{THE PILL BOX } spacer
powered by blogger


Busy at the moment, so just a few days run-down of trivia.

+ + +

I was channel surfing the other night when I heard an advert start

"WHICH Russian icon...?"

It turned out to be a bottle of Smirnoff.
(I have to say I think "Russian" is pushing it, frankly.)

I channel flipped and heard a BBC4 announcer say "...with iconic images from 50 years ago..." and we were back in Hungary 1956.

Maybe the oddest use of the word, tho, was yesterday in the ghastly new re-designed Guardian G2. Here's Martin Parr on one of his own photographs: it's a close up of a cup of tea. That's it, that's all there is in the shot: one cup of tea. And now hear him discuss this shot "[...] I think this is the most successful. It has the teacup, the gingham, every icon and cliché you could imagine about a cup of tea."
But it's a cup of tea. On a checked tablecloth. How many "icons" can there BE in such a simple shot?

(Surely the point of most "iconic" images so-called, is to have ONE central obvious "iconic" thing? )

Talking of ICONS, I realised I'd never actually consulted David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary on De Palma. And you know what? HE loves SCARFACE and hates everything else De Palma has done, too!

Another instance of PILL BOX against-the-grain taste being vindicated seems to come in the little news item I just read, which reports that THE FARRELLY BROTHERS are thinking of buying up the rights to a current British comedy series in order to transfer it to US TV. And - joy of joys! - it's not one of BBC2's massively over-rated boutique comedies, but the massively UNDER rated I'M WITH STUPID.

(+ Caught a repeat of IDEAL the other night; still think this was approaching genius a lot of the time.)

(+ + Final - I promise - niggle about EXTRAS.
Why on earth would Robert De Niro take a meeting with someone whose sole known work is a stinker of an antiquated old school wig and catchphrase s(h)it com?
I just think this betrays Merchant/Gervais contempt for the audience - o, just fling it all out at them, they won’t notice the joins. Any excuse to get De Niro in - doesn’t matter that it has ZERO logic.
I remain totally emperors-new-clothes mystified that it got such good reviews.)


Tried watching HEAVEN CAN WAIT last night, which I had never actually seen (or particularly wanted to see, I have to say) before. Astonishing. How can SUCH a smart savvy man as Warren Beatty make SUCH an awful film? It doesn’t just falter or occasionally hiccup - it fails on every level. It's one of the unfunniest comedies I've ever seen. He even somehow contrives to make Julie Christie look unattractive and Charles Grodin appear clunkingly unfunny - which, well, that is some unique directorial juju.

(Altho, come to think on it, this just reminds me of what someone said about DICK TRACY: what a "coincidence" it was that Beatty has chosen that plot, where everyone else has to be made up to look grotesque and ugly, leaving Beatty as the sole handsome, charming man...)

And then you start to think... on any film where he's had COMPLETE unfettered unopposed input and 'creative control' ... Heaven Can Wait, Ishtar, Dick Tracy, Love Story ... OK, I will grant you REDS doesn’t quite belong on that list of shame. But would YOU want to sit through it again? (Take Jack Nicholson's ten-minute-turn as Eugene O Neill out of it, and you’ve got pure soufflé, Marxism via Mills & Boon.)*

Maybe the myth concerning the 'icon' Warren Beatty (Machiavelli in the boardroom, Casanova in the bedroom) is more interesting than the sappy reality. If he has an 'aesthetic', and those films betray it, it would appear to be the aesthetic of a rich, ossified Park Avenue dowager, who was 65 in 1964.


Talking of ossified - MADONNA on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Is it just me - or isn’t Madonna really REALLY starting to look like a bad DRAG ACT version of herself? When Baudrillard said WE ARE ALL TRANSSEXUALS NOW, is this what he meant?



Just found this great quote in Biskind's EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS:

"Indeed, there is a scene in the movie in which Warren and Julie are walking through the rose gardens of a grand estate. He is wearing a stylish leather jacket, and she has a haircut she hated, the one she sneeringly called her "dolly girl" hairdo. In the film, romantic music is swelling up on the soundtrack, drowning out their conversation, wherein what Christie was [actually] saying, in her clipped British accent: "I can't believe you're still making these fucking dumb movies when, I mean, there are people all over Europe making fabulous films, about real things, FASSBINDER, and so on, and you're still doing this shit," and then she'd smile at him as if she had honey on her tongue."


*{ OK - I forgot about BULWORTH, large parts of which I enjoyed enormously. And I do have a personal soft spot for BUGSY, but I don't think that quite qualifies as wholly Beatty's own film. (In fact, you might argue that it is only because Toback smuggled some ugly messy ID into the script, and Beatty didnt direct himself, that it turned out to be the after-a-fashion success it is...


Maybe Cher inadvertantly bagged it with a capsule review that was actually about his much fantasised over sexual skills, but could stand for too much of his screen work, too:

'Beatty was rarely faithful to the babes he bedded, but his sexual skills got mixed reviews. He had a one-night stand with a 16-year-old Cher while he was dating Natalie Wood. "What a disappointment!" she later recalled. "Not that he wasn't technically good, [but] I didn't feel anything."'

I still think SHAMPOO is one of the best American films ever made, tho; and I can watch and re watch THE PARALLAX VIEW until the 'extraordinary rendition' planes come home...

posted by Ian 10/27/2006 10:17:00 AM

(17) comments



o, DAMN and BLAST Film4 to an eternity of unending merde and approbation.
Or something. I'm - yeah, you know, apopo... - inarticulate with rage.

Just noticed.
Tonight they've got a film I've desperately wanted to RE-view for ages - Rivette's hauntillogical CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING ("The most innovative film since Citizen Kane" - David Thomson*). Film4 have scheduled this masterpiece of the ages at 12.20 am**; this for a film that runs to more than 3 hours***. While the prime time slots are taken up with ... The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (indeed, indeeeeed); and then BLACKBALL. What is Blackball, I hear you say? No, I didnt have a clue what it was, either. Blackball is a sunk-without trace Mel Smith 'comedy' with the obnoxious and inexplicably pleased-with-himself Paul Kaye. Even CHANNEL 4's own website gives it a scathing review - as see HERE; whilst the BBC review says: "there is, literally, not a single unexpected element to the story [...] another undemanding, join-the-dots comedy which stands a fair chance of commercial success with a beery Friday night crowd who find saying tosser the funniest thing since farting in public."

I just don't understand anything about this scrappy, all-over-the-place, please-absolutely-no-one programming: I really don't.

(Couldnt they at least have put THE NAKED GUN on at 5.10 and moved Ray's strange, unforgettable JOHNNY GUITAR up to make a vague double-bill with CELINE AND JULIE?
I mean - I'm not a snob. I find the NAKED GUN films funny (in an undemanding, lazy afternoon kind of way); but - really, what the HELL are they doing on a specialist (as it were) FILM channel? They have ZERO interest as 'films', per se - and that's not snobbisme, that's just brass tack facts.
And as for the notion that showing something like Blackball(s) is somehow 'supporting' the (ha ha) British Film Industry - o, do behave. NOT showing it would do our reputation more of a favour.

CELINE AND JULIE isn't some grim stereotypical 'sub titled' angst fest. It's light, and seductive, and thrillingly unpredictable. And (as far as I can remember), I would think that in its own 'haunted house' way, it would probably transfer to the small screen really well.


*Still, after that recent Nicole Kidman book, I'm really not sure about old DT(s).

**{Not quite as bad as putting La Belle et Le Bete on at 2.15 in the a.m., (in favour of the eight fucking thousandth showing of the hugely overrated THE FULL MONTY) as they did on Sunday, but still.

