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Can I just put in a little advert for some of the THRESHOLD HOUSE re-issues currently on offer?

There's great vertiginous, scrappy stuff on the twilight daze '... and the ambulance died in his arms' live set, ultimate 'dancing in your head' trance induction on LIVE ONE {London}, and sketches of melancholy shape shifting genius on BLACK ANTLERS;

but the one I would really direct everyone's attention to, is the previously limited-edition hard-to-access THE REMOTE VIEWER... a hallucinatory, hurdy-gurdy-led epic which is shimmering sad and stately like a Paul Bowles desert-bound ontological revelation/comedown rewritten by sonic dust daemons. I always thought it was suffused with some kind of genuinely 'post 9/11' awe/terror/fatalism; but regardless, it has to be heard to be believed. It puts most 21st century neo-Folk or Weird Americana to shame, with its visionary sweep, attention to textural detail and dizzying ambition. It has near unbelievable PRESENCE. Modal lightning flash. Black sun. Digital ascension.

Also, if you've never heard latterday COIL, (and are still put off by some kind of abiding memory of early-80s Industrial sturm and klang, leather and synth-drum) then please, please, investigae the sublime, variegated, pastoral suites of MOONS MILK 'A' and 'B'.

The voice in silence still speaking still rustling still reaching.
Hear, here.

posted by Ian 9/30/2006 10:58:00 AM
(1) comments

GW BUSH has this week welcomed KAZAKHSTAN's President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, and praised him as - guess what - a friend of democracy, an ally in spreading FREEDOM round the globe, a vital cog in the war on terror, etc.

This is a guy who has been in self-elected power for SIXTEEN years and counting!
At the last election the only opposition got - supposedly - a mere 6% of the votes.
One pesky opposition figure was found dead just before the elections and the state authorities declared it a suicide ... until details leaked out about how he had shot himself three times, once in the head, with a silencer on.

Even the U.S. State Department contradicts the Bush/Cheney position - as this highly critical document shows!

(Compare & contrast fact with euphemisms in this joint Bush-Nazarbayev press release from 2001.)

Good article ['Here's how George W Bush spreads freedom around the globe'], which sums things up pretty well, at this blog [Brilliant at Breakfast] which I hadn't come across before, but is very good reading.

Kazakhstan hasn't exactly got a great record on what most of us would think of as democracy and freedom ... but what it DOES have, is a shitload of as yet un-mined OIL.

And the Bush administration wonders why large sections of world remain deeply suspicious of his (oh so selective) anti-tyranny pro-freedom "crusade".

Or do they? Do they give a shit, really? You can almost hear the cynical back room laughter when they scripted this praise of an arch dictator. (Didnt Bush once make some 'off the cuff' remark about how it'd be much easier if he could be allowed to just get on with it and be the dictator he thinks he should be allowed to be?) Think I'm being cynical in my turn?

Check out THIS example of wonderful BUSH family humour at the great RIGOROUS INTUITION site, in which GW - in the presence of Martin Luther King's widow - actually makes a sniggering LYNCH MOB joke. (And just in case you think this is some kind of clever CONSPIRACY set-up or exaggeration - go to the Official White House transcript HERE, which actually includes the '(Laughter)' parenthesis, just in case we were in any doubt.)

Or there was the appalling sight earlier this week of a press conference BUSH having the gall to try and improv parse the GENEVA CONVENTION, in re Common Article 3 which prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment". It's actually, I think, the most animated I've ever seen Bush - as he gibbered out an ad hoc meditation on the meaning (or preferably not) of the concept "personal dignity", which he damned as way too ... "vague". "It's VAGUE, inn't? 'Dignity'. What is 'dignity'?" (Why is it so not surprising that he has such difficulty grasping an abstract humane concept with no price-tag attached?) And the upshot of the 'compromise' Torture Bill that Congress eventually passed is that the ultimate decision or interpretation of what is or isnt acceptable as far as torture techniques go, lies entirely with Bush.

Talk about your Pyrrhic victories. Not only do most (even right wing) experts agree that torture is virtually useless in obtaining any form of reliable or accurate information, but this is precisely the sort of post-Guantanamo post-Abu Garib f*ck-you bad PR that virtually ensures more 'radical' Islamic recruitment and terminal backwash.

And I still have my doubts about the precise sub (or not so sub) textual reason that, in the midst of the LEBANON bloodbath, the one book BUSH highlighted as essential summer reading was Camus' infamous 'A.K.A. Killing An Arab' L'Etranger.

posted by Ian 9/30/2006 08:20:00 AM

(6) comments




I think the only thing that needs to be added to this latest K-PUNK epistle is the passing thought that the possible MISSING LINK between De Palma and the newly hip-hop-ersized Aguilera would have to be ... SCARFACE.

I would really like to read a decent piece on the huge influence SCARFACE has had on hip hop culture - I'm sure someone somewhere must have written one. The fact is, it's also the one and only De Palma film I ever genuinely enjoyed. De Palma is one of those directors where people not only 'love or hate' his work, they usually hate/love him for those precise same things that other people love/hate him for. Even something like BLOW OUT - which I'm willing to concede has its interest and its merits - is ruined for me by a plethora of De Palma tics and flaws and trademarks*.

But SCARFACE is the one exception. I remember paying money to go see it as a post-lunchtime-pub afternoon matinee in the West End in the mid 80s - precisely because so many people I knew HATED and EXECRATED it.** (People were appalled at the time – it was seen as a new dumbed-down low in ‘Fuck you – No: fuck YOU’ inanity.) It's actually one of the last times I can remember losing my head with utter pleasure at the movies. (Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT and THE FUNERAL being two of the others.) It wasn't quite the enjoyment of ‘something so bad that it's good', but any enjoyment of Scarface isn't straightforward. Even its fans would have to admit there's a lot about it that IS just plain old-fashioned bad - but then, I suspect that's one of the reasons it's become so iconic. Because it is mired in shamelessness. This is not a minor point. A huge generational shift has taken place since the mid 80s in all sorts of related ways - the [purportedly] ‘shame free’ enjoyment of Porn, of Bling, of Video Game mega violence etc deserves a whole mini essay in itself***, but SCARFACE would have to be seen as a marker in the genesis of this mindset. Especially as it coincided with the home VHS revolution.

Maybe one of the reasons SCARFACE was so critically unpopular at the time, was that it went against the Reaganite grain: here is your materialist American Dream it said, and feel how tawdry, how unfulfilling, how borderline criminal and psychopathic it is at base. Strangely, if it reminds me of anything, in hindsight, its DOUGLAS SIRK’s Written On The Wind. It has that same lurid, febrile, fever-dream feel, and a subtext of ‘careful what you wish for… if all you wish for is success.’ There is also the little matter of an implied Oedipal/incest sub-plot in common …

Another thing to plot in the film’s relation to certain strands in hip hop history would be precisely its near-Operatic histrionics, its paranoia, its megalomania, and its near robotic obscenity. And all this in relation to a certain conception of masculinity, masculinity in relation to immigrant status and race, or, a kind of Hysteria not of sex but of class/economics maybe. (I'm riffing here: none of this is worked out.)

Everything that's wrong with De Palma, with Oliver Stone, and with the very limited Method man tic-y tacky acting of Al Pacino is on display here, to the Nth degree. But now that Scarface is 'iconic' (and it is: it actually deserves that over used phrase) it really doesn’t matter who wrote or made it or why. It has assumed an afterlife of its own – or, precisely, NOT its own, its phantasmal & looping survival now written in the response and re-iteration of its various audiences.

