Archive for November, 2008

Love and Marriage – Psychedelic style

Posted in music with tags , , on November 29, 2008 by richardblandford

I’m currently reading Eye Mind, a book by Paul Drummond about the psychedelic pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators. The Elevators were notable for containing in their line-up one Tommy Hall, lyricist and electric jug player, who essentially blew into a wired-up jug in order to make a blipperty-blopperty noise all over the songs. What caught my eye was this description of him from one Clementine Tausch:

I met Tommy in the Chuck Wagon. I used to go there every day and have lunch and I met Tommy. He was bearded and very arrogant, and I instantly disliked him and continued to dislike him for a full year. There was something about the way he just sat there and was really smug that bothered me… He walked around in bermuda shorts with whit gym socks – a real unattractive cat – he stood out in his unattractiveness.

Oh dear. Not making a good impression so far, are we, Tommy, you jug-blowing, Bermuda short-wearing freak. But then, Clementine goes on to say:

I think the reason I fell so madly in love with him is that when he stopped being so unattractive, he looked so good in comparison, and it blew my mind. He got into Edwardian suits, and the first time he washed his hair and didn’t plaster it back with grease, it was stunning.

Well done, Tommy, due to your clever strategy of dressing so badly, absolutely anything, including dressing like a teddy boy in mid-60s Texas, is going to look good in comparison, you’ve gone and got the girl!

Tommy and Clementine would soon be married. Sadly, it didn’t last. Maybe the white socks, Bermuda shorts and grease crept out of the drawer again. Or maybe it was the arrogance and smugness. Still, merely through going blipperty-blooperty in a jug (and being a great lyricist), Tommy made a significant contribution to world culture. See proof below.

Terry Gilliam and the Devil Worshippers

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by richardblandford

Saw two films of particular interest recently. The first is the recentish Terry Gilliam film Tideland, in which a young girl spends a few days in the country amongst the wheat fields, along with the corpse of her father (Jeff Bridges), talking doll’s heads, a mad taxidermist and her lobotomised son. This film largely disappeared without trace, in part due to some unsettling scenes in which the girl and the mentally disabled boy kiss, and he clearly experiences urges that she seems unaware of, and that he doesn’t understand. It’s been labeled exploitative by some, and I can see how there’s a debate to be had as to how a nine year old child can really be said to have given consent in such a situation, but I shall leave that one to others. In dramatic terms it certainly works, and a similarly charged scene between a boy and an adult in Shane Meadow’s This is England seems to have raised no objection at all. Can’t have one rule for a Surrealist and another for a realist. That’s just not fair.

In my view, this is the film we’ve been waiting for from Gilliam. The wicked imagination is still present, but for the first time, the plot doesn’t collapse under the weight of it. Other Gilliam works such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Jabberwocky have been effectively strangled by their own whimsy, but not here. The dream-fantasy sequences are tight and contained, and sit naturally in the overall fabric of the film. What is most impressive, however, is how a genuinely believable inner world of a child is conveyed. Anything remotely resembling sentimentality is absent, and it all appears initially alien and strange, yet ultimately reminding us of a state we ourselves once occupied and is in fact the foundation of our adult selves, something we generally now choose to deny.

Another film I saw recently was The Seventh Victim. This is an RKO B-movie from the early forties, and probably the closest the Hollywood studio system got to producing a genuinely Surrealist film. A suspiciously adult-looking girl leaves her boarding school to search for her disappeared sister. Arriving in the big city, various individuals agree to help her, but who is actually on her side is often obscure. The sister appears, sporting a crazy fringe, only to disappear again, before re-appearing later. Often the trail that leads to the sister makes little sense, and the viewer begins to wonder if they missed a vital piece of information, or whether it simply wasn’t in the film in the first place. Meanwhile, there are set-pieces of a nightmarish quality – a pair of men drag a clearly dead third man around a subway train, and a sinister beautician issues a warning from behind a shower curtain in silhouette, capturing the potential no-escape situation of a shower cubicle twenty years before Psycho.  