***{ and I speak as someone who sat through the full uncut version of Rivette's L'Amour Fou [at the old Scala, WAY back when it sat in Charlotte Street...].

posted by Ian 10/24/2006 11:29:00 AM

(21) comments



... really good stuff HERE; and I'm not just saying this because my homegrrrl name drops the Pill Box, or is acute on the holey Greil:

" [...] I've been finding The Shape Of Things to Come a real slog, to be honest - I'm skimming over large chunks of it. The chapter on Twin Peaks (the chapter where Marcus drops riot-grrrl into the picture, incidentally) is pure guff - I don't get it at all. Maybe the problem begins from the title of the book onwards: it seems that with this new stuff, the motivation in Marcus's writing is to close down rather than open up interpretation. He wants to take these fleeting, flimsy pop-cultural moments and hew them into granite; turn his ghosts into monuments, and then herd everybody into the public square to turn around and face those monuments. See, see? - but I don't see at all."

The post goes on to take in SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY and the dream/day-dreaming photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, which is uncanny, as I'd just been reading about the same in Marina Warner's latest, PHANTASMAGORIA {Spirit Visions, Metaphors & Media into the 21st Century}, a book I heartily recommend...

Coming to Warner's text - and an advance copy of the dizzying new Nick Tosches, KING OF THE JEWS {The Arnold Rothstein Story} - just confirmed what I already knew re Marcus - it's not, it's never enough simply to pick the "right" subjects, or merely deploy the "right" terms (e.g., "weird", "ghosts", "haunted", etc) - which is to miss the point altogether I think if we're talking Hauntology... it should be the aggravated place you write from, it should inhabit the signals you send... it is the doubt that pocks and scars your writing's style ... or, just because Marcus says somethng is "weird" (or, rather, Weird), doesn't make anything he says haunting... especially when he keeps trying to drag everything back to an origin, to GROUND it, in a presumed, an unquestioned, an a priori AMERICAN logos ...

... what it is, what it is... should be a real ontological jolt, something that displaces or displeases you, opens up a caesura, an aporia, a lacuna (or lacana?), a gap or gape in where you think you are, where you think you think from, where you think thinking goes or what it does, how you think it summons, who you think speaks when "you yourself" speak... it is not, it is not in any way, but it especially is not an acess or gateway into list making, or History as summons, itinerary, COMMONALITY. It should make you think (knock) thrice, before ever doing anything like that ever again. Words should feel soiled, spoiled, unmanageable, OFF ... which is why I start to feel un-easy about Hauntology so-called as a hobby-hors(), i-2-3, tick this off, tick this off...

... the point about Derrida and the coining of Hauntology is that it is spillage or outbreak from a rigorous combing of Marx and the very precise way in which certain words or notions HAUNT the Marxist project {{ perhaps without the author's sure knowledge or clear intent... which is why CALLING Hauntology or Ghost syntax INTO your own project - as CAPITALISATION, as something you confidently bank or capitalise on or invest in - may, very properly, disqualify you before you even begin to speak of it. Derrida's echo-point would rather be that it SPEAKS BEFORE YOU, with that strange logic of the spectre or un-dead, which is to say, time (as tongue) twisted, something which is supposedly 'dead' and 'gone' (in temporal, logical terms) can still be waiting UP AHEAD, lying in wait, putting your call through or blocking access, directing the flow or stoppage of "your" speaks-to-me thought before it even commences to sing ... it should make you think twice about the phrase "my voice"... it is not an invoice ... it is an off-white body standing before you in backlit abeyance, saying nothing but speaking All... that no matter (immaterially) what you say, you get this noisesome, queasy feeling that it is merely a TEXT or VOICE MAIL sent on from who knows when, old news from elsewhere ... some faraway near ...


... speaking of which, I woke up a few mornings ago with this odd bit of sung doggerel jumping in my head, which I immedately scribbled down:

"I have a brother back in the BRONX

and an entire memory of VIENNA


From WHOSE mouth exactly, to "my" text...?


... oh, also recommended, this few years old, but ever so timely "opinion" piece from ALAIN BADIOU on the QUESTION OF THE VEIL. {I've been struggling through a new collection of Badiou's Theoretical Writings [Continuum Impacts Pbk], but Jeez, it's tough work. Although how much of that is down to my ingrained antipathy to MATH, I'm not yet sure ...

posted by Ian 10/23/2006 09:26:00 AM

(3) comments



From this post of MarK's on FAMILY VALUES (and the War on Terror); to my remarks below on the decimated, unstable Family presented in PRIME SUSPECT, to ...

... well, surely to some kind of head-scratching meditation on the ridiculously over-blown "media circus" attending MADONNA's current Family arrangements (or, 'geo-politics as playing at Grown Ups') over the past few days.

BBC News 24 cut yesterday to a reporter standing outside Madonna's Mayfair home.
The next five minutes was a roll-call of News-24 cliches: "nothing to report, I'm afraid...", "nobody really knows...", "nobody seems 100% sure...", "part of the problem is, nobody knows the precise facts..."

At one point the reporter used the phrase "Right at the top of the agenda is the question..." Right at the top of WHAT?!

All the things that are going on in Iraq (60-100 killed EVERY DAY), in Darfur, in China, in North Korea, all the executions, all the rapes, all the un-ending torture, all the stage-managed internecine strife, and we see our media professionals stampede, like a slavering mindless pack, around this one displaced* kid ... crying foul in the 'interests' of the little innocent (as if he were a kidnapped babe from Grimm's), at the same time staging an unrelenting, claustrophobic and then high-speed ambush around him.

I'm not saying the story doesn't have resonance, isn't interesting on a number of levels, but is it really LEAD story material? The fate of - well, WHAT, exactly, WHO, exactly, hangs in the balance here?

(Havent we been here before, in some sense? With Madonna using the exotic pull of the Other as - very exactly - local colour to spice up her soundbyte narrative? From the Black Christ of 'Like A Prayer' to the Krumping/Clowning dancers of 'Hung Up', with all the lesbians, urban jumpers and break dancers, Vougers, hotel corridor S&M-ers, inbetween, she has always "adopted" the Other as some kind of strobe-lit supplement to the remorseless drive of her world domination...

And the question 'Why African? Why now?' - might produce some not especially pleasant answers, I suspect.


*{Celebrity as refugee camp? Maybe Madonna and Angelina could start an alternative United Nations? God knows the old one has been asleep on the job for decades now...)

posted by Ian 10/18/2006 11:22:00 AM
(7) comments
Well, I think there's no doubt who won in the Returning Heavyweights face-off - Cracker absolutely trounced by Prime Suspect. The hollowness, the laziness of Cracker's conceit (Fitz out of the way, lecturing in Australia for x years) was summed up by that asinine line McGovern gave Fitz - "Australia: land of skin cancer and Skippy!" - which was just unworthy of everyone involved, including us, the audience, but most of all the character.* There were SO many holes in it all - in the time-stood-still quality of things - which Prime Suspect, I just realised, solved in a really cunning way.

The opening 5 minutes of Prime Suspect (which I already praised below) is so gripping that you almost don’t notice the smart double flip the makers have pulled: Tennyson as (self) drugged/poisoned Sleeping Beauty/Snow White. It's there in the mortifying suddenness of her morning-after awakening on the couch - and then that 'Where am I? Where did the time go? What did I do in it?' feel which works both for terminal alcoholism, and for a character who's been off our screens for X years. (Her living room, her home, are void of any conventional 'character' prompts, any signifying touches, even the barest Ikea nod. This 'set' - the set of a Memory without any memories - could be a Beckett phantom, come to howl out the comedown longeurs after a decade of TV full of Chick Lit-shaped perky singles and stroppy but coping single mums and wisecracking divorcees.** This isn't a living room - it's a space in which someone barely survives. Prime Suspect, Final Act: Survival of the Un-Fittest ...)