It abounds in SCENES.
"Is this IT? Suckin, fuckin, snortin....?"
"Say HELLO to my liddle fren..."
"You wanna point your finger at DA BAD GUY..."

These are both vulgar, base, near cartoonish - but also possessed of emotional veracity and depthbomb repercussion. It's easy to miss the point (inherited from the original 1932 Hollywood film's "politics") that this is a deeply pessimistic film. THE WORLD IS YOURS: but what an empty world when you finally get there. It's the first "bling" film - outsize, grotesque in is lavishness, hyping glitzy 80s materialism up to something nausea inducing, a gold-tap shoulder-pad white-Ferrari migraine - but bling as purgatory: you can buy the stuff, snort the blow, get the woman, live in the mansion (someone should do a MTV parody "I'm Tony Montana and DIS IS MA CRIB...") but nothing will fill that lack under the white suit. ("Is this it? Fuckin, suckin, snortin..." is not just American Dream cynical, it approaches Beckett in its existential fault-line ennui! Is this it? Breathin', eatin, shittin...?")

I don’t really know enough about the hip hop thing to attempt any kind of intensive totting up; but I know that Scarface is a huge presence there. You only need to Image Google - the digital equivalent of Benjamin's city strolls or the Situationist derive these days: setting out for one 'destination' but getting sidetracked and lost in a profitably diverting way - the word 'Scarface' to realise how many little subcults accrue around this film. Its influence has been huge in obvious ways (think of the pre-Miami Vice art design - that wonderful Florida sunset wallpaper! Think of the pre-Tarantino chainsaw torture scene in the shower stall) but it would be the trails and trace left in its unconscious hinterland that would be more interesting to consider.

I spent some time last week looking again at J. Hoberman's 2003 book THE DREAM LIFE: Movies, Media and the Myth of The Sixties. (Look past the dreary and off-putting title - this is essential reading, and I can't praise it highly enough.) One of the things that Hoberman reveals is how many of the 'biggest' or most controversial or defining films of the 60s in America are not at all the films we now think of as of that moment; not necessarily the 'hip' received wisdom list at all. I want to come back to Hoberman's book at some later point. But the distinguishing thing here though is that whereas most if not all of the 60s films – as with so many OSCAR winners – are now forgotten, or at best relived only for kitsch or afternoon TV value – the AFTERLIFE of Scarface is something else again. It’s the type of film that in a lot of ways HOLLYWOOD likes to disown, or pretend doesn’t exist. It would certainly never have been rewarded at Oscar time. (As opposed, say, to Pacino in the SCENT OF A WOMAN; and even though I am not a De Palma fan, I wouldn’t be averse to any argument that said something like SCENT OF A WOMAN is actually a hundred times more ‘cynical’ in it marrow than SCARFACE. And, of course, crucially, a hundred times LESS cinematic.

+ + + +

SCARFACE may, in hindsight, mark the point at which the old narrative/paradigm of Crime (as per GODFATHER) was superseded. SCARFACE intuits a future landscape not just of crime-as terror (for which, see recent developments in South America for just one example) and terror-as crime (heroin as terror funding, post-glasnost Russia and its hinterlands, etc,)but of video game hyper reality and HIP HOP CD-as-narrative. Even the use of PSEUDONYMS might be traced back here in some measure. And certainly violence as EXCESS, as always excessive, and as INCESSANTLY revengeful ( Jacobean tragedy + Art Deco + Method - high mindedness = SCARFACE!). Tony Montana posits crime as incessant and gruelling paranoia, perpetual revenge (revenge against destiny, against beginnings, against identity), and pleasure as self-torture. One of the many reasons SCARFACE chimes with certain gangsta extremes of the hip-hop ethos is because it plays games with how far any one ‘buys’ into materialism. Part of the shamelessness is that you may dress up in designer labels, but some immutable indefinable – and impossible to lose – ‘it’ defines you, forever and always, as LACKING CLASS. (In however many ways you want to read or re-read that phrase.) You buy the ‘right’ shirt, but you wear it the ‘wrong’ way. Shibboleth chic. Your tongue is injured, marked.

Current hip-hop bling-in-overdrive actually celebrates this ‘You can take the thug out of the socio-economic context, but you can’t …’ logic. Far from smoothing off your edges and going uptown bourgie bourgie, you BROADCAST (podcast?) your rough edge posse-defined presence. (And this aesthetic has now seeped thru into white culture, aswitness the success of ENTOURAGE. And I’m not sure how historically accurate this is, but it’s easy to suspect that the second biggest fan group for SCARFACE after the hip hop enclave, might be well Hollywood AGENTS.)

It is this, amongst many things, which informs a lot of the Black community’s OWN reaction against gangsta chic. It is seen as a betrayal – a too public betrayal, because too loud, too garish, to cartoonish. But then – Black entertainers often seem to be lost before they begin in this regard. If you go the Bill Cosby way and offer up a Good Example, the ‘community’ condemns you for Uncle Tom-ism. If you beat White Hollywood at its own game[s] of Cops n Robbers, you’re condemned for being too violent.

It is easily noted that Hip Hop/gangsta rap found a way to transcend this by ignoring it, with a SCARFACE like shamelessness. (The way out of the moral and ethical maze? FUCK the maze! Bulldoze through! Level it with CGI bullets!) What’s more interesting here might be to disentangle just how many of the conduits into this shameless ‘black’ aesthetic were originally – or ambivalently – ‘white’. (Any text on the return of Stagger Lee, for example, cannot but acknowledge the pioneering work of Greil Marcus, Bob Dylan and Tarantino.) What interesting is how symbolic or imaginary ‘codes’ bleed into real life application. And are then LOOPED back into a sophisticated re-staging of the Real as “authentically” Street-derived art.

+ + +

In the current series of THE SOPRANOS, the crew – but also the ethic – is falling apart, due to age, due to illness, due to dementia, due to betrayal, due to cultural uncertainty, due to the unlivable pressure of double and triple lives… and how much they abide by, or are hobbled by, or haunted by, various CODES. The code used to be INHERENT, internalised. In past series, THE SPOPRANOS has cleverly played with the quite vertiginous idea that everything started to go ‘wrong’ in a sense, with the success of THE GODFATHER – when ‘real’ life gangsters started to imitate, or measure themselves against, their cinematic representations. The Mafia, in a sense, couldn’t withstand the paradigm shift of post modernism. It couldn’t live an ‘ironic’, spatialised, double consciousness life. The ‘codes’ fragmented.

In real life, the Mafia seems to have been doomed by, on the one hand, its inability to live up to its own much vaunted codes of honour (in the 80s its members started to sell out each other to the authorities, to rat friends and colleagues out in exchange for Witness Protection or shorter sentences etc); and on the other, its anachronistic preservation of certain gentlemanly codes, at a time when other ethnic crime gangs initiated a new ULTRA VIOLENT paradigm which seemed to takes its cues equal parts from INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, SCARFACE and JAMAICAN politics. The scene in The Sopranos last night where all the old wheezing, corseted, injured, hobbling, handcuffed wise guys are all in one place at one time at the wedding - you can imagine some Russian or South American or Jamaican gang bursting in and just strafing everyone with automatic fire. The old code of 'you just don’t do that' or 'some things are off limits' or 'no women or civilians should get hurt' – now so much bullshit, whether you’re a suicide bomber, or a Brazilian barrio thug (or, indeed, a video game whiz kid). ****

And one of the over looked and under reported factors in a lot of local geo-pol conflicts in the last 20 years - from Sarajevo to Afghanistan to various hell-on-earth conflagrations in Africa - has been the DRUG OF CHOICE many of the young militias were stoked up on. Here, any look at SCARFACE would have to look at the overlap between symbolic and real. Something seemingly trivial and stylistic (did it originate with John Woo?) like that 'Gangsta' thing of holding your gun flat against the palm, in both hands, when shooting, has actually invaded the Real all over the globe.