Ultimately the missing sister stays found long enough for it to be established that she is part of a Satanist cabal, who are not the vulgar knife wielding maniacs of later horror films, but a Crowley-esque bunch, living to a code and set of principles that determine their actions. I won’t give the ending away, but it bucks not just the traditions of Hollywood, but pretty much that of all storytelling.

The actors in the film often seem possessed of odd motivations that do not fit in with the events surrounding them, reminiscent of the films Bunuel and Dali made together in the twenties and thirties. The continual search for a repeatedly disappearing object is very Freudian, with the fact that something is lost being far more important than what, or who is gone (A missing object being, of course, a symbol of the castrated male genitalia of the mother, if you’re into that sort of thing).

If you ever get a chance to see this film, do. It turns up every few years or so after midnight on British telly, so keep a look out. You may not like it, but it’ll get under your skin, crawl into your brain, and bore holes in it until it resembles Swiss cheese. And there aren’t many films that can do that.  In the meantime, here’s the trailer.

Gary and Gaunty

Posted in Books, music with tags , , , , on November 21, 2008 by richardblandford

Gaunty                     Gary

 

They say that a happy man never writes his autobiography, and for reasons too ridiculous to go into here, I have been testing that theory when reading the memoirs of two showbiz types I have no immediate interest in, formerly former but now currenter-Taker Thatter Gary Barlow and until recently shock-jocker but now notter Jon Gaunt (the urge to call this post ‘Two Fat Bastards’ was remarkably strong, but I overcame it).

If Gary’s happy now, he certainly wasn’t that long ago, with several wilderness years of comfort eating and self-medication at the turn of the century.  Even though the book, My Take, was written (or at least completed) after Take That’s triumphant return, the wounds caused by the seemingly unprovoked spurning by the press and public, coupled with Robbie Williams’ incessant and childish Gary-baiting are still raw.

It’s very rare for someone to make the whole of their life seem interesting in print, and Gary is no exception.  The early chapters dedicated to his formative years spent accumulating Yamaha keyboards aren’t exactly filled with incident, but I suppose are of some sociological interest, while the Take That years read like they were written by someone who wasn’t really there.  But then, maybe that’s what fame’s like a bit, a series of events over which you don’t feel you have that much control and you’re not entirely sure aren’t actually happening to someone else.

Once Take That split and Gary embarks on his car crash of a solo career, however, the book becomes fantastically compelling and, at last, feels like something personal.  Anybody interested in the darker side of the music biz should check out the horrifying story of Gary’s visit to record boss Clive Davis’ house, where he has to ask to go to the toilet, and accidentally eats Davis’ breakfast.  This is followed by an account of what has to be the most humiliating live performance ever.

What is particularly striking about these chapters is the apparent randomness of it all.  For several years, everybody loved Gary.  Then they decided they hated him.  But he didn’t actually do anything to anybody.  It’s as if a wind of ill-fortune mysteriously blew in his direction and he was powerless to stop it.  Scary stuff.

The book ends, of course, on a high, with Take That triumphant and Robbie beginning to feel the effects of the same ill wind that hit Gary not long before while he gloated like a twat.  Although I never had any strong feelings one way or the other towards the Barlow beforehand, and wasn’t won over until quite late in the book, by the end I’d decided I liked him.  Nice chap.

Jon Gaunt’s Undaunted managed to work in precisely the opposite way.  His no-holds-barred description of an awful childhood and adolescence, with some time spent in a children’s home, made me warm to him, convincing me that beneath the bluster was a sensitive and generous man with a real and hard-earned insight into life.  Gaunty then manages to systematically erode all the good will he’s raised in the earlier chapters throughout the rest of the book, detailing his not-that-thrilling career in venue management and, latterly radio, with a mysterious pattern emerging of people working with Gaunty, them choosing not wanting to work with Gaunty anymore, and then Gaunty pointing out exactly how little that individual has achieved after that point.  It really is like reading Alan Partridge’s autobiography, where each anecdote ends with the phrase, ‘needless to say, I had the last laugh.’

