Archive for January, 2009

E.T. votes Republican

Posted in Life with tags , , , , on January 30, 2009 by richardblandford

A comedian, a president and an alien.  But which one’s which?

The late comedian and UFO obsessive Jackie Gleason apparently claimed that Richard Nixon once showed him the corpses of aliens found in a crashed UFO and were stored at a Florida air base. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is known to have an interest in UFOs (a book on the Roswell crash was noted as being in his office in the Starr Report), but claimed that no one in the US military had told him anything.

So either Gleason was lying (or the people who said he told them this were), and Nixon had not shown him any alien corpses, or else Clinton was, and the military had actually revealed to him what they had. Right?

Not necessarily. Is it conceivable that not all presidents are let in on the secret?  The most obvious difference between Nixon and Clinton is that the former was Republican, whilst the latter is a Democrat. What if it has been deemed that only Republican presidents can be trusted with this information? That would mean that while post-war presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bushes Sr. and Jr. would have been made aware of any alien secrets, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton and now Obama, were kept in the dark.

Revelations of this nature would surely be enough to blow anybody’s mind, reducing the more weak-willed individual to a state of confused idiocy, totally devoid of competence or even basic communication skills.

Who is responsible for this filth?

Posted in Film, music, TV on January 29, 2009 by richardblandford

Answer: 

Monty Python’s Meaning of Life – Choreography by Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.  Meanwhile, look out for Bruno in this classic Elton John vid.

Elton John – I’M Still Standing
Uploaded by val6210

Rumours that Len Goodman can be seen roller-skating in a leotard in Cliff Richard’s Wired For Sound video are unconfirmed at this time.

Odd Man Out

Posted in Books, Film on January 27, 2009 by richardblandford

Odd Man Out movie poster

Working my way through the batch of books bought in the nice secondhand shop in Bexhill-on-Sea, I started reading Odd Man Out by F. L. Green, the 1945 novel on which the classic film by Carol Reed starring James Mason about an injured IRA man on the run is based.  I got about halfway through.  Then I stopped.  It just wasn’t good enough to occupy any more of my time.  It did, however, in its very unsatisfactoriness, raise some interesting questions for me.

Firstly, why is there so much guilt attached to not finishing books?  I knew that I wasn’t enjoying it that much about a quarter of the way in.  But I pushed on for another seventy-five pages.  

It’s not the same with other media.  If you’re watching a TV programme and it’s not entertaining you, you either switch channels or just turn it off.  

I think it’s because while TV is considered to be of little value by the silly people who judge others on how they spend their leisure time, turning it off is therefore seen as a victory against its perceived life-sapping, brain-rotting stranglehold on modern existence.  

Books, on the other hand, are seen as improving.  Books are good.  If you do not finish one, it has not failed you.  You have failed it.

It was only when I had absolutely convinced myself that Odd Man Out was indeed failing me and not the other way round that I found the inner strength to give up.  

What was wrong with it?  It was overwritten, mainly, with some sentences bordering on the embarrassing (‘Nobody who observed Johnny suspected what mysterious forces were moving and cogitating in him; for only when human eyes see the body’s dead husk is its emptiness eloquent of the mysterious powers that have departed forever from it.’).  It told a fair story but cluttered it up with far two many nondescript characters who could easily have been merged into several good ones, while plot developments turned out to be dead ends (injured man is picked up by cabbie, who then puts him back exactly where he found him).  The film takes the same material and turns it into gold.  Luis Bunuel once said you should only make films from bad books, and Odd Man Out supports this.

What is more interesting than the book itself is its print history.  Since its first publication, it was reprinted fairly regularly throughout the decades until 1991 (the edition that I was reading).  Since then, it has fallen out of print.  But not only that, it appears to fallen out of people’s minds.  The book goes virtually undiscussed on the Internet (the depository of all our memories).  No one’s reviewed it on Amazon.  It is on one person’s Virtual Bookshelf, but only to highlight differences between film and book.  No one, it seems, has any love to give it.