The TV screen, the cocaine paranoia/megalomania OD, the ultra violence: the United Nations should maybe do a worldwide survey and find out how many teen crims or militia members grew up watching bootleg copies of SCARFACE.

Also, it’s too easily forgotten – but Scarface opens not in garish overdrive, but with NEWSREEL FOOTAGE of the real life events which sparked off Oliver Stone's feverish rewrite. (Boatloads of Cuban criminals and ‘low life’ set adrift and washed up in Miami.) The early part of the film makes it clear that Tony Montana’s shining path to psycho-pathology was the result of ideological abjection, birthed in the grimy jails and backrooms of Castro’s Cuba; that he has been hatched and trained, set in his mould, by his experiences of torture. (There are warnings here, o there are.)

Miami/Florida seem to keep cropping up in this regard. (Just type in ‘Jeb Bush’ or ‘Miami/Cuba politics’ and tour the conspiracy sites.) From JFK and the Bay of Pigs and the strange cabal of figures therein (see De Lillo’s LIBRA) to some of the 9/11 crew, hanging around in Miami, partying, doing coke, trading arms, learning to fly, etc… its lo-rent Baroque and liminal status makes Miami more like an island than a certifiable part of the American mainland. It already looks like some kind of King Ludwig purgatory or waiting room between OD and death. (Why not throw in the Gianni Versace murder here too? Tony Montana is Versace through and through.)

I remember reading an interview with Stone and him saying that one of the reasons he wrote SCARFACE (altho this might just be justification in retrospect, post coke binge) was that he was amazed at what his research had thrown up and how mainstream America just didn’t get it: nobody realised JUST HOW MUCH money was involved in the coke/drugs trade, and how huge and paradigmatic and corrupting an influence it was turning out to be, at ALL levels of society. (Well, he wasn’t wrong was he?) One of SCARFACE’s defining and mot unforgettable montages is the central one of Montana and his men carting (literal) truckloads of CASH MONEY into various banks to be laundered.

It’s doubtful, in this regard, whether the full story will ever be written of the equilateral relationship between drugs, money, the Republican Party and ‘right wing’ Cubano elements in Florida. (Although there is a lot on the investigative record, if you start to track it down.) There is a sense in which the reason the Republicans have triumphed in America is that they have become a SCARFACE party – shameless, un hung up on niceties or political correctness. (You can imagine a backroom meeting in the late 90s with Cheney saying, “I need men with STEEL IN THEIR BALLS!” And it’s too lazy to allow GW’s balls-in-his mouth gee-gosh persona to obscure the fact that he IS a shameless, case hardened, deeply cynical operator. Who knows but that GW may have had his own pre Presidential Tony Montana bath tub moment in some Texarkana whorehouse or coke den. “Is this it? Snortin’, vote riggin, executin’ …?’)

Maybe we could also read the infamous blood-geyser SCARFACE finale as a deeply pessimistic gloss on Cheney/Rumsfeld’s America, convinced that it can take on the amorphous Other at its own mega violent game. (Neo Conservatism as ideological cocaine! ‘Say hello to my little friend’ = the use of torture?)

But the Other was always going to win, IS always going to win: its only ‘code’, its only Law is DEATH.

(The WORLD is whose, now? And the Afterlife?)

Its difficult now not to look at Tony Montana in the closing scenes - bombed, paranoid, a husk, with BANKS and BANKS of security cameras, and an arsenal that would formerly only have been in the possession of the MILITARY - and see some kind of awful future dreaming itself awake.

*{It was ever thus - from Dressed To Kill onwards I found De Palma beneath consideration. And no - I don’t mean morally, or in terms of sexual pol. I just always found it shockingly OBVIOUS. In terms of cinematic tension and pleasure, I always sensed something off-puttingly cynical at the 'heart' of De Palma. I always thought De Palma = Hitchcock without the psychopathology; which seems like nothing very much at all, except 'technique' as an end in itself. But down the years - from Pauline Kael to my movie mentor Monty Smith at the NME to MarK-P, and others - I have known loads of otherwise extremely intelligent people who will defend De Palma to the death.)

**{The same reason I'm so drawn to Paris Hilton at the moment. And ...hmmm... I've only just thought of this... but the stick-thin shiny silver blonde praying-mantis beyond-unreal-moneyed Paris would be a shoe-in to reprise the Mrs Montana role, in any 21st century remake, non? She could run a Miami hotel; she could ... sorry, anyway ...
Talking of the irresistible Paris: yesterday doing some research I found to my absolute glee that in the last 3/4 years Paris has starred or cameo’d in EIGHT – count ‘em! – different movies. (Not including her own straight to video, er, release.) I can’t wait to research this further!

*** {Relating it out to Abu Garib torture optional. Ditto the new paradigm of ‘loner/post-Columbine shooting sprees. The old paradigm was nutter on roof, picking off the insects below, like a blank abyssal Midwest rewriting of Greene/Welles’ THIRD MAN script. And its hard not to intuit both video game and NEW post-Kubrick STEADICAM in the way in which the new breed of gunmen negotiate and move through the school or office space as if it was some kind of virtual or movie space.)

****{Which I’ll concede is how a lot of us feel about De Palma: we want, you know, jut a bit more finesse…)

posted by Ian 9/29/2006 10:02:00 AM

(17) comments



I'm still trying to slog a way through the new Greil Marcus.*
But it just strikes me that what was once pith, is now portenousness.
What was once razor sharp is now waffle and camoflague and ... well, I once thought that British journo/author Gordon Burn couldnt be bettered (or 'worsted'?) when it came to the promiscuous and self-defeating quotation of Other Authors in a piece that was meant to showcase your own P.O.V.

But here, taken at random, from the opening FIVE pages of Marcus essay "on" David Thomas/Pere Ubu/the entire footnoted inventory of every thought that's ever occured to Greil about the entire cultural history of everything that's ever happened in America ever, is a list of the 'sources' he namechecks or quotes (sometimes at wearying and obstructive length):

Edmund Wilson
Isiah and Jeremiah and Amos
Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of The Millennium
Nazism [and] Stalinism [and] the Caliphate
Edmund Wilson [again]
the wrath of God
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, Palestinian Authority [spokesman]
Abraham Lincoln
a Moby Dick / Ishmael two-fer
D.H. Lawrence
"Babe and Joe and Eddie in the Do Da room" [huh? means nothing to me...]
"[as] my student Tanya Kalivas [once put it]..."
Preston Sturges}
Manny Farber}
"critic" W.S. Poster (nope, me either)}
Jimmy Carter

{ = all in the same dense sentence/paragraph.