You get more of it soon, when Tennyson starts to notice what almost feels like a Zombie Army of teenagers through her car window; the implied feel is - 'Where on EARTH did they, did this all come from?'
What societal 'repressed' is this our Return on?

Cracker had NO such sub textual currents - or, if it ever did, McGovern wouldn’t let them lie (I said: wouldn’t let them lie!) and promoted them to big old banners he hit us all over the head with: SLICK AMERICANS THEY BAD; GROUCHY SCOT HE GOOD. Although at the end of it, you might be excused for feeling that it was not really any clearer what McGovern was getting at, or why he had dragged 9/11 in. Something about it felt faked - worse than faked, as if WAR was the thematic Viagra McGovern needed to get it up, in order to write the expected scene-to-scene Cracker stuff. (Compare Prime Suspect's awesomely, devastatingly pin-drop opening minutes with the hopelessly naff MTV scrunch n cut of Cracker's, which was a cacophony of Newsreel quotation, signifying nothing.)

There was only one Cracker scene that nearly worked - a domestic late night scene between Fitz and his wife, discussing impotence, declaring (or fudging) their love. And even that felt wrong, ultimately, if you thought about it - i.e., not only did it feel like a vital conversation they would have had years before; but they were lolling around half dressed, as if comfortably at home, which they weren't. I know this sounds like I'm picking at small beer stuff - but it's a matter of establishing and maintaining a believable tone. And McGovern seemed more interested in bawling out Blair/Bush, than in making the human drama turn over and spark.

There were loads more scenes in Cracker that didn’t work, or felt off, for similar reason(s): McGovern seemingly hadn’t taken any account of PASSING TIME.
A scene in the back of a police car where Fitz gets all ASBO excited about chasing a common or gearden junkie: 'Wooo! This is more like it! This is real life! Bollocks to Australia,' etc. But you looked at Coltrane's much, much older face - and much heavier frame - and the words felt wrong. You got no sense whatsoever of what had been going through his head, or on in his life (inner or outer) for the past 7 [?] years. (Midlife years which are crucial in male terms.) McGovern wasn’t interested. He wanted to get to the propaganda stuff about Evil Yanks ... as if his audience hadn’t digested any world events, since the last time Saint Jimmy had lectured us on same. (Seriously, that is how it felt.)

+ + + +

The other thing that has struck me since, thinking about Prime Suspect - is fathers. You could say the whole thing played to the key of MISSING FATHERS. Missing, in all sorts of senses. (Missing, as in lacking, e.g.; but in many other ways.) Played, or prayed ... or preyed. Fathers here are dying, or wounded, or missing in action. Befuddled, excluded, un-needed, perplexed. They are all suspect, as well as suspects. All failing, or putting on a brave face.

The most touching details - and this is good writing, J McGovern - are also always the smallest, the most prosaic; like the victim's father, needing to go off and just sit in his car, alone, with a can of beer. (If this is true, which we don’t actually know yet. But it *felt* true.)

The repressed that this is a return on - some of it, of course, is that forever fudged-around matter of Absent Fathers. (Where do they all GO?) At the heart of the story - altho not overstressed by the makers - is the local Community centre, full of unparented kids... who are both too 'old' for their age, and nakedly unprotected. They can operate the new technology of communication, but are impossible to read. (They are constantly texting each other, but display little psycho-logical sub-text. Or, none that makes much sense to the shell-shocked adults, at any rate.)

+ + + +

PRIME SUSPECT was born in the era when Mrs Thatcher was headmistress - and there was a woman who NEVER wanted to be anyone's Mummy***. It ends in an era where Blair wants to be everybody's Good Dad (or good Catholic Father.****), and tell us all - strictly for our own good, you know - what to do, what not to do, how our children should behave, how they should be raised, what they should eat, what time they should be in at night...

One big happy family.

This latest, and last, eschatological Prime Suspect affixes the insomniac, the 'missing', the necessary QUESTION MARK to that phrase. It haunts the empty coridors and rainy heaths and out of the way estates of its 'plot', like night-terror sweat, like hangover shakes.

You'll have to wake up - soon.


* Never mind that Australia is a fascinating country, full of many of the same problems as the UK (the tension between second generation Émigré conservatism, and sudden, clamorous Global Change, e.g.), what, don't they HAVE crime over there? (Likewise, have the Manchester police not found a replacement for Fitz in all this time? Is he the only profiler in Britain?) And you would have thought, frankly, that the 'fuck it - let's have another drink' culture of Oz would have held many attractions for Fitz. (I know it did me, on my brief visit in 2000.) Or maybe, like his creator, Fitz needs a shot of rainy, grainy psychosis to get his speculative blood circulating...? As if a bustling, well-lit place couldn't ever, in McGovern's scheme of things, be half as "authentic" somehow...

** {a.k.a The Curse of Caroline Quentin.

*** {Except, fatally, Mark's; but that's another post.
See: THATCHER'S FORTUNES {The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher} by Mark Hollingsworth & Paul Halloran [Mainstream Pbk].

**** {You'd think this might be far more fertile ground for McGovern, maybe: a Catholic priest, say, who is torn in two with doubt because of all he sees being done in the name of Religion - by Bush (fundamentalist Christian), by Blair (Catholic), by Islam. But that might be more ambiguous, and there would be fewer guns. Under his Holier/Prolier than thou act, McGovern is beset by a whole load of ethical shdows, you ask me ...

posted by Ian 10/18/2006 10:13:00 AM

(19) comments


nite jane x

MASTERCLASS in screen acting last night from Helen Mirren, in a thankfully back-on-form Final Act of PRIME SUSPECT. Every doe-eyed rubbery-lipped drama queen Hollywood actress should be sat down and made to watch some of these scenes (the opening five minutes of post-blackout waking up, e.g.), where Mirren barely seems to do a thing, but conveys immensities.

The first meeting with TOM BELL (as her old chauvinistic nemesis), was almost too much to take.

And this may be the first adult drama in which learning how to TEXT becomes a bulwark against the encroaching night of age & death ...

TOM BELL 1933 - 2006, R.I.P.

posted by Ian 10/16/2006 09:42:00 AM
(16) comments

Isn't this getting a bit out of hand?
I noticed that yesterday Joanna Newsom got more 5 star reviews - but also (via Observer) comparisons with ASTRAL WEEKS and HORSES*.

Now, I'm perfectly prepared to concede that the reason(s) I don't get YS is that I'm a lazy old git who just won't put the effort in any more, and/or that, due to historical circumstances I'm fatally allergic to the idea of even a hint of a 'concept album' or 'song suite' (... and that it's got nothing to do with Newsom holding the same basic tone or note for 50 minutes, babbling in a completely obtuse private language about "the lonesome bunny rabbit had to eat pirhana jam for tea / because you took the emery board from off the lake / and out to sea."**


Has the world gone mad?

I can't argue the point very far cos I've got work to do, but isn't YS glacially impressive, rather than at all emotionally wrenching? (Not that anyone has a duty to be emotionally wrenching, you understand; but if we're talking Horses and Astral Weeks...)

Does YS have the least element of surprise? One you've got the basic idea, early on, isnt that pretty much it? Don't Horses and Astral Weeks work, precisely because they EARN their flights into 'fantasy' (better say phantasy) by mooring their journeys in an instantly recognisable everyday terrain of hurt, desire, longing, empty streets, tight bonds of family and fear and loss? In Redondo Beach and Cypress Avenue? (As young first-time listeners, we may not yet know all the things Horses and Astral Weeks are 'about', but we sure feel their desiring pull ...)