Yet this is odd, when you think about it.  The book was pretty much in print for over 45 years.  The works of such eminent authors as Kingsley Amis or J.P. Donleavy have much spottier publication histories.  Nevertheless, Odd Man Out seems to have left no impression at all.

I have a theory about this.  I think that books have, like radioactive substances, an inevitable rate of decay, in which their ability to communicate to readers fades over time.  

Some books’ decay is very slow, so slow, in fact, that they’ll probably only stop speaking to people when humanity itself evolves into a different species that has no need for the written word, as it will communicate entirely through the medium of nipple arousal (Needless to say, it will be a binary language). 

Other books have a much faster rate, their ability to touch people already spent before someone even has a chance to read it.  In between are books that speak to people for a period, but then just eventually burn out, and the fact that they ever meant anything to anybody is forgotten.  It seems that at some point in the last fifteen years or so, that happened to Odd Man Out.  

Oh well.  Wonder if there’s anything on telly.

Revolutionary Road

Posted in Books on January 23, 2009 by richardblandford

One of my Christmas presents this year was the novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which has just been made into a film, arriving in British cinemas this week.

The book depicts a troubled marriage in mid-fifties American suburbia, the couple believing they are better than their surroundings, but not quite able to escape.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’m suspicious of any movie or novel that’s a critique of suburbia.  The subject’s been done to death, to the point that I feel like saying to anybody who does it, ‘Look, you know what to expect.  Don’t make up a story whinging about how awful it is, just don’t move there.’

Of course, when Revolutionary Road was published in 1961, it hadn’t been done to death yet.  It’s the granddaddy of surburban ennui, and has been practically gutted for inspiration by much that followed (If the makers of the TV series Mad Men haven’t read it at least twice AND made notes in the margin, I’ll eat my hat.  Good job it’s a hat made entirely from licorice).

In the event, the book was absolutely excellent.  When I got about half way, I thought I knew how it was going to turn out, which is a bit too soon for my liking.  Then it did something entirely different, which was impressive.  

I was rather thrown, however, by some of the quotes that fill up the blurbspace at the beginning and end of the book.  The publishing imprint Vintage is clearly trying to establish Yates as a 20th Century great in time for the film (Yates was completely out of print when he died in 1992) and it looks like they’ve posted his books to various notable authors in an effort to raise awareness of how good he is.  ‘Fitzgerald’ is a name that is raised several times here.  Indeed, Kurt Vonnegut called it (at some point) ‘The Great Gatsby of my time’.  Now, it’s good, but it’s not that good.  But then nothing much is.

Which led me to thinking, why is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby ‘Great’, whereas Revolutionary Road, accomplished though it is, could only really be described as excellent, remarkable, or ‘great’ with a small ‘g’?  I think it’s because even though Fitzgerald’s work perfectly evokes its period, effortlessly defining the Jazz Age (with a tiny amount of time-specific detail), it is not itself defined by it.  Fitzgerald instinctively saw his historical moment as just the latest manifestation of something bigger – the story of America, and beyond that, the philosophical question of whether an individual cannot just define themselves, but invent themselves as well.

Yates, on the other hand, is more closely bound by his time.  The way he manoeuvres the story to highlight his characters’ self-deceptions (a mad character tells it ‘how it is’) is as informed by late Fifties/early Sixties attitudes towards ‘authenticity’ vs. ‘inauthenticity’, ‘truth’ vs. ‘phoniness’, as the debates between his warring characters.

The American book from the Twenties it reminded me most of was Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt, in which a suburb-dweller’s life goes off the rails in a midlife orgy of self-indulgence and irresponsibility.  Revolutionary Road is more subtly written, and artistically better, but the two aren’t totally dissimilar.

Anyway, Revolutionary Road is a great read, and quite heartbreaking, so check it out.  I’d be interested in reading more Yates at some point to see what some of his less era-defining work is like.  In the meantime, I’ve still got the pile of books from the secondhand shop in Bexhill to tackle.  Next up, Odd Man Out by F.L. Green!