*{THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: Prophecy and The American Voice. Faber & Faber. £17.99

{{Even that title seems to be a giveaway. At the time of the properly epochal Mystery Train all this sort of air-tunnel subtext stuff would have been simply implied for the reader to then pick up on and develop. But nowadays Marcus can't have a passing thought without underlining it fourteen times in the professorial equivalent of purple biro, and dragging in ten other writers or songs or films to back it up.

posted by Ian 9/28/2006 11:25:00 AM
(4) comments

Wonderful dream this morning, in which CHARLOTTE CHURCH and I join forces to defeat the Nabob of Nothingness, the Preening Prince of Sham pop*, SIMON COWELL.

In the closing seconds, Charlotte subsides magnificently upon a kingsize bed, in a P.O.V. shot whose hydraulic detail must have had HOWARD HUGHES spinning in his grave. As is always the way with these things, the moment of epiphanic merger, the apocalyptic swoon - my arms spread, and about to sink into MY OWN PRIVATE CHURCH, a worship all fiery and still, pinky lamb and gushing milk in my veins and polar eyes - is no sooner announced than I am torn from this plashy and gurgling deep end, and pulled roughly into a blinking, a solitary light. Ach.

I had intended to begin the day with a implacable rant about last night's beyond-Spinal Tap COURTNEY LOVE documentary (a programme which put the cause not just of women in rock, but women per se, widows, widows in rock, celebrities, celebrities with those big horrible plastic surgery injection fish lips, drug users, blondes, etc, back at least 50 years**) but as a Charlotte-less morning dawned, I have to say my first impulse was just to forget it, let the rant go to the wind, smoothed by the morning's calming and rational light...

We'll see.
*During the recent PAPAL CONTROVERSY did anyone else see the news report where they panned over all these stagey Middle East protests, but more particularly, the one misconceived lost-in-translation banner that read: SHAME ON POP (?) What a potentially excellent name for a blog!

**It's saying a lot that, these days, given the choice between a night of LOVE or a night in CHURCH, I would plump, in all senses, for the latter, every time. (CC's shining affect-free joy vs CL's monstrous and delusional self-pity. CC's unembarrassedly fleshly embonpoint vs CL's wince- & nausea- making Lesley Ashe alike FISH LIPS.) Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of tawdry - I do not even have to be drunk to argue that when people say 'clash of civilisations' it is my opinion that TAWDRY is pretty much what we in the anti-monotheistic West are fighting for, and MUST fight for - and I'm a huge fan of slutty drug abusing blondes with no shame, always have been (indeed, there were times in my raw youth when I was their biggest friend!) ((in fact, come to think on it, I am a slutty, drug abusing blonde with no shame!!)); but Courtney has abused these privileges, and cheapened them with breath taking hypocrisy and stupidity. She deserves to have her child taken away by California Social Services or whoever it was. Not because I believe that drug users can't also be good parents - I have known many sane and organised drug users who were excellent, even above average parents - but more because anyone who has that much money and that much clout (and, post KC's suicide, that much sympathy), and who could quite easily do as MANY DRUGS AS SHE WANTED in the privacy of her mansion(s) without ANYONE ever knowing about it, but who instead choses to conduct her life entirely for the benfit of the watching TABLOID EYE, for whatever strange and corrupting reasons, actually deserves to have their child taken away. This programme didnt alter that feeling one jot - worse, it intensified and even burst through it to a new level of certainty, the moment Courtney brought her 14 year old daughter ON CAMERA , as - and there is no other interpretation - as a PROP, as a prop to prove I AM A GOOD MOMMY, as a prop in a production to advertise NEW PRODUCT. At this point, she forfeits ALL sympathy.

"If anyone fucks with her, I will fuck with them," she hissed at one moment, daughter by her side, in a spotless limo. This was par for the course: the world it is in all its stations that is in a conspiracy to 'get' her daughter and deny her a decent childhood. Never Courtney: never ever Courtney! She cannot even speak abut HER OWN DAUGHTER without it being, relentlessly, gruellingly, uninterruptedly, 100% ABOUT HERSELF. (A couple of scenes with Billy Corgan and Carrie Fisher - where the former had an acutely revealing anecdote to tell, and the latter had acres of good momsy advice for CL - were also revealing for all the wrong reasons, as they showed a CL who apparently lacks even one faint iota of ability to LISTEN TO WHAT ANYONE ELSE IS SAYING.)

We won't even go into how she exploited the "memory" of KC, who, by the way, I am in no wise a big fan of...

Nor will we linger overmuch on how mind bendingly OUT OF IT CL appeared for three quarters of a documentary which was predicated on her being newly and angelically clean and sober. (I know out of it, I know someone ON THE NOD, and she was, o she really was. Again - I am SO FAR from having a problem with anyone choosing to take huge amounts of drugs. What I have a problem with is a) the arrant and arrogant and heedless hypocrisy, and b) the outright and flagrant stupidity on show here)

Talking of hypocrisy, I am really sick of celebrity drug abusers like Love and Docherty getting given chance after chance after unearned chance. Love's twittish friend Billy Corgan here, actually said the words "Courtney has LITERALLY been to hell and back". Well - fuck you rockstar pumpkin brain. Try telling some poor black kid from South Central or North Holloway who gets locked away in high security for a few soul destroying years for their first offence that three months in a cushy rehab (for your Nth offence) is "LITERALLY Hell".

Add to this Miss Love's apparently limitless capacity for blaming everything wrong with her and her life on EVERYONE or ANYONE IN THE WORLD BUT HERSELF and and you just had a LOT to dislike here. (And I have to say, before the programme began, I was on her side! There are three or four of her songs that I think approach genius, and which I would have to have on any personal Desert Island jukebox.) But fer Crissakes, she even...

O, I forgot: I wasn't going to rant.


Coincidentally - switching to another rant worthy subject - one of the only films worth catching this week on FILM 4 (whatever your opinion of the film in question) is unquestionably Gus van Sant's Kurt Cobain drama-doc LAST DAYS***.

Which so far has gone out twice - once at 12.55 in the am; and once (last night) at 1.10. I only caught it COMPLETELY BY CHANCE the first time round. I mean - am I missing something here? Would it really be so difficult to scare up some youthful audience interest in a hip film about a hip 'icon' (there, I said it) by a tres hip director???

The only other film worth catching this week, Miranda July's ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW was similarly exiled out on the edge of midnight, with NIL publicity. (Even tho it's actually a FILM FOUR co-production!!!!) I mean - my own prejudices aside here, ths film was hailed en masse when it was released.

Instead, Film 4's ad campaign continues - inexplicably - to plug middle of the road fare like STEPMOM and MICKEY BLUE EYES and AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS and (one of the biggest stinkiest eggs ever laid) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (worth catching for one reason alone, for fans of the farrago that is the COMPLETE ABSENCE OF ANY DETECTABLE ACTING ABILITY WHATSOEVER in the post-Trainspotting career of Ewan McGregor****). I say inexplicably, because they are obviously trying to compete with SKY's movie channels, which is just dumb. SKY have loads and loads of NEW movies. Whereas what FILM 4 has - as ANY FULE can see from that list, is distinctly old hat and below par and really nothing special at all. Mickey Blue Eyes? A life Less Ordinary? Are they serious?

Well at least their embarrassed hiding away of LAST DAYS and ME AND YOU... proves that this is not simply cultural APARTHEID as I stated last week. Altho a quick head count thru this week's FILM 4 schedule shows that the SINGLE non-US or non-UK film showing is Thursday's screening of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Which - while it's a breath taking film I won't deny - it's hardly pushing the envelope is it?
C'mon someone at CHANNEL FOUR. Give me FILM 4 for SIX - no, THREE MONTHS - and you won't believe the young audience I bring in. Really.