I'm (grudgingly) prepared to admit YS as some kind of impressive but ultimately over baked folly (altho' I still prefer her in simple song mode, as per faves from her last album like "The Book of Right On"), but whose world is it really going to overturn? Isn't it all a bit fortysomething alphabeticised CD collection?

"Ah, now THIS is REAL music... Van Dyke Parks harrumph harrumph harrumph ... just like SMILE ... decode the song suite burble burble burble ... Tales of Holographic nooky yadda yadda yadda ... "

(I tentatively suspect & suggest that more than a few 30/40 something male critics arent declaring ALL the reasons the fetching and ambidextrous Ms Newsom has got them all a flutter. "But it's a real beauty dont you know, not like all these simply awful plebby chavvy celebrities...")

All this hoo hah about Newsom and Amy Winehouse*** - because they write REAL crafted SONGS, because they PLAY their instruments, etc etc - I'm afraid it just makes me want to go find a good half hour of GIRLS ALOUD reality doc on TV and jig along like an idiot. "SOUND of the UNDEGROUND...."


*{... and, I've just noticed, ROCK BOTTOM. O - do behave! Rock Bottom is polyvalent and polymorphous and polyTONAL. And whilst at a push I might concede that Ys is, after a fashion, "polyvalent" (even if Newsom is the only person who has a CLUE in what direction those meanings might possibly lie), it certainly doesnt compete on the other two levels.

**{Disclaimer: lyric cynic's own, and nothing whatsoever to do with the winsome Ms Newsom.)

***{ is it just me, or doesn't Winehouse look disconcertingly like a drag act of herself half the time? She's one of those people - like Beth bloody Orton - who you read about SO FUCKING MUCH in the broadsheets and magazines that you are almost brainwashed into thinking, Hey, you know, that sounds like it might be a good Easy Listening With An Edge sort of idea...

But in reality, Winehouse is like some awful Jazz Cafe hybrid of SADE and MILLIE JACKSON, except without the good bits of either.

And why IS Beth Orton everywhere? I'm sure she's a lovely woman and all, but does anyone actually in-any-sense 'buy' her awful, wan, go-nowhere records? She has STILL only made three songs you ever want to listen to more than once, and they were all on her first album and had actual poppy hooks and - crucially - were produced by Andrew Weathrall.)

posted by Ian 10/16/2006 09:10:00 AM

(31) comments



... apparently working overtime this week.

For what do we see on ITV4 tonight, 10.00?


{Which gets an unbeatable FIVE STARS in my copy of TV EASY.
23 years ago, on its release, it would have been lucky to scrape TWO with most reviewers.}


posted by Ian 10/15/2006 12:11:00 PM
(2) comments

To THE CULTURE SHOW last night, with its egregiously DUMBED DOWN new E4-style 'format' ...
As well as their staggeringly pointless 'Greatest Living British Icon' (read, in actuality, ENGLISH icon, BTW), we also had a staggeringly patronising interviewer tell OUTKAST "you're fashion icons"*; had Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette "played as a pop icon"; John Lennon as "another dead icon"; and a hot young artist said she was "not interested in producing iconic images of people who're already icons..."

Pity poor Andrew Graham Dixon - who the producers forced to sit in a horrible spangly approximation of some kind of Hoxton Dickwad cocktail bar, being asked stoopid questions by TCS's new young blonde puppyishly poppy presenter**.

I like Graham Dixon (I liked the fact that when forced to submit to the mandatory 'And who would YOUR icon be?" question, he chose a POET***); and he had possibly interesting and pertinent things to say about celebrity and celebrity afterlife (" Saint John Lennon...") as our post-Nietzschean stand-ins for a previous epoch's religious devotion.

Is this what all this 'icon' blether is about? God is dead. Islam is on the re up take. And instead of believing in nothing we iconify ... everything?****


*Does anyone DOUBT that there are 1000s of interesting things one might say about, or ask, OUTKAST? Does anyone not think that, with today's new technology, there are 1000s of new ways of presenting things, framing things, jazzing things up (sure, it can be pop video facile, but it can also be Jean Luc Godard suss - there are a couple of adverts at the moment that beat the visual shit out of anything else on current TV). See - this is what I mean about DUMBING DOWN here, in this specific context. I really have nothing against a well thought out Trojan Horse sort of DUMBING DOWN. Come to that I really have nothing against an all out DUMB and PROUD OF IT - no subtext, for the fun of it - DUMBING DOWN. But the kind of dumbing down The Culture Show is presently engaged in - it suits nothing, it helps nobody, it has no shape or surprise, it's astonishingly old hat and lazy.

Let's take the OUTKAST segment
The whole thing was flagged as some kind of big summit or quasi confrontation or something, and actually segued with the inter-title OUTKAST MEET ZINA - as tho the presenter, Zina Saro-Wiwa, were as much a catch as the boys themselves. This is really lame - unless the interviewer is really, truly notable, which, for all that I'm sure she's a wunnerful human bean an everything, who the hell knows? And on this evidence, she can’t interview to save her life.

(According to the BBC Press Office notes for The Culture Show, Saro-Wiwa is a "broadcaster whose big passions are music, 'ideas' and cultural politics..." [Scare quotes around 'ideas', BBC's/Saro-Wiwa's own, BTW.] She also "has a series coming up called Hello World which is looking at global celebrity culture." (NO! get outta here! Wow, that's a topic that don't get much coverage, innit!) And she is "currently an adviser for the British Council's music unit and also a guerilla film-maker." I'm sorry - but if the latter two statements are true, then gawd help us all.)

I mean, all the things you might do with OUTKAST ... instead, you get the two doubtless jetlagged principals, who have probably already done 37 media interviews that day, and - wow! INSANE idea, this, Sebastian! - interview them in a Saville Row shop - DUH! - because they're "fashion icons". Never mind the wider point that, actually, 89% of performers these days, black and white, are actually "fashion icons" - that that's the way things work nowadays, morons. Never mind that Outkast are doing, and have always done, amazing things, sonically; have left a legacy of incredible work with their videos (a whole segment could be devoted to how Outkast played with and baffled Hip-Hop/black stereotypes with their playful and contrary and funny videos); have just made a fascinating cross-timeline film; and are helping bend entrenched hip-hop away from BLING-dom...

So, uh - what you gon' ask them about, now you got them here? The interviewer asked them about ... their pets. (ZS-W: "I'm a dog person , myself." "I don't have any, no, but I'm a dog person...") About ... their clothes. (ZS-W: "Can you just run us through what you've got on today?")

I'm not 100% sure about some of her other wince-making Qs, because I had to keep turning the sound down, so embarrassed/annoyed did I get.

And should one say here that it felt somehow worse that such dumb questions should come from a young black person? Would such DUMB questions have been asked of Chris Martin? Or Steve Reich? Or Squarepusher, indeed? They seemed to have looked at a showreel of OUTKAST videos, and a few previous Q&A cuttings, and left it at that. Which begs the Q of WHY BOTHER. I do know that it felt wince-makingly uncomfortable to see the condescending surprise on Siro-Wiwa's face at the idea that these sub-fusc Hip Hop types might - shock horror! - actually like non-black music!!!!++ (Kate Bush, The Smiths, and the predictable if puzzling Andre 3000 name-check for Squarepusher.+++)

Siro-Wiwa's whole attitude was, like, 'You mean you can like pole dancing AND intelligent white pop music? You can like big ol' sexy asses AND the way Kate Bush's mind works? You can like bush and Bush!? Gosh, I...uh... hang on here... I'm having difficulty with this... uh... notion. You mean... people aren’t straightforward and easily summable up in a two-word media catchphrase? You mean - people have inherent contradictions? Oh my, I shall have to think about this strange new idea, and no kidding!'