McDowell + McDowall = McMcDowellDowall

Posted in Film on January 23, 2009 by richardblandford

Roddy                                         Malcolm

Actors Malcolm McDowell and the late Roddy McDowall both have similar surnames. Indeed, for many years I got them confused, and kept on wondering when Little Alex was going to turn up in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  Only recently have I learnt to tell them apart by using their Christian names and their faces.  Now, I expect you’ve found yourself asking the question, ‘have they ever been in the same film together?’ nearly as often as I have.

The answer is no.

Bleak Moments

Posted in Film, music on January 18, 2009 by richardblandford

Sam Riley as Pete Docherty – sorry, Ian Curtis, in Control.

 

Having a bit of a film-watching phase at the moment.  Got Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic Control out.  Wished I hadn’t.  Seems that this film has a lot of supporters, with a few disparagers making up a tiny minority.  I was very surprised to find myself in the latter category.

Great art is never depressing.  Sombre, yes.  Depressing, no, because its very merit as art uplifts even if its message is grim.  Control is depressing.

There’s an inherent difficulty with a Curtis biopic in that on paper, his life does not make a good story.  Young moody man makes music, finds life a bit of a struggle, kills himself. As fiction, it’s the sort of thing you’d come up with when fifteen years old whilst listening to Joy Division.  Or even worse, the sort of thing you’d come up with when fourteen years old whilst listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  To make this material work, you need an imaginative approach.  We don’t get one here.  Instead we’re lumbered with a very conventional chronological narrative, with key events in Curtis’ life sign-posted (sometimes by actual signs reading things like ‘David Bowie Live’ and the like).  Curtis was a radical artist.  Employing such a boring style is practically guaranteed to communicate nothing about why we’re watching a film about him in the first place, and not the lead singer of Crispy Ambulance (whose bit-part appearance is one of the few good bits in the thing).  It’s only bettered in the timidity stakes by Ed Harris’ Pollock, with its hilarious ‘Jackson learns to drip’ scene.

Black and white is employed so that the film looks like Joy Division’s press coverage.  But Curtis’ life had very little to do with the press.  For the most part, it was lived in private, which was of course in colour, no doubt sometimes involving lurid seventies wallpaper.  Check out Fassbinder’s Fear Eats The Soul for the true Seventies technicolour version of grimness.

The film portrays Curtis almost as a normal bloke, who just happened to be in a band and had a bit of domestic hassle at home.  All the evidence points to Curtis being the opposite of this.  He was an odd young man who simultaneously treasured the idea of dying young and also that of getting married and raising a family.  He was fascinated by transgressive performance, whilst nevertheless still voting Conservative and making racist jokes with the boys in the band. That all these things rather cancelled each other out didn’t seem to occur to him.  In fact, from the way he became obsessed with ideas without considering their implications, I’d go as far to say that I suspect some sort of autistic spectrum disorder was at work (as a near-possessor of a doctorate in Art History, I am fully qualified to make posthumous medical diagnoses, as is ‘Doctor’ Neil Fox).  

It would have been a strange thing to be Ian Curtis, and the film doesn’t manage to convey this at all.  We get a sense of what it would be like to see him at a gig, but not what it would be to actually give that performance.  Curtis undoubtedly experienced life at a heightened intensity (otherwise the chances of him coming up with the lyrics to something like ‘Shadowplay’ are pretty slim), but this didn’t come across either.  Meanwhile Sam Riley is too much of a pretty boy, and far too cool to convey anything about someone as uncomfortable in their own skin as Curtis.  Look at him in photos, and except when he’s playing the role of tortured artist, he has something of the Gordon Brown about him, as if he’s been clumsily cut and pasted into his environment from somewhere else entirely.

In short, I hated this film.  There probably is a good movie about Curtis to be made but this isn’t it.  In my view there’s only one man for the job – and that’s Ken Russell.  Hey, he did a good job with that one about Tchaikovsky  and Lisztomania was worth it for the title alone.  Roger Daltrey as Ian Curtis.  You know you want it.

Speak of the Devil…

Posted in TV on January 16, 2009 by richardblandford

Here is an example of the ‘educational material’ they used to show us in school. The sick bastards.