Unless of course ... they're trying to run it into the ground?

*** ... which I havent made my mind up about yet: it may be one of the drippiest and most embarrassing piles of mindless goo ever assembled; or a work of softly avant garde genius. Or, quite possibly, both at the same time.

****Nice comment at the weekend from Keith Allen, who I persist in liking (against all the odds and evidence), when someone asked him for his own estimation of his acting ability. "Below me - a long way below me - is Ewan McGregor. Just above me, Ken Stott." That seems JUST SO, to me, I have to say.

Finally, a tenuous, free-floating, unlinked ***** apropos of nothing very much more than Pop Crushes... but has any other straight man out there had the unnerving but really rather pleasant experience I've recently contracted, of falling head over heels in love with RUFUS WAINWRIGHT? O. It's just me, then? Well, Rufus baby, obviously there's no other serious competition for a long lazy flaneurs-in-arms tour of Europe's back streets and opera houses ...

But how can you NOT love someone who comes up with a couplet like this (?):

"I tried to dance / to Britney Spears
I guess I'm getting on / in years

posted by Ian 9/28/2006 10:01:00 AM

(22) comments



O.K.: when I read THIS story about the new Conservative Party logo [see above] I had three, no, hang on, four, thoughtful reactions. You can decide how much they (each) tell you about me, the state of politics, the country, blah blah, etc.

1. First reaction. Even though I hated myself (as every good doleful self hating ex socialist must) for having this thought, it was along the lines of: '£40,000? That doesnt seem like very much...' and ' Well, you gets what you pays for I guess...'
It seeems PALTRY, £40,000, for some reason.
For this joke to work, it should have been a mil and a half or something. Then all the Daily Mail-y editorials that roll out every time a company pays some bunch of chancers to 'overhaul their visual identity' (ie, put a bunch of silly names in a hat and pull one out when you all get back from the pub at lunchtime) would have had a bit of heft. But 40-K seems shoddy somehow, Del-boy ish.
(It also made me think: WHY the hell arent I doing this? Which leads to ...

2. The thing that struck me in the reporting of the news story was how the quotes were all from (their) young kids. (Which has convenient echoes of old 'scandals' about Modern Art, without actually saying so and making yourself look Old Fogey-ish. 'My 7 year old could do that...' Except if your 7 year old did what Damen Hirst, Emin or the Chapman Brothers do, they'd be ASBO'd and sectioned.)

But this leads to thoughts 3 and 4.

3. The fact that their 7 year old kids are SO on the money on this one makes you think: well, frankly, why bother to pay some bunch of ex media studies tossers ANY sum of money at all, when most of the mobile phone toting, HEAT reading, video deconstructing kids/teenagers of this spunky nation could probably do not only 'just as good a job', theyd doubtless come up with something a 1000 times better.
As you may have noticed of late, I've given up noting all the "icon"s and "iconic"s I came across in the media, which is partly because its now a constant stream. It's moved over into people using it in advertising - "their ICONIC videos" I heard seriously, solemnly said of ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN of all people the other night - and everyday conversation. Which is a whole other topic, not for today; but if the use of that word is annoying and facile and (our survey said) baseless 97% of the time, it is an indicator of something: that 'reading' signs and brands and "visual identity" is no longer a specialised witch doctor trade. It's How Kids Are, nowadays.... (Money has nothing to do with it - they're all little Beckhams and Paris Hiltons, as far as media smarts go.)
And the old, canny Conservative Party would have found some hungry sixth-form students somewhere and given them promises of future employ and a wodge of used notes in a brown paper bag for a half-price new logo.
Which leads me to 4...

And how staggeringly stupefyingly WRONG I think the Conservatives have got it with this whole softy-softy softly-softly Cameron-led squeezy huggy green-I.D. approach.
It's half hearted, pointless, misconceived pissing in the wind.
Especially at this moment when the Labour party looks so riven and tired and baggy eyed and bitter, and far more concerned about its Image and Internal Politics than all the pressing concerns on most voters minds. IDIOTS! 40 grand? Whatever. Ask a cabby! Trawl the pubs! Any SANE adviser would have told the Tories to go ATTACK DOG. To go THATCHER REBORN. To go POLITICALLY INCORRECT. To go TOUGH on the CAUSES OF EVERYTHING - everything shallow and callow and deceiving and slimy and unpunished and bleeding heart abroad in the world at the moment.** The way the populus largely feels at the moment about Terrorists and Crime and Spin and a whole host of unchecked amorphous ills, that haunt our sleep with poison anxiety as much as they crowd out the light of every day's discourse - you want some thundering, STRONG-seeming Thatcher-like colossus to stand up and positively BLIND us with the light of old fashioned no-double-talk REASON.
'A facking TREE? I've coughed up better looking trees into my hanky!'
And go with a logo of a looming BATTLESHIP or Harrier jump jet or even a COUNTRY HOUSE, why not! Something that screams BACK TO NORMAL. And pride with the specifics of BEING BRITSH - unashamedly, no apologies, this is our long unbroken lineage**. Not a fucking tree. Worse! It doesnt even look like a decent Tory tree. It looks like something in the middle of a strong wind that will fall over if you sneeze too suddenly. (EVEN worse - it looks like maybe the designers were having a laugh at you. So it makes you look double, or triple lame.)
But a falling tree is accurate in at least one aspect - the impression the current Cameron-led farrago gives as an opposition. One of the reasons they dont work as an opposition is, of course, that they're not fundamentally opposed to 99% of Blairite policies and decisions. Well - they should turn that around right away and start spouting pure Powellite isolationism and subliminally vibe FUCK THE AMERICAS and FUCK EUROPE and LOCK UP the RAPISTS FOR EVER and throw away the key and STRINGENT STRINGENT searches for everyone coming in to the country and going back out again except for all members of the W.I. Yeah?

That tree. It just reminds me of that advert. Where a bunch of kids say. "It's a poo stick." It's a climbing frame." And so on.

Except: "It's a rip off. It's a laughing stock. It's a misfire."

**(Do I really have to NB here, that this isnt uh necessarily a full and direct reflection of my own ideological heart, or anything? Hhmm?)

posted by Ian 9/15/2006 08:30:00 AM

(8) comments


I have been reading SEAN PENN: His Life and Times (awful, AWFUL title, which just buffs up the cliche image of Penn, the right wing blogger image of Penn, as a humorless luvvy prat with politico megalomania)*, and it struck me how many films from the past 5 or 10 (or even 20) years I have missed, or overlooked, or would really like to [re]view again; and - not to belabour this FILM 4 fixation of mine - but just how easy it would be to put together really thrilling and stimulating FILM SEASONS of all kinds.

I dont just mean glum, worthy, cerebral, or over actorly torture.
One point of departure that suggests itself is FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, Amy Heckerling's 1982 teen high school comedy, that inadvertantly opened a lot of doors. (Based on a Cameron Crowe article, btw; but bearing roughly the same relation to the Real of that reportage as Saturday Night Fever does to Nick Cohn's original gumshoe work.) It could be argued that the 'aesthetic' of FAST TIMES - and specifically Penn's uber stoner JEFF SPICOLI - is one of the most influential things of the last two decades in US culture. You can hear Spiccoli's "gnarly" P.O.V. in everything from Wayne's World and Beavis & Butthead to Adam Sandler and a lot of the post-Farrelly 'Frat boy' humour that runs through American culture like bad goo through a day old do-nut. I'm not saying you have to LIKE this stuff or agree with it - but its infuence is unarguable. I dunno. I just thought of this. But it does suggest at least the prospect of overview, of not just shoving films out as unrelated PRODUCT, with no social or politico context.
(Also, that Film Season doesnt have to automatically = dour. E.G.: How about a season investigating the precedents for SPINAL TAP, too?)