Not to be patronising in my turn, but you would think, as a young black woman, she might just have had some experience herself of NOT always fitting into the ready made & superficial stereotypes people had prepared for her.

Saro-Wiwa, presented with the GIFT of Big Boi's love of KB, could have asked him about gender and sonics, or playfulness and the mixing desk, or running up that hill, or any number of yes I said yes, did I hear right, questions. What did she ask? "How does that one go?" Here you have stereotyping as some kind of dumb self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, in other words: DUMB QUESTIONS IN, DUMB ANSWERS OUT, obviously.

** Lauren Laverne - who I used to like, enormously, and who I still like, in certain other contexts. But here she jars like break-dancing in a SCHOOLS TV Poetry segment. ('Hey! KIDS! You know... Shakespeare was kind of a versifyin' HOMEY , too...') It's not her fault, per se. But these days, as soon as someone is perceived as moderately successful at appealing to a certain audience - they are plucked up and flagrantly over-deployed in all manner of other, seemingly ad hoc, contexts. (See also: the use of female columnists like the appalling Barbara Ellen and the cloyingly frisky Lucy Mangan by The Guardian and The Observer.) But you only have to look at * to see how this is no guarantee of anything.

*** {Laverne reacted to (t)his choice in the same way as Saro-Wiwa reacted to Big Boi liking Kate Bush... except her reaction was maybe less patronising, more perky & punky ironic - Gosh!, you mean they still have things like POETS where you come from? As if the subject under discussion were some type of stripey candy you used to buy in jars, or a dish made of tripe, or something.

****Who said that? That the danger is not that, after the death of God, we believe in nothing, but that we believe in ... anything/everything (?)


++ {Later on, Lauren Laverne returned to this topic, saying "how weird" was it that Russell Brand and Outkast should both like Morrissey. Why, exactly? It's two thousand and mother fucking six, bitch! (Sorry: Richard Pryor doc last night.)

+++ {Squarepusher, BTW? - I really don’t get it. Not then, not now, and I somehow think not ever. I saw him play once, live, years ago and was open mouthed in HUH!?-dom, like, THIS is what is Trendy with da WIRE kids dese days? It was like some awful album from 1974 - Isotope or Seagull or somebody. Flying fingers for the sake of it. And last night's Squarepusher solo spot was EXACTLY the same. It was like John Williams used to be on the Spanish guitar, except on a six string bass. It was the worst kind of turgid tech-for-tech's sake jazz-rock baloney. In my opinion, like. Gawd alone knows what Andre 3000 hears in it.

{ .... }

Just goes to show, don’t it.
We finally get black music/Rap taken seriously, featured on a ‘proper’ arts show, prime time, BBC2; and finally get music and art taken out of the supposedly ossified hands of the dead boring white middle classed men, all the dons and career carpers and softly-softly Braggs. You have a smart young black woman interviewing sharp young black artists – and the show presented by a sassy young (ex) pop star woman.

And ...

And it’s mortifying, it's AWFUL, it's clueless, it's crap. It somehow manages to patronise EVERYONE. It's soufflé – but without even the charm of soufflé. Flat soufflé – which is worse than bad, it's pointless. If you can't even do lightweight well – what's the point. I might as well switch to TMF, where at least they know what they’re doing; where at least they know superficial, and can do superficial humourously and well.

Or we might as well go back to the tentatively just-inching-post-Reithian days when tweedy old dons mocked Pink Floyd for being repetitive and too loud. At least then there was a bit of friction, something to argue about.

This is toss.

Iconic toss, no less.

posted by Ian 10/15/2006 08:05:00 AM

(16) comments



Is this a new record?


I open today's GUARDIAN, page 2, headline: 'The truth about those iconic buildings ...'
Just then, an advert on the TV [for tomorrow's Mail on Sunday] calls Victoria Beckham "one of the world's top fashion ICONS."
I yawn, and consult the TV guide; and find that tonight The Culture Show [BBC2] is running a search for "Britain's greatest living icon"*...

*{"... defined for these purposes as 'the person who has had the biggest impact on the country's cultural life'.' Leaving aside the Q of what the hell the point is of yet another of these infuriating space- or time- filler survey/Top 20/Top 50/10 Greatest lists, the Guardian proffers this astute and interesting Answer: 'Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the World Wide Web'. Interesting, because - can you still be considered an 'icon' if 99 out of 100 people wouldnt recognise you from a bass player in Babyshambles?

Just please - PLEASE - let it not be BONO.

posted by Ian 10/14/2006 05:52:00 PM
(4) comments


I've got TMF on, but with the sound down. This OVER-BLONDE pointy-faced wish-I-was-a-ROCK-CHICK woman comes on, in mutton-dressed-as-lamb leather, whose every desperate motion seems to SCREAM: I so wish I was Madonna. Worse, the rest of the running jumping twisting flexing stroboscopic video is filled with that quickly-tiresome thing that was briefly trendy about 18 months ago - you know, where straight but somehow Muscle Mary looking boys do balletic leaps off the concrete lips of 1970s car parks and do synchorised touchy-tippy-toe jumps off urban mugging walkways. This is so bad - so DESPERATE - I actually start to giggle a bit, in embarrassed sympathy, waiting to see who this dreadful old trout is who looks like a Channel 5 Makeover Programme entry who started out as a Tottenham crack hoover and had bad plastic surgery to look like a Madonna aping drag queen circa Blonde Ambition.

And but - o-mi-gawd (and I suspect you've already seen this payoff coming, no?) it is MOTHER MADONNA, and her new single PUSH.


Halfway through a dreary TMF "BAD GIRLS Top 20" up shoots the video for HOLE's wonderful wonderful wonderful "CELEBRITY SKIN", and for a few fizz-pop melancholy minutes you are reminded of the brief moment when COURTNEY LOVE could have been, no kidding, one of the greatest and most intersting POP STARS ever ever ever; instead of the broken-down dignity-free BO SELECTA self-parody she has turned herself into.

posted by Ian 10/14/2006 02:30:00 PM

(1) comments


{with a few EXTRA bits...

Have to say I thought that EXTRAS hit new lows last night - and I don't mean in 'bad taste' (as per all that fabricated hoo-hah in the Press last week).

One minute EXTRAS has aspirations to well-filmed, sophisticated meta-narrative commentary; the next minute it's just THE OFFICE with glitzy cameo spots, replaying all those OFFICE-bound scenes that feature long agonising moments of look-away-now embarrassment or embarrassed befuddlement. It has to be said that at least Gervais knows how to script, time and play the latter - even if they're no longer the least bit funny. (Last night's one about not knowing a makeup girl's name, and a previous one in which Gervais-as-Milman* tried to squirm out of buying Ashley an expensive dress, had the common trait of going on FOR EVER, and not getting funnier with each passing protracted beat.) Gervais founders in amongst all the Big Name acting talent - because, well, because he can't act. He has zero range. (Milman is just a nice-guy version of Brent. Although at conveniently lazy plot points - such as his I'M NOT GAY outburst last night, he seems to revert to pure touchy Brentdom. Would Milman - who has spent X years in and around the acting profession - really be so spikily homophobic?)