The gaping holes in the logic that Gaunty uses to justify his thoroughly nasty world view are far too numerous to mention here, and deserve an article, nay, a book in themselves, but here’s a taster.  Throughout his troubled earlier years, Gaunty encounters various arty, liberal, Guardian-reading individuals who steer him out of trouble and into the world of theatre where he meets Simon Le Bon and Clive Owen who, needless to say, don’t go on to achieve anything once they’ve decided not to work with Gaunty anymore.  Gaunty then spends good chunks of the latter half of the book slagging off Guardian-reading liberals and placing the blame for a good many things at their door.  Seems like a funny way to pay your respects to people who saved you from  a life of crime, but there you go.  Jon Gaunt, the adult version at least, really is a logic-free zone.  Is he happy?  Is anybody as intolerant as he is ever happy?  I think if he ever truly attained the level of contentment and acceptance of past injustices that he claims to have reached here, he wouldn’t have an act.

Somerfield advert

Posted in TV with tags , on November 18, 2008 by richardblandford

You may have seen this advert on telly. It’s the one where the mum’s in the shop, and her two surfer boy sons turn up at the window, and one of them mimes shoveling down a plate of food. If I caught a child of mine doing that, I’d find it very hard to resist the temptation to shove his oh-so-punchable face through said window, crying ‘eat that, you horrible twerp, I rue the day my testicles generated the sperm that would one day result in the sick fact of your existence.’

Then, when they’re inside, the other, equally odious boy says, ‘Hi mum, that basket’s way too small’. At this point, the mother, rather than doing the right thing and telling the ungrateful cretin he can eat a trolleyful of food by himself in one go when he’s old enough to pay for the stuff and not before, meekly gives in and buys a leg of lamb that looks like it’s come off Auld Blackie, the giant demon sheep of the Moors. It’s like they’ve never stopped breast-feeding, and this is a coded way of telling their mum, ‘we don’t care if your nipples are swollen and bleeding, give us more milk! And when you’re out of milk, we’ll just nourish ourselves with your blood.’

In my day, being a teenager involved chronic insecurity, mumbling and public hatred of anyone over twenty-two, especially if they were paying for your upkeep. These pair of tits seem to think that one’s teenage years should be spent being cocky, loud, and enjoying good relations with a parent, who bizarrely seems to put up with their shit. It is just not acceptable in my view and should be stopped.

Catch-22

Posted in Books with tags , , on November 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Finally got round to reading Catch-22
 by Joseph Heller.  It’s one of those 20th Century classics that it seems everybody else has read, so I thought I’d better plow through it.  If you don’t know, and you probably do, it’s a absurd and satirical novel set amongst American pilots in WWII, and centres around one Yossarian, and his efforts to get sent home. What did I think?  Umm… it’s alright, not my sort of thing to be honest.  Although I’m sure that everyone who claims it’s an absolute masterwork are right, and I’m not going to try to argue with them, I have to say I found it a bit of a trial.  I felt I was being beaten over the head with the satire a bit (‘see, it’s all got all so crazy, they’re being bombed by their own side.  Do you get it?  Do you?  Do you?  Madness!’) and it culminated in a decision for Yossarian which was a pale echo of a similar situation faced by Winston in Orwell’s 1984.  Possibly part of the problem is that Heller’s style of humour was so influential (M*A*S*H*, and loads of other vaguely counter-cultural films made between 68-74 that ripped off M*A*S*H*), that it now feels all a bit tired.  Having said that, however, I also think that’s its very absurdity makes it too easy for its target. If military leaders are presented as soulless buffoons, then it’s not so hard to understand why they make such horrendous decisions. The real, hard question is why such decisions are made by thinking, feeling men. For this, you need three-dimensional characters, not caricatures.

There is another reason I didn’t enjoy it that much, however, and not something that Heller could have done much about given his choice of subject matter.  It’s just, and maybe I should have taken this into consideration when deciding to read it, I really don’t like books about the military.

Why not?  Firstly:  Too many characters.  Any story involving a fighting unit is generally going to feature quite a few characters, as they tend to consist of quite a few people, and not just, say, three.  Unfortunately, in my view, novels tend to start sagging when you throw too many characters into the mix, so a whole load of them’s going to risk buckling the whole thing right from page one.  Add to this the task of remembering who is who, what rank they are, who outranks them, who’s been demoted, who’s dead etc. and, as a reader, you’ve got quite a task on your hands.