Even if you dont like the films Penn does (as director) - it would be SO EASY to use them as jumping off points to look at lesser known films of 70s and 80s America (off the top of my head: Cutters Way, Secret Honour & Southern Comfort; Killing of A Chinese Bookie & Minnie and Moskowitz; Out of The Blue & River's Edge; Last Chants For A Slow Dance and Angel City... oh, I could go on for ever. Whole swathes of film history are being erased - I mean, EVEN AMERICAN FILM HISTORY. (E.g..: it took me a good half hour or more - even with Google and Wikipedia and so called 'Independent Movie Director' databases - to re-locate the unjustly forgotten name and work of JON JOST. Meanwhile, those same 'Independent' databases list people like David Lynch, and other post SUNDANCE directors who - whatever their merits - have never been truly 'Independent' in any meaningful or paradigmatic way.)

Apparently,a major 'cult' film among contemporary black actors and directors is this strange jazzy Allegory of 60s Hip, called A Man Called Adam - directed by Penn's father, Leo. Which in turn conjurs up the idea of ANOTHER season of overlooked works ...: The Landlord, Putney Swope, The Killing Floor, Sweet Sweetback, Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger, Tongues Untied, Nothing But A Man ... again, these are just off the top of my head, no proper research or anything, just films I would LOVE to see again, or see AT ALL in some cases ...

And the Penn biography does start to make me think we're living through a pretty interesting moment, for cinema, in all sorts of ways. But, for the most part, you wouldnt know it looking at FILM4. It would be like being in 1977, say, with New German Cinema and post-Watergate American Cinema and so on, and all this so called FILM channel shows is ... old John Wayne movies and Carry Ons and bad 'light comedies' with aristocratic English twerps.
Er, hang on: that's exactly what theyre doing now, most days. Great.

*SEAN PENN: His Life and Times [The Authorised Biography] by Richard T Kelly [Faber & Faber] |
BTW, even if you (think you) "dont like Penn", or even the idea of a certain kind of vainglorious narcissistic American actor pontificating on everything under the sun ... uh... no, really, this is a really interesting book, for all sorts of reasons. Me, I'm a big Penn fan; but the book is a good between-the-lines over view of Hollywood since the 50s, too.

posted by Ian 9/14/2006 09:05:00 AM
(10) comments
At some point I really want to have a major grouse about FILM 4...

The handful of decent / interesting / brilliant / rarely screened / European films that they actually have - why are they ALL, without exception, put out after midnight, whilst the prime time spot is reserved for the likes of 4 Weddings & A Funeral, Mickey Blue Eyes, etc, etc, etc... even 'classics' like Apocalyspe Now and Godfather - I mean, is there anyone in the world who HASNT seen them, and seen them a few times? Shouldnt part of their remit - especially as they already have E4 to punt out the junk and floss - be ...
O, I was going to do a proper entry about this, with names, dates, examples and a great quote I found somewhere earlier today...

(God, I was SO pissed off with them this week: not only La Belle et Le Bete, but a fantastic rare Sergio Corbucci which I REALLY wanted to see (... but just couldnt stay awake for). I mean - it's not like these are violent quasi-porn or anything, is it? They could put them on ANY time ...

And I mean: how hard could it be to whip up a bit of interest in something like Cocteau's Belle et la Bete? Or brilliant recent Almodovar? If they just put a BIT of thought and flair into advertising these films, they could soon develop a little core audience. It's complacent - and it undervalues the audience's intelligence and broadmindedness. There are LOADS of ways of 'selling' non-mainstream films, and... o, LOVEJOY's on. More later.

posted by Ian 9/07/2006 07:21:00 PM
(53) comments

The other weekend we fetched up at my parents house in flat, flat Norfolk, where my Dad had been in process of emptying the attic - most of which had been filled with JUNK, VRS of mine own: memorabilia (handwritten letters from Phil Manzanera, Mark E Smith and John Peel; a whole bunch of original typed and hand scrawled Mark E Smith lyrics & track annotations circa Witch Trials & Dragnet; Pat Phoenix’s autograph; a Christmas card from August Darnell addressed fondly to “My Comrade, Ian”; a lovely photo of me on my 21st birthday with Grace Jones’s arm around me - the usual stuff); lots of 80s disco 12” remixes; a brace of mid to late 70s Marvel comix (including lots of mint condition Howard The Duck: all reasonable offers considered); lots of writing (including the legendary, infamous & TRES rare 1981 ‘sample chapters’ of my abandoned book CUTS TRACKS & BRUISES, as reviewed & rejected for Routledge Kegan Paul by none other than Simon Frith, folks); and general ache of nostalgia inducing nonsense (I seemingly never threw anything away, ever; so now I know that I actually got a staggering 92% for my mock A level in History - yikes! This rewrites received history a bit, to say least…)

Also, naturally (naturally given that I already live in a house of books) - ka-zillions more books. (Some really interesting ones, actually. More on this anon.)

Phew. (Lets out breath).

That was all by way of being a context setting intro to an entirely irrelevant - but strange & hilarious & hilariously strange – bit of trivia I just discovered.

To wit:

It’s taken me two weeks to sort & order this stuff, and get most of the (decent) books onto shelves (shelves which until recently held ka zillions of old VHS videos…. But now I have no place to put them, anyway, no matter, on with the show) and now I am down to the dregs.

To wit:

One mint condition p/back copy [PAN books, 1965] of
I OWE RUSSIA $1200 by Bob Hope
[A very funny book, with quips from Maida Vale to Moscow. DAILY EXPRESS]

Great cover – photograph (washed RED] of Hope in vaguely Russian ‘spy’ mode, standing by a Russian guard outside an American Embassy.

But anyway, to the punch-line...

On the back are a selection of archetypal HOPE (less) quips – about PARIS, about fog in ENGLAND, about MOSCOW etc.


“On Guantanamo in CUBA: ‘It’s the only base in the world where the guards don’t say, ‘Friend or Foe? They just reach out and feel your chin.’”

WOW! What are the chances of THAT happening! Eh?

posted by Ian 9/07/2006 04:51:00 PM

(12) comments



As a good ex-working class ex-socialist anarchist elitist, I absolutely adored the re-run of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY [just finished on BBC4].

You know how people sigh 'Ah, they dont make 'em like that any more!'? Well, for once, here, the cliche has a basis in real fact and detail. In this case, the SMOKING. Boy, there was a lot of smoking! There was a scene in the final episode last night, when all the shocked members of the Circus are sat around a briefing table, and they are all smoking. (Special mention for Terrence Rigby's Roy Bland, who literally smoked for England.) But this was not just random smoking, or smoking for the sake of smoking. (You know, stylish neo noir type smoking where you just know the actor had a smoking double, or rinsed out their mouth with Perrier between puffs.) This smoking was concerted, purposive, revelatory. Each cloud of smoke was a psychological portrait in miniature. Here a knobbly pipe, there an American import brand or an unfiltered Czech number ... but maybe best of all, Smiley's own occasional dandified wave of a slim white ciggy in the air around his halo-like silver hair. The only person who (I think) didn't smoke was the old 'Control', and that was because he was aready dying - lung cancer, most probably, by the look of him. The cloud hanging over the Cold War wasnt nuclear, it was unfiltered tobacco; makes you wonder if maybe the Berlin Wall didnt collapse due to secondary smoke damage...