Unlike PAUL WHITEHOUSE say - who, altho occupying a vaguely parallel terrain of 'Wot, ME Arty!?' blokey bonhomie offscreen, can completely occupy the Other skin of the characters he takes on (and submerges himself in) ONscreen; Gervais doesnt even seem to like any of his fictional friends, neighbours or dopplegangers much. With Whitehouse you get both genuine affection (for older or marginal, unhip characters), and hints of genuine pain. (I can't be the only bloke in the land who shed trickly little tears during episodes of both 'Ralph and Ted' and 'I Was VEH VEH Drunk' Man.) There is no real pain in Gervais land - only smugness and/or social awkwardness. (Which makes his comedy heir to a rather middle class, STAGE bound ethos, far more than something like the ego-free NEXT PLEASE! aesthetic of the FAST SHOW. It's a suspicion I've harboured of Little Britain, too - without the help of a visually sharp director, in the third series especially, the whole thing had the feeling of one long overly prissy, queeny, misognyistic Green Room IN-JOKE.)

Whitehouse likes his characters enough to listen long and deep enough to detect traces of real pain. (No coincidence that he ended up in a smart show about psychoanalysis...; but thats a topic for another - possibly painful - post.) Gervais listens to surface banter only; the only emotions Gervais/Milman betrays in EXTRAS are frustration, condescension, disbelief, self pity, meanness, avarice. He wants, most of all, the acceptance (or help) of people he really doesnt like. The world is one big undeserving audience.

Which might just work, in a Pooterish sort of way (because even tho he is of spite and sulk compounded, Milman is still essentially a naif: someone who doesnt know how the secret world of Showbiz works, what code words and codified winks it is run on) - but then all these crashingly boring SPECIAL CAMEOS keep cropping up, whose real intent seems to be to signal to us (a FURTHER bloody wink wink - how many codified winks can one wanky show contain without bursting at the post modern seam?) that GERVAIS ISNT MILMAN - he's a puppet master now, he can make SUPERSTARS dance to his un-generous whims. There is a problem here both of being overloaded with too much META, and not enough emotion. Or - of using this boxes-within-boxes trick to ... well, to say stuff that one suspects aint necessarily very nice.

Take the first series episode with Les Dennis. Dennis himself appeared to be playing a fairly complicated, or at least 'knowing' - well, for him - game of 'I know that you know that we all know that I'm doing this knowing that YOU all know that...' etc. Except that, ultimately, the episode left a very sour taste. Gervais & Merchant were exploiting the tabloid meta-verse of Dennis for what I suspect are themselves less than generous motives. Gervais can't identify completely with anyone else's dilemna or perplexity or pain. There is a basic comedy/drama problem here, in that he doesnt have the generosity of spirt to stretch things that far. Or, sometimes, maybe he nearly does - as with Dennis, when he got halfway there, and then ... couldnt resist the Cheap Laugh, finally. (This is a big and recurring problem - as we saw again this week when Milman's duff agent had a date with the winsome Ashley; but more on that in a moment.)

Even in The Office, the laughter was very seldom - at least for me - a joyous, bursting roar-out-loud kind of laughter. It was wincing, partial, like some form of half phobia. EXTRAS collapses this in on itself several wince turns further. Laughter itself becomes a form of after-thought reference, something between scare quotes - a mere footnote. The Office at least, with some of its more dubious moments, might have made you think 'SHOULD I be laughing at this?', twined around with icky tendrils of moral unease. Extras forces the same ruminative PAUSE - - but unfortunately, this time round, the 'SHOULD I be laughing at this?" is because you're secretly thinking: is it just me, or isn't this all a bit self indulgent and FLAT AS ALL GET OUT?

Which, all this is a conventional 'suspended belief' problem, but also a meta-narrative problem. Because not only isn’t most of the current storyline in the least bit believable, NEITHER ARE THE META NARRATIVES! And EXTRAS only works, comedically, if you believe the basic premise. It has basic pretensions to being a 'realistic' look behind the scenes. Some of the time. Except when it isn't. (What world is Milman's awful Sitcom supposed to exist in? It looks like something that would have been REJECTED, and quickly, in 1975; not commissioned, unthinkingly, in a post-Victoria Wood post-Fast Show world.) It's all over the place.

Take last night. Would (Sir) Ian McKellan have hired Milman in the first place?**
Why? Why would he have hired a podgy unattractive TV skit comedian with no stage experience to play what looked like some kind of Young Rupert Everett role? And then, having got this role - which would have brought him kudos, and career change and peer acceptance and, in short, All His Soul Desires - would Milman really have thrown it away (and in that fashion) for the sake of a few Blimpoid mates-of-mates he barely knows thinking he was Gay? (Again, it feels very 1970s, somehow.)

(Or: it only works if we take an enormous - and frankly unconvincing - leap of speculation, and think of the entire second series as some kind of long purgatorial phantasy/nightmare a post-lunch napping Milman is having on some Elstree Thursday afernoon from the first series. No, me either.)

As I say - "and in that fashion"? For each episode seems pre-planned to crescendo with a spot in which Gervais-as-Milman gets to play a would-be virtuoso scherzo of fudge and pause and embarrassment. Which at least is vaguely consistent (if a tiny bit wearing and predictable), like Larry David always having to say what he thinks.
Worse still, worst of all, is what's-his-face as Milman's agent (does he have a name? is it a surprise I can’t remember it? Would he have been indulged half as much - as bad actor, as unconvincing character - if Merchant wasn't also Gervais' real life Best Mate? Isnt he, again, just a barely shaded replay of the "specky geek" he played in The Office?).

Until now, Crap Agent has been played as unreconstructed Crap Man - he wears notably, astoundingly crap clothes (a constant rollneck of pre-NEXT vintage and inexplicable - not even CHARITY SHOP - provenance) and a really bad haircut; and seems to have the limited sexual and interpersonal nous of - well, of some old fashioned 1970s Sitcom character (probably played by a mommy's boy Corbett, say). Then last night he gets a date (unconvincing) with Ashley...

Cut to his flat: all of a sudden he has this scarcely believable ultra trendy flat, he is dressed in Susannah & Trinny smart-choice clothes, his hair is no longer Mummy's Boy anachronistic/absurd, and he is cooking (well) and chatting (amiably, ably), at the same time, and making (utterly out-of-character) charm-laden headway with Ashley.
If this 'from pinstripe to cape' phone-box change wasn't perplexing enough, just as new Trendy Smoothy Man has got Ashley relaxed, he then launches into this preposterous skit about turds stuck in the toilet, which I won’t even detail; but, the point is, he would actually have to be sociopathic or autistic or otherwise have some form of medically certifiable arrested development to be THAT stupid, THAT lame, THAT insensitive. It would be like Frank Spencer becoming Jason King for 10 minutes, chatting up a mini skirted dolly model, then blink blink, he's back in "the cat's done a woopsie!" land. He's gone from being 1973 Sitcom Thick/Crap to being post-Makeover slick n relaxed n confident and trendy, to being Beyond Even Sitcom Thick/Crap - and all in the space of about 15 minutes. This is incredibly poor, lazy, unreflective writing - from a duo who (whether you rate them or not) did at least, with the Secret Romance in THE OFFICE, seem able to write real men and women, sharply, tenderly, affectingly.
But then again - in The Office, Gervais had surrounded himself with proper, capable actors. (And not stupid pointless lookit-me-I-can-hire-my-new-showbiz-pals Actor/Luvvy cameos, but good, ego-free comic actors.)

EXTRAS is a gigantic folly - it's a gigantic narcissistic love note from Gervais to himself, essentially.
He's in virtually every scene - and 95% of the emotional tone and ripple in the series is set off by Milman. This would be a lot for any actor to handle (never mind co writing & co directing too) - especially as the stock in trade Milman moment requires subtle often silent RE-action from him; which is one of the most difficult acting-for-a-camera skills to master - but for someone with the limited capability of Gervais, it's vainglorious to say the least.

