but this is not immediately apparent; just for fun, they play about with hand guns; politicians become convenient scapegoats for rage and social ineptitude; both films culminate in bloody shoot outs. There are also comparable scenes of toe curling embarrassment: in Taxi Driver, Travis takes Betsy to see a Swedish sex education film (not exactly your ideal first date movie); in TAORN, Sam heads over to a local Black Panthers office and tries to join up, suggesting that they change the name of the organisation to ‘the Zebras’, to reflect the supposed black and white membership. You watch both scenes through your fingers.

Even the names of the protagonists are similar: Bickle and Bicke, anyone? That said, TAORN is based on a true story: in 1974, Samuel Byck did indeed attempt to hijack an airliner with the intention of flying into the White House. The alternate spelling of Byck’s name was apparently made so as not to upset living relatives (huh?), so Bicke it was. The fact that Taxi Driver was released in 1976 with Robert DeNiro in the lead role of Travis Bickle is surely not coincidental. Weirdly enough, it seems that things have come full circle: a film based on a true story looks and feels remarkably similar to a film made nearly thirty years previously that was probably based on the same true story. Of course this tells us nothing except the fact that Taxi Driver is by far and away the better film.

So why does TAORN get a showing now, and with Sean Penn in the lead role, no less?

Something I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is contemporary relevance. A friend of mine recently pitched an idea for a documentary to the Beeb, who simply said: Why now? What relevance does this idea have to the way we live today? The answer is not as difficult as you might think: even something simple like the anniversary of some significant or meaningful event is good enough. Problem was, my friend was pitching an idea about a series of events that occurred in the late-eighties with seemingly no link to the present day, no matter how hard he looked. So that was the end of that.

In TAORN, contemporary relevance seems to be contained in the idea that the real life Byck was prepared to use a jet airliner as a weapon. Shades of 911 of course, and even though TAORN is set in 1974, I guess as an idea it made the whole thing easier to pitch (the last shot of the film is Bick playing with a toy airliner). That said, with Sean Penn on board (and onscreen for the vast majority of the movie’s running time), perhaps a sense of contemporary relevance isn’t important. And besides, we’re talking fiction here. If the drama’s good enough, who cares? In TAORN’s case, it’s OK – but that doesn’t mean it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Guilty Pleasures, Part 7 – I Heart Muzak

I spend an inordinate amount of time in Pret (sans laptop, as I’d only pour latte into it); one of things I love about the place is the incidental music that's piped into the store (or to use the correct parlance, Muzak). For the most part, it’s a pleasing mash-up of samba, laid back jazz, Vegas lounge and 70s porno movie soundtrack. Intrigued, I asked what it was. “Dunno – we get it from Head Office.” Further enquiries on the Pret website led me nowhere. So there we have it – one of life’s great mysteries: where exactly does the music in Pret come from?

The weird thing about muzak is that it isn’t really designed to be heard, or at the least properly noticed: aural wallpaper, I suppose you’d call it. It’s predominantly designed to create a pleasing ambience in whatever (mostly retail) space it’s used in. Of course, no discussion on ambient music would be complete without a mention of Brian Eno (and in particular David Toop’s book, Ocean of Sound, which contains this immortal line: Anal scents: what was their relation to a cultural shift?). Eno’s best known ambient recordings date from 1978: in the original liner notes, Ambient 1: Music for Airports contained references to Muzak Inc, and was even installed at the Marine Terminal at LaGuardia Airport for a while.

Even though the Ambient series is superb, Eno’s influence in the muzak sphere is vastly overstated. You’re more likely to walk into a department store and hear a recording of clapped out old session musicians murdering Oasis’s Wonderwall than some weighty Eno composition: and to me, that’s half the fun of muzak. It isn’t meant to be all po-faced seriousness, minimalism and heavyweight classical references (I couldn’t imagine going into Pret and sitting down to Gavin Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic - great music, but not something to sup your mocha to, unless you’ve got a couple of cyanide tablets to hand); it’s more likely to be Richard Clayderman-inspired piano foppery, or tacky instrumental arrangements of pop standards. And you know something? I love all of it: the more clapped out and cheesy the better.

The best muzak I’ve heard recently is the Beastie Boys album, The In Sound from Way Out, a collection of instrumental music culled from various albums released between 1992-96. Like the soundtrack to my Pret coffee, it’s a collision of influences – jazz, soul, laidback funk – all fed through a peculiarly seventies sensibility. And surprisingly for a bunch of instrumentals it’s funny, and delivered with exactly the right amount of cheese. Even the French sleeve notes are (unintentionally?) demented:

Un des premiers voyageurs de hip hop, il ont connu pour un mix de humeur et style. Avec leur beer swilling et glue sniffing (tactiques Brechtienne) ils ont ecrit leur signature definitive sur le face du rap.

Those crazy French, eh! As above, muzak is best served up without great dollops of silly pretension. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a coffee to finish.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

LoveFilm? Then Don’t Rent DVDs

Arrrggh! I’ll say that again just for emphasis: Arrrggh!