(Did old school shrinks used to smoke when they saw their analysands? Freud and Lacan both were big cigar men. Or rather, Freud's were big; Lacan smoked those little knobbly bent tar-black Italian jobbies, like an imperious Mafioso. I won't belabour the parallels between spying and shrinkage - a la Roeg's Bad Timing - but patience, and listening, and the patient uncovering of motive... well...)

TINKER's plot even hinged, at one crucial point, on the brand of cigarettes smoked by the Russian ringmaster 'Karla', and the engraved lighter lent to him by George Smiley. I wonder if old school spies actually used to get training courses in how to smoke and drink? Smoking and drinking - or rather offering cigarettes and sharing drinks, getting drunk and sharing secrets - were part of the Game. (A bit like old style journalism, too - and there was a brief but vivid and telling scene in Tinker set in the old Fleet Street of fuzzy 3 o clock memory.)

Smoking is a way of measuring out time spent waiting; plus, it maybe half wraps you in desultory street corner anonymity; booze is a way to forget what it is you are waiing for, and half suspect will never turn up. (Or at least that's the conventional wisdom - booze as purposeful forgetting. I actually think it's a way to remember, badly, or to enjoy - differently, painfully - the trauma of memory, but that's another topic.) When Jim Prideaux, unembarrassed, started to glug vodka from the neck of the bottle (!), you knew that (if he wasn't deliberately putting on a show, giving a performance: Agent Going Going Gone To Seed, harmless old fool, lost in penitent tears and Smirnoff oblivion) he was as un-healed INSIDE as he was in the scarred flesh: that some wound persisted within and would inevitably have its high noon say.

There were some great cameo performances here, too, anchored in different styles of drinking, different modes of smoking. Truly, lost arts. And, truly, it gives the lie to the PC myth that such details are mere excisable irrelevances, mere historical 'detail' that can be clipped out with no loss to the Real Drama: cigarettes and alcohol here were not just social dressing, like kipper ties or dirty raincoats, they were variegated markers of hubris, melancholy, spoiled dreams.

Waiting, and listening.
Waiting, and listening, and remembering.
Waiting, and listening, and remembering - more or less baldly ad hoc, or only the tiniest bit better than the Other Side's other chap. (Waiting for the doppleganger Man.) Waiting, and listening, and drinking, and trying to manoeuvre other people into your version of a future, which is never really any kind of future proper, because futures are entirely unpredictable (which is also why they are hated by conspiracy nuts.), whereas your's is more like future memory in waiting you have tailored to fit whoever youre currently talking to.

A future as drearily, comfortingly, caustically inevitable as the next cigarette.

You can sleep with your best friends wife, you can betray him up to torture and soiled shaking ignnominy in some gulag oubliette, you can sell your country out for a lie you told yourself one hungover morning 40 years ago ... but only a real shit would refuse a chap a last or consoling cigarette. That is the gesture that truly unites, across the gulf of "ideology".

(One of the most chillingly memorable scenes in Tinker is where Karla actually refuses this complicity: he takes George's cigs and lighter, to smoke later, alone, but refuses to do so with or in front of George: I refuse your proffered reflection. It was like a circuit breaker, a flag going up, a refusal of convention, as with that inevitable scene following 5 nights of torture when the Master offers the Slave not just a light, but the light of reason in whispered parenthesis: "This is so silly, because, when it comes down to it, we are alike, you and I..." And perhaps this "alikeness" is the true object of Service/Literary nostalgia, now that the Other chap is no longer merely Left or Right, Commie or Capitalist, but right off the mirrored board... : the new enemy isnt a reflection via negativa, but a True Believer, a bloody apostate from the hinged and monochrome game of disappointment, deferral, the next drink, the clink of ice cubes, the creak of mattress springs, the abyssal swirl of cigarette smoke up to the ancient ceiling....

Can't talk to these new chaps, dont you know. Nothing to discuss. No breathing room. (No smoking room.) They've already tried everything we have to offer, and found it wanting. Other side is offering Paradise, now! Thats game over. We've only ever been able to offer a better version of Purgatory: waiting. Waiting, and smoking, and ...

The last episode of TINKER focussed in bleak, limping anti-crescendo all the previous episodes' suspended, clammy, spectral movement and counterpoint. Betrayal, you couldnt help but think, was the human God that came through in the breach, in the absence of any ideological God that worked. Betrayal didnt let anyone down. Everyone got their own special lick of betrayal, at the end. (Even if, as with Control, it was your own body that betrayed you.) The episode ended in a double echo - Prideaux and the old friend who betrayed him; and Smiley and the spectral Anne. (I dont know if it was deliberate, but there seemed to be an echo set up between the wily feminine nomens of "Anne" and "Karla", made concrete by - what else? - the cigarette lighter, which turns out to have terrific sub-textual resonance. Another easily missed detail: the traitor, "Gerald the Mole", is double in another sense: he sleeps, guiltlessly, with both boys and girls.)

Betrayal is something that these characters both understand, inherently, as brual fact, but cannot process, completely, as emotional truth. I think this is probably the third time I've seen this Le Carre adaptation - and like some of the best popular art, it has had a different flavour at each different point in my life. It ages with you. Each (re)view reveals more about you, as much as it. (I can actually remember vividly the last time I saw the last episode. I was drinking whisky, alone, on New Years Eve. There was a telephone call. I ... but that's another story; more Greene than Le Carre, as it happens...)

I suspect that the rhapsodic unveiling of Anne, post climactic coda, literally right at the end, outdoors, away from London - away from the smoke of the Smoke - is meant to signal a return to 'normality', to Life lived without fear, to womanly warm blood and Anne's "truer" reading of men and men's silly games of betrayal and duplicity and sneak. But last night I suddenly thought: she's an idiot. She doesnt get any of it any clearer or better at all. Especially Smiley (her ex husband), who she quite possibly mis reads entirely...

Maybe there's a lesson there - although whether it applies, outside the confines of a certain public school and Oxbridge educated man of a certain generation, a now dead or dying breed, gone like smoke ...
... BUT: there might be a whole subtext developed here on different modes of education, on how the Russians were taught to 'interpret' texts, and what texts, and by whom, and ditto the English. Formalists vs Leavisites, say. The weakness of the English, ultimately being NOT - as the silly feather headed Anne thinks - that they are "puzzled by Life", that they are joyless tacticians or technicians, interested only in the echo of the trace of the secret motive, as dry and concentrated as a double martini (barely even stirred, never mind shaken), unable to jump in to or embrace Life, all those cliches... but actually very nearly the opposite.
The flaw in the English 'Circus', is that they continue to read everyone by their own light, which is, in fact, all too fatally human. They can't go over to any dry, scientific formalism or structuralism or Marxism; they can't even believe that the other side really believes in all that nonsense.
Surely we're all human in the end, old boy ... And therefore they can only conceive of compromised human motives, never truly ideological ones. Humanism is the cigarette everyone ultimately shares - that is the hope that is, hopelessly, clung on to. Down to the last phlegmy breath.