Secondly, no decent female characters.  Women in military novels tend to be nurses or prostitutes, and both, it seems, are there for the sexual servicing of the male characters and nothing else.  This is especially true in Catch-22 where, despite the multiple perspective technique of the story, no female character has anything resembling a complex internal life, or deserving of recognition as a full human being.  Indeed, in one scene, Yossarian and his companion Dunbar carry out what would be recognised today as a rather nasty sexual assualt, but is presented as just another example of them anarchically bucking the system.  Hilarious at the time, I’m sure, but leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth now.

Thirdly, I just can’t get my head round a lot of the specifics of military vehicles and hardware.  I know, I know, I should go and look it up, but when you’re lying in bed reading you’re not likely to pop on to the Internet to get the specs on a particular type of bomber so you know how far the gunner is meant to be from the pilot.  Unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case, you’d probably know already.

Fourthly, shore leave.  How much are soldiers/pilots/sailors etc. entitled to?  In every war novel I’ve read, half the book is spent cavorting around in captured territory with said prostitutes, with the men coming and going apparently on their own schedule.  Isn’t anybody keeping tabs on them?  What if one of them just disguised themselves as an onion seller or something and never came back?  They seem to have a level of freedom that is just too ambiguous, and so I can’t get to grips with the situation I’m presented with.  Again, a little bit of research on my part would probably alleviate this problem, but I don’t know where to start.  Maybe there’s a WWII veteran out there who would be willing to tell me exactly how much time he was allowed to spend cavorting with prostitutes, and the ease and frequency with which he accessed them.

Fifthly, I don’t like the colour green.  I know I can’t see it when I read a book, but I can imagine it, and I know they’re wearing it.  All of them.

So anyway, I didn’t get much out of Catch-22, and those are the reasons why.  Some of them flaws I perceive in the book, some of them failings of my own as a reader, and some of them just the way things go.

Next week:  Why all books set on board boats are shit.

Never seen in the same room

Posted in music, TV with tags , , , on November 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Sir Jimmy Saville                              Paul Weller

The Clara Bow/Sarah Greene Connection

Posted in Film, Life, TV with tags , , , on November 6, 2008 by richardblandford

What do silent movie star Clara Bow, and ex-Blue Peter and Saturday Superstore presenter Sarah Greene have in common?  The answer, of course, is that they are both the subjects of urban myths in which they are said to have pleasured an entire sports team in one sitting.  Clara Bow, it is claimed, was known to entertain at home the University of Southern California football team, including a young Marion Morrison, or John Wayne to you and me.  Sarah Greene, meanwhile, is a legendary figure at Hull University, where freshers are shown the groove in the halls snooker table where the incident involving Greene and the entire rugby team is said to have taken place.

Now, despite being featured in Kenneth Anger’s seminal book Hollywood Babylon, the Bow incident in all likelihood never occurred, and anything remotely similar involving Sarah Greene is definitely a LIE and DID NOT HAPPEN and I AM IN NO WAY SUGGESTING THAT IT DID (although interestingly it is mentioned on her Wikipedia page).  

This raises the interesting question, why did a false story about a figure from Hollywood’s early days, most likely originating in a scandalous gossip mag, re-emerge so many years later across the Atlantic, besmirching the reputation of a lovable children’s TV presenter, albeit one with a slightly naughty glint in her eye.  Were there any interim stages of the myth?  Did it at one point, perhaps, feature Fanny Craddock and the Twickenham Branch of the Cucumber and Courgette Growers Society?  Has it since mutated again, to feature a young up-and-coming starlet (or Jordan)?  

A subtle linking factor is that in both versions of the story, it is specifically a university sports team that is involved.  Is it perhaps a story that spreads from university to university, each one finding an unfortunate figure amongst their past alumni to take on the ‘Clara’ role?

Does anybody know of any other variations on this story?  I am curious.  In a scholarly disinterested way, obviously.