Deep breath – and relax.

There. That feels a bit better.

Right. LoveFilm. Arrrggh!

I was going to wibble on pointlessly about I Am Legend, but the disc conked out after 45 minutes* – either this is shortest Will Smith film on record, or I have been dealt a shonky DVD by the evil fiends at LoveFilm. Don’t they know I suffer from an acute time sickness? I mean, Christ, I could’ve done something productive with those 45 minutes, like browse Amazon for a copy of this CD that doesn’t cost over £50. Sheesh.

So, I rang up and cancelled my subscription, which was starting to become dangerously random anyway. For instance, I’ve been looking forward to seeing the original version of Funny Games for ages now: instead, I get Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream, starring Jenny Seagrove. Where the dickens did that come from? And after watching Death Proof (how can a film featuring so many gorgeous women be so thoroughly boring?), the twisted freaks at LoveFilm go and send me the bonus disc, which for all I know is stuffed with a landfill’s worth of talky old bollocks. Arrrggh!

That said, maybe it’s something to do with my over sensitive DVD player: nothing but the very finest, shiniest brand new DVDs will do. As soon as a disc that has been played in another machine goes anywhere near it, it shuts down and sulks like a Big Brother contestant until I am able to feed it something shiny and new again (even SkyPlus is rebelling against me: I set the series link to record the second season of Dexter on ITV1; except that the damn thing didn’t record the second episode. My wife: You don’t need to watch the second episode, do you? I mean, you can still follow it, surely? Me: Arrrggh! Don’t you understand! I – have – to – see – it! At which point I stopped talking as I was coming across like a petulant Big Brother contestant).

So, to summarise: technology – when it works, it’s great. And when it doesn’t: Arrrggh!
* Which was pretty good, I thought.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Don’t Forget the (Rubbish) Lyrics

There was a news story a while back here, that aimed to find the worst ever lyric in pop music. From a list that included Oasis’s Champagne Supernova and Razorlight’s Somewhere Else, Des’ree’s Life came out top:

I don't want to see a ghost
It's the sight that I fear most
I'd rather have a piece of toast
Watch the evening news

It’s rubbish all right, but at least it means something (Des’ree has an understandable aversion to ghosts and would much rather stay in of an evening and watch Huw Edwards on the telly box – this I understand. However, comprehension does not make it any less rubbish). However, when bands stray into the realms of the nonsensical whilst pretending all the while to be profound and/or meaningful, that’s when truly bad lyrics come into their own.

How about this from Risingson, by Massive Attack:

Toy-like people make me boy-like

What the blue blazes does that mean?

Here’s a suggestion – it doesn’t mean anything: it’s a stream of clodhopping meaninglessness that just happens to fit the song. What’s worse, it has the effect of turning an excellent song into something that makes your toes curl up with embarrassment – as a result, I simply can’t listen to it any more. And it gets better (this made me laugh for a full five minutes when I first heard it):

Nicer than the bird up in the tree top
Cheaper than the chip inside my lap top

Massive Attack’s major problem seems to be the fact that the music comes first – most of their lyrics sound as if they’re an afterthought, written and recorded with all the care and craft of a Vengaboys song.

I have much the same problem with Interpol. Great music, supremely rubbish lyrics. This is from Slow Hands:

I submit my incentive is romance
I watched the pole dance of the stars
We rejoice because the hurting is so painless
From the distance of passing cars

Uh, hello? And that’s without the vomit inducing:

You make me want to pick up a guitar
And celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.

Or – Sweet Jesus! – this from Obstacle 1:

Her stories are boring and stuff
She’s always calling my bluff

Even the greats get it wrong. Here’s Nick Drake with Man in a Shed:

Please don’t think I’m not your sort
You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.

To round things off with a truly monstrous cringe, here’s Sting from The Police with Walking in your Footsteps:

Hey Mr. Dinosaur
You really couldn't ask for more
You were God's favourite creature
But you didn't have a future.

Move over, Des’ree – I think we’ve found a new winner.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Adaddinsane tagged me with this: If you could go back to live in any one year from your lifetime, which one would you choose?

Jesus H Christmas, that’s a bitch of a tag, isn’t it? I was tempted to go all wibbly and post-modern and select a variety of incidents from a variety of different years. Then I went and read Michelle Lipton’s post on the same subject (after which I got something in my eye), and came to the conclusion that doing things that way would be a massive cheat.

So, let’s see: oooh, 1988 looks like a good one to me (screen goes wavy as we enter flashback mode):

I played in a band named after a Russ Meyer film – our collective sound was described (by a friend, no less) as ‘five people all playing in different time zones’. One of the stupidest/best things we ever did was to get drunk prior to a BBC Radio Sussex interview, during which we talked about our (fictitious) love for progressive rock (I seem to remember making a fatuous comment about Iron Butterfly). We then all went to a sweaty Taxi Pata Pata gig, during which the band divided into two warring factions – after some Machiavellian manoeuvring by our guitarist (the phenomenally talented Mister Rose), the singer (and his stolen percussion) got thrown out. Trouble was, after that we couldn’t find anyone else even half as good. So that was that.