He was alright in The Office because, as we subsequently learned from various chat show appearances, Brent was essentially just Gervais playing ... Gervais. Same mannerisms. Same love of anti-PC jokes. Same hesitant vocal rhythms. Same distrust of social consensus. (BTW, does anyone remember the AWFUL little skits Gervais did, pre-Office, for the awful C4 11 O Clock Show? Which - from Gervais' grumbling Tabloid Man to the wan, inexplicably indulged Daisy Donovan***, to the nascent Ali G - essentially had one note, and one note only, of provoking sudden-gasp oh-cringe social unease.)

But at least the playing of Brent required a Brechtian distance of sorts to be established - in that Brent did skirt, a lot of the time, being genuinely despicable or dislikeable.
Ironically, it is in choosing to play an only barely modulated version of his pre-Office self, that Gervais has come a giant cropper. EXTRAS really hasn’t caught on in the public imagination with a twentieth of the to-the-heart power The Office had. (The sole element that caught on first series round was the sympathetic character of Ashley - whose role has, unfortunately, been downgraded in the second series.)

Mind you - Gervais is lucky, inasmuch as for the past few weeks his folly has been followed, on BBC2, by a likewise much-hailed comedy series that is, unbelievably, even less successful, even less funny, than Extras. I have tried to watch - two? three? - anyway - I have tried and TRIED to watch THAT MITCHELL AND WEBB LOOK, because I absolutely adored PEEP SHOW. (Mind you, I think Peep Show was written by some other duo, whereas That Mitchell and Webb Look is M&W's Own Work.) It is shockingly awful, amateurish, inane, awkward, badly acted, sub college review standard.
But again we see comedy programmes on BBC3 that are a thousand time wittier, sharper, better acted, more imaginative - being given the bum's rush of zero publicity, while two middle crass EX OXBRIDGE twits get given the prime time spot. Just saying, like.

It's almost enough to make you welcome back BO' SELECTA!

Almost, but ... well, not 100% shall we say.
Although it bears a moment's reflection at some later date, and I will - dutifully - try and sit through some of the new series ... just because when Leigh Francis started the whole SELECTA conceit, I loved it to bits. Almost alone of his new generation, he had the power to reduce me to states I used to be in between the ages of 11 and 15 watching Python say (or The Producers for the first time): laughter as sheer abject, fallen to the floor, hitting the floor with my hands, as fists, tears rolling down my cheeks, bladder threatening inarticulate SURRENDER. I loved Michael Jackson, and Craig David, and Mel B. I loved Trisha's "RICE AN PEAS" catchphrase (the latter, for some reason, made me laugh more than anything else)****. I even liked the rude BEAR, at that point.

But I don’t think I have ever swung so violently away from something, 180 degrees, from sheer uncritical love, to sheer pathological ALLERGIC hate. By the third (I think) series of BO SELECTA I literally couldn’t stand to watch it, a few minutes of its seemingly unscripted, swearing + swearing + swearing + self consciously RUDE BITS + swearing + NAFF D-list celebrity in-joke slagging off + more putrid 10 year old boys' idea of "RUDE" BITS + more OTT swearing for its own sake... it seemed more like the admission notes for someone who had been SECTIONED by their friends for their own good, after having a 15 pints and too much coke breakdown one Friday night. (Have you ever been with someone when they stepped over the line from being edge-of-drunk saying-the-unsayable genuinely riskily funny ... into red-faced unstoppable babbling hysteria? It was like that - only stretched out into yawn inducing length. And for some reason, Channel 4 seemed to indulge every last shoddy minor idea Francis/Merrion had, resulting in various 'specials' that were anything but.

Maybe there is hope, tho'.
Last night I saw a trailer for the new BO IN THE USA (makes me laugh, already: I'm sorry, but it does) series, and it featured a skit called Michael Jackson’s PIMP MY BRIDE!. I blew tea out my nose. Maybe all is not lost in this department.

Coincidentally, last night I caught an advert I'd never seen before (I swear) - for the new - what else? - SCARFACE video game, with the nicely apropos tagline 'TONY MONTANA DOESNT DIE THAT EASY." Thanks, guys, for making my post on Scarface's 'iconic' afterlife look even more on the money, heh heh.

BE Tony Montana.
BE Scarface.


Final trivia burst.
I need to watch a couple more episodes of the new ROBIN HOOD (BBC1, Saturdays) before I make up my mind. There was stuff in the first episode I thought was fantastic (and - was it just me - but wasn't there a nudge nudge wink wink thematic being traced thru about Blair + Bush + Iraq + Palestine + Old Labour vs. New labour? Mmm? just me?), but there was also some disappointing stuff. (WHY, for instance, is the Sheriff of Nottingham ALWAYS played in that identical pure-evil smirk smirk panto way? Keith Allen is good at it, sure; but I'd like someone to do him as a weak and hamstrung man, caught in a political trap, his heart one place his realpolitick another: a bit more HAMLET and a bit less HAM. Or, then again: a bit more genuinely evil, sheer darkness, no laffs. There's a whole spectrum you can imagine: but we only ever get this one ho-ho-ho xerox (and everyone now will always be trying to out Rickman Rickman I guess...)(altho I wouldn’t mind going back to the early 60s ROBIN, the one that supposedly, infamously, had all the exiled Hollywood Left input, and seeing how the Sheriff was played then...)


* = distant cousin of The Simpsons Hans Mol[e]man? Everything in EXTRAs does seem to have some extra meta-comedy referential dimension)

**Interesting contrast was provided last night - cruelly so for EXTRAS - with a fantastic back-on-form episode of THE SOPRANOS which saw Christopher and slick friend try to 'take meetings' in Hollywood. Impossibly, post SEXY BEAST, one's estimation of (Sir) Ben Kingsley just shot up another ten notches! I feared this side narrative, but it ended up being played brilliantly - on about three or four or five different levels! - right to the excruciating end. Any show which can produce characters who MUG LAUREN BACALL and not only get away with it, but retain our sympathy in the grubby process ... (it makes Gervais gently-gently sending-up of Chris Martin and David Bowie all the more curdled looking and in-joke one-dimensional.

*** Inexplicable, that is, unless you add her to our list of Posh Sorts getting the breaks and publicity over Prole Sorts. Hmmm?

**** Altho I have to add, here; reading through this, a couple of hours later, I just noticed that ALL of these ridiculed characters are black (I mean, Francis/Merrion even restores Michael Jackson's blackness!). I don't know if this merits comment, or censure, of any kind, but I duly note it - just as a recent correspondent to this page noted that Baron Cohen's two main creations were both albeit tangentially "Muslim". (Altho I guess you could just as convincingly claim - in a post modern, color blind kinda way - that what Jackson, David, Trisha and Mel B have 'in common' is being a priori (or a Selectori) absurd, media-flimsy, and way open to lampoon.

Extra unrelated ***** } { Did you notice how Sacha Baron Cohen got PUBLICITY YOU COULDNT PLAN OR BUY for his new BORAT movie, when the unluckily named ROBINSON let in that hilarious own goal the other night? Each time the ball trickled agonizingly into the back of the net, not only did CROATS everywhere get a vertiginously pleasurable subtextual POLITICAL pay off all these years on, but the FLASH ON FLASH OFF digital billboard directly behind the England goal lit up with BORAT's egregiously disingenuous smiling face and the tag line I LIKE YOU ...