You can see that in the tears starting to form in Jim Prideaux's eyes in his final scene: returned to 'normal' life and job, but still haunted, still wracked. The flaw is not, as the cliche goes, that all these all too proper chaps can only live life at one or two removes - no. Rather, the all too English "flaw" is that there is this persistent, stubborn, ineradicable haunting belief, somewhere in the back of the mind or the depths of the heart, in, as Greene put it, the Human Factor. They refuse to give in entirely to ideology - the unhealthy transgression being that they continue to read the Other Side by this measure too. They would prefer human weakness to ideological strength - a strange sort of nostalgia, but at least it is identifiably human. At least you can sit down and have a few night cap drinks with it, and know that it will share its last cigarette with you ...

+ + + +

Somehow, I doubt there will come a time, 20 years down the line, when I will be sitting watching a repeat of SPOOKS with tears running down my cheeks. That show's running jumping Clinique-faced "agents" wouldnt know what to do with a cigarette. They'd be frightened they might get sued by some secreatary for secondary smoke inhalation. They are avatars of Zizeks low tar, decaffeinated, fat free new world: agents without ideology. No smoke in your "I", no ideological mirror stage.

The well tailored tinkers of Le Carre's 'Circus' appeared to have no 'home life' whatsoever. Smiley's London flat was the nearest we got to any such thing, and that was haunted by the absence of the fragrant Anne, now elsewhere. (Indeed, the repetition across episodes, in different tones of voice and insinuendo, of the word "Anne", turned it into something like a code word for "elsewhere" or what was or might have been.)

It was, in its own way, a remarkably UN-sentimental piece of television, undeviating, monotone, but depthlessly rich. (At times it felt something like a Noel Coward script, being played by a Pinter cast; or, maybe, vice versa.)

The old Game of spying was all about memory; in the new world, nothing ever disappears, so you will never be able to forget anything long enough to have the pleasure of trying to foggily remember it, later on. Like the programme SPOOKS itself - everything is much "better", more professional, higher tech, seamless, well paced, well spun and advertised, higher production values, probaly more accesible and less (cough cough) "elitist"; fitter, clearer, cleaner faced and cleaner lunged, but ... rather facile and emptily flash. A world of stylists and spin masters, who wouldnt know a pithy Classical reference if it knocked over their bottle of Armani scent. (Theyd just GOOGLE the Classical reference - and get the fact of it, but not the pith. A bit like the Middle East, really.)

And aaah but now, the cruellest paradox of this throwaway world, is that nothing is throwaway: with hi tech surveillance and the ineradicable trace work of emails, life has become one long permanent record.

Worse still - there's nowhere left to smoke.

posted by Ian 9/06/2006 07:00:00 AM

(28) comments


{or: let them snort coke...}

I think a lot of people ENVY Paris: because she knows EXACTLY WHO SHE IS.
She knows exactly who she is, and isnt troubled by it. Doesnt show the requisite pennance. (Like a spell in rehab, or the mandatory fake charity gig.)

There are hundreds of massively spoiled and coddled and vacuous and protected slebs in the world; but if you have an 'up from prole roots' narrative (the divine Kate M) or if you are a male indie rawker (Evan Dando, say) people go all swoony or abstract-theory and overlook your sins. See also: all those middle class educated rappers who've made zillions thru their cynical exploitation of the 'gangsta/playa' thread, and still get Respeck.

I think the particular people who envy Paris the most are probably Popbitch type gossip-monger/celeb-watcher people, partly because they have put themselves in this strange Master-Slave relationship with ditsy slebs in general (see also Victoria Beckham) but Paris in particular; and even tho they devote half their own lives to a chronicle of these sparkly other lives they think their subjects' fame is, at base, "unearned".

But who strikes you as DUMBER in this equation? Uh?

One of the reasons I like the Paris (thus far) is that there has been no worked-up strictly-spin apologies: no 'train wreck then rehab/chat show confession/anorexic tell-all/United Nations envoy or charity gig' join the dots narrative. She knows who she is, what her limitations are, and she works it. No one forces the media to give her so much oxygen and space ... and they maybe can't bear to admit to themselves she is nearly always one step ahead and has READ them perfectly and made her self a totally irresistble proposition...
... which I also supect most media people wouldnt resent quite so much if, say, there was a male Warhol figure lurking there behind Paris, who they could credit with the requisite media skills and cynical 'manipulation of media' plot; which, in their minds, would somehow 'justify' the whole thing; whereas just Paris, being happy and shiny and sexy, somehow DOESNT ...

Paris is her own invention, and has never apologised or changed: there is no hypocrisy. The media, on the other hand, has been in a secret shame spiral of jettisoned values and dumb-down laziness ... and cant bear to see Paris happy untroubled face staring back at them every time they give her more publicity, because it shows THEM up, not her.

I remember reading the first Vanity Fair article on the Hilton sisters (long before Paris became "Paris") and, well, liking them. They seemed like canny modern girls, having a ball. (Admittedly, to organs like The Daily Mail, this has always represented the beginning of the end of the world, but since when did we take our sub cultural cues from the Daily Mail!?)

(BTW: I still think Nicky is the sexier one - but then, that's a given: dark and back and to the left and secretive will always be sexier in my book than blonde and upfront and DO YA THINK I'M SEXY!?... But hey, I'm not gonna construct some preeningly "moral" worldview around it and say that anyone who doesn't fit is "repulsive" (the most common word I found used of Paris after 2 minutes research on an Indie music discussion page...)

I've no idea how smart or what kinda smart Paris is, but I just somehow get the same old feeling of a vapour of misogyny under a lot of this ANTI-PARIS blather. Yeah, OK, she's not Judith Butler, but she never promised to be, did she? 'O! But she doesn't DO anything!' wail all the sallow grim-faced Indie type people, who seem to be among the most vituperative ANTI-Paris factions. You'd think that the kind of Indie groups these people uncritically worship were, like, you know, SCHOENBERG or something, instead of hapless dorks with Blonde on Blonde shags who make the Smiths sound complex. I mean: who's actually more - and more unhappily - "obsessed" with Image here?

(The all too contrived non-image Image of Indie music - that's a topic for another time; along with this strange thing I've often noticed in Indie/Rock land, to wit, the valorisation of Femininity ONLY if and when it is "dark" and "troubled" a la Courtney Love, i.e., weak and flailing out of control, and thereby either fascinating for the smug male gaze, or in need of either Help or Explanation, which may ultimately amount to the same thing a lot of the time, from Billie Holiday on... )

The hatred vented in the direction of Paris is surely disproportionate.
You know who I hate a hundred times more? College educated media studies type people who work on E4 or Heat and make a career out of the complete low level mockery and IRONY-isation of everything, like, 'We know this is crap but here it is anyway "on your bleedin telly box" bored voice between quotes.
Compared with this SCUM, I am 99% sure that a night with Paris would be the best kinda fun.

(Hey: maybe people just dont like to admit that they find rich folk SEXY, never, no how, uh uh, nuh see't?)

I dont know about interview her, but if some publisher wants to give me a big wodge of dosh to knock out a quick book on everythng pertaining to the PARIS subject, I'm more than up for it... there are just SO many jumping off points - sex, celebrity, class war, etc. It's all there. It can be my Lester Bangs Blondie book ha ha.
No - seriously.
C'mon canny publishers - drop me a line in the COMMENTS box.

But on one condition: it absolutely MUST NOT be called 'The Judgement of Paris.' I would rather I HEART PARIS, frankly. Or, THE PARIS RIOTS. Or, PARIS 69 t hee...

posted by Ian 9/05/2006 09:56:00 AM

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