Of course hindsight is wonderful, but the way we played and wrote music was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced since. Within the band, there were some fiercely talented players (and me, struggling to keep up mostly, especially when the drummer dipped out of 4/4 time, the gifted swine), but nobody came to rehearsals with even half an idea of where things were going to go or even what we were going to do. Chaos reigned, but in a good way: songs were painstakingly built from the ground up via endless jamming and improvisation – if something sounded good, it went into the mix. And when it all got too tiring (rehearsals until four in the morning were pretty commonplace), we’d launch into our only death metal song just to shake things out.

Once the band split, I auditioned for a local band looking for a bass player. Jesus, were they boring: they wrote songs like this, where the autocratic guitarist would hand out sheet music to his hapless band members and then expect everyone to fall in line. Of course, I didn’t – which is why I lasted for exactly one rehearsal.

If I had to relive 1988 again, I’d slap my collective band mates round the back of their legs and tell them to pull themselves together; we obviously didn’t know a good thing when we were in it, and by the time the in-fighting had broken out, it was too late. The fact that I’ve never found a band since that I wanted to play with speaks volumes, which is perhaps something to do with the way we worked: chaotic, improvised, haphazard, and at times downright experimental. I’m not saying that we sounded great, and listening to demos today it of course sounds a little dated. But we had one helluva lot of fun.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Opportunity Knocks, part 10

As everyone is re-enacting The Shining at the moment (snowed into a haunted hotel with a psychopath for company - oh, OK, just me then), why not have a go at this? (just received from those hugely sexy people at Inktip)

Baie des Singes (UK) Ltd - Thriller

We are looking for completed feature-length edgy thriller scripts, i.e. stories in the vein of "No Country for Old Men," "The Usual Suspects" or "The Yards." WGA or non-WGA writers may submit. Budget will not exceed $4 million.

I am a major international commercials director with clients such as BMW, Ford, Audi, Nivea, Adidas, and Coca-Cola, and I am looking for a first feature script to direct.

1. Please go to
2. Enter your email address (you will be signing up for InkTip's newsletter - FREE!)
3. Copy/Paste this code: 6kw9qtud64

You will be submitting a logline and synopsis only, and you will be contacted to submit the full script only if there is interest from the production company.

IMPORTANT: Please ONLY submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for EXACTLY.
And whilst we're on the subject, one of the first French phrases I learned by heart was, "Il est vilain comme un singe." Which frankly is a bit uncalled for.

Monday, 2 February 2009


Contains spoilers for My Bloody Valentine

There are a lot of great and interesting movies doing the rounds at the moment: Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Bride Wars (just kidding).

With all these in mind, for some reason I ended up going to see My Bloody Valentine (in 3D no less – not that you’d know it. Most 2D films offer more 3D thrills than My Bloody Valentine).

As is usual with films like this, it’s not really worth launching upon a lengthy critique of its narrative. My Bloody Valentine (MBV) is essentially a B-movie – I certainly didn’t hand over my hard-earned cash and expect something penned by David Hare or Simon Beaufoy. However, what I did expect was a load of schlocky, campy, nonsensical fun. And for a moment, MBV threatened to deliver...

There’s one sequence in the movie that is almost worth the price of admission itself: without going into mind-numbing detail, it involves a motel-managing dwarf, a butt naked Betsy Rue, a nasty trucker and a pickaxe in the head. The rest of the movie doesn’t even come close to what the critic Anthony Scott of the New York Times describes as the ‘zesty crudity’ of the B-movie:

...the cheesy, campy, guilty pleasures that used to bubble up with some regularity out of the B-picture ooze of cut-rate genre entertainment... now dominate the A-list, commanding the largest budgets and the most attention from the market-research and quality-control departments of the companies that manufacture them... For the most part, the schlock of the past has evolved into star-driven, heavily publicized, expensive mediocrities...

Even when filmmakers take on the subject of the B-movie, the results can be patchy: look at Death Proof, possibly the most crashingly dull B-movie ever made (the traditional B-movie certainly never contained acres of boringly pointless dialogue). Planet Terror is much more like it – supremely daft, the film even dispenses with core parts of its narrative by pretending that whole reels of the film have gone missing, which means it can jump straight into the action without titting about with hectares of talky exposition (something that Death Proof is stacked to the back teeth with).

When a B-movie is done well – Frank Darabont’s The Mist, for example, or even Kubrick’s The Shining – it can even transcend the usual A-list dramatic fare (Revolutionary Road anyone? The Reader?). I love a good B-movie – the problem with MBV was that it was only half a good B-movie – when the only thing that’s keeping you awake is the sight of Tom Atkins’s jaw flying past your shoulder, you know you’re in trouble.
* MDP = Mostly Dog Poo.