This thing I mentioned re Gervais/Merchant - about nearly getting there, but not being able to resist the Cheap Laugh ... reared its (literally) icky head again last night in the aforementioned new BO IN THE USA. I'm beginning to wonder if this is a generational thing? See, me - if I had shot that scene with The Bear interviewing a gloriously filthy Jenny McCarthy, I would have CUT the moment she put her platinum blonde head down into his furry little lap - CUT! - and CUT because, to me, that is a matter of economy and timing, and it would have been a hundred times more effectively funny. It's the KICKER, as old time comics used to say.

But there's something almost pathological at work here, with some of today's TV-reared meta-comics. Francis-as-Merrion can't resist lingering on a woeful moment longer - he cant resist an extra capper (or geyser) - he can't resist, in all senses, the MONEY SHOT. Because he can. Because no one queries it these days. Because everything goes. And again - I stress, I have no 'moral' Daily Mail style queasiness with this; its purely that I think he wrecks the gag - because just maybe the GAG ISNT WHATS IMPORTANT to him. So he has the Bear squirt off all over the place. Oh - HA HA. (Interstingly, tho': he then follows this by cutting to a 'real life' (or 'BO Life'?) JADE GOODY and her Mum, pictured watching the show at home like any other Friday Night saddo TV-watching couple. The older Ma Goody (who is probably about my age, now that I think about it) protests - 'Oh Jade!, that's not funny, thats GROSS.' But little 'Big Sister' Queen JADE loves it...

I noticed this GENERATIONAL thing too, last weekend on some 100 GREATEST LAFFS compilation on C4. I hadnt heard of half the "infamous" Internet clips; and I shrugged through most of the rest. So much of this was the sort of clip that is as much CRINGE and UNEASE as it is genuine crafted scripted laughter. (The sort of thing where Richard and Judy imitate someone from the Hipperati, say.) And seeing TRIGGER HAPPY get to TOP 3 out of a HUNDRED, I began to think that maybe DOM JOLY is something like the acid test here. In this arch new world of money shots and real-time larks, hidden cameras and hidden motives, JOLY actually counts as some kind of brave pioneer and innovator; he is now regarded by his peers as, if not some grave King Across the Waters, then at least as some sort of Elder Statesman of rib and put-on and prank.

But I must confess - I have never found a single thng he has done, the LEAST bit funny. Even the orignal TRIGGER HAPPY TV left me completely cold. More - I found it irritating and embarrassing and juvenile.

The only pleasure I have ever gotten from Joly was one of, I admit, rather unpleasant schadenfreude - when he went out on a wing to do his own late-night META chat show experiment, in which he "played" a deeply unpleasant "version" of himself. It truly (but TRULY) bombed; and Joly, like some old time Archie Rice forced to drag on the baggy pants and buff up the squeaky red nose again, had to buckle under and do a "EURO/U.S." Trigger Happy TV re-visited... the problem, again as with Gervais, was that Joly just wasnt relaxed enough (or generous enough) with either himself or his guests, to pull off this actually quite complex "acting" gig.

Some day soon we'll have to do a GARRY SHANDLING revisited post, and draw up a league table of all the massively failed British comic attempts to 'Do A Larry Sanders Show' ... starting, bizarrely, of course, with THIS MAN ...

posted by Ian 10/13/2006 11:27:00 AM

(13) comments



Re this blah blah (is it because people often do their online writing first thing in the morning or last thing at night that it can get so needlesly fractious, lazily misread, that people almost seem to be holding their breath waiting to take offence at the tiniest niggle?):

I never said that Stone/De Palma's SCARFACE "invented" bling or showing out or signifying or however you want to name/contextualise it. As someone who's championed both murderous blues and Dr Buzzards/Kid Creole extravagance in the past, who's written a lot about club life and black culture (and who not so long ago reviewed a book all about the StaggerLee myth for The Wire); that would be DUMB. I just noted that SCARFACE has a huge historical presence in recent Rap culture (and also, in passing, noted that I really wasnt the one qualified to develop this observation further). I defy anyone to gainsay this, on whatever level you wanna deal with it, sonic or anecdotal or fashion or deep down. My point was really the 'secret history' one - how interesting it is that a film that is in a sense marginal, of debatable merit or value, written and direced by two white guys, etc, etc, (and also: which is ultimately hugely CRITICAL of bling-4-life) ends up - in a different context - having this rich n contradictory AFTERLIFE.

ALL I said was, it was one of the things that seemingly gave permission for the return of the repressed that is Stagger Lee/bling/whatEVA.

In the SCARFACE piece I also give the appropriate shout out to Greil MarCUSS for his "pioneering" work on the Stagger Lee mythos. Again, what I wrote doesnt seem to be the same thing S thinks he's criticising...

I call Marcus previous work pioneering and razor sharp and epochal. (Epochal is not a word I use lightly.) Again, I think my point was obvious: that Marcus previous books worked because he would insinuate or suggest something and let you, the reader, develop the thought. Call and response. Secret whispers. Whereas now, his work has gotten bogged down and overwrought and portenous. I defy anyone to not find large parts of the new Marcus incredibly frustrating - not disappointing, necessarily, but frustrating. Phillip Roth, Twin Peaks, Pere Ubu - Christ, he's singing MY SONG here! But it's like he can't get from one sentence to the next without dragging in two or three or ten other thoughts and quotes and footnotes and other peoples thoughts. And it seems screamingly obvious that what started out as a bunch of DISPARATE working-journo think pieces, have been needlessly coralled under this needlessly portenous AMERICAN PROPHECY legend, when it would have been much smarter and suss to just sling them out there (as per In The Fascist Bathroom - a book I consistently revisit, even tho I disagree with about 75% of it) and let US, the readership, join any sub textual or sub contextual dots...

Instead, you feel patronised,or wearied, or mystified, by Marcus trying to make EVERY LAST FUCKIN tiny detail of a thing resonate with his 'larger' theme. There's some terribly self-parodic leaps and links and longeurs here, which a smarter editor would have had a word with him about.
(What's up with that, anyway? SO many books these days that I throw down in despair I think: what the HELL was the editor being PAID for here!!!??)
But that is NOT the same as dismissing ALL of Marcus previous work. Which I never did. So there. Storm in a teacup protocallout over.

posted by Ian 10/10/2006 08:30:00 AM
(6) comments
1) Recent screening of wonderful early/mid 70s 'on the road/in the van' documentary (or, if you will, rockumentary) on THE KURSAAL FLYERS.

2) Recent BBC4 documentary evening dedicated to STIFF RECORDS.

3) Recent night I spent in what is apparently one of the trendiest pubs in hardcore fashionable young London: observation therein of fashion, music, mood, singalongs, etc.

4) Various current bands and videos passim; but more particularly E4 documentary on THE ZUTONS, who seem like nice young people and everything, but ...

5) Conclusion. Five hideous words. THE RETURN OF PUB ROCK.

posted by Ian 10/03/2006 01:19:00 PM
(4) comments

How long ago was it I wrote that handful of staging-myself-as-Blimp posts about the over-use of the phrases 'icon' and (more particularly) 'iconic'? It was probably an iconic amount of time. Those posts are probably now iconic.

I ought to take this more seriously because I'm sure it's an indication of something. It's reached a ridiculous overload level now. It's become like the use of offhand obscenities in Scarface.* I seem to find it on every other page of newspapers and magazines. It seems to ricochet endlessly from the mouths of TV announcers now - no longer even part of programmes, but spread, meme or virus like, into the general population. (It always begins with an enclave - the Rich, perverts or academics: deconstruction, cocaine use, herpes or tattoos. Then before you know it, blank eyed 14 year olds are sidling up to you at bus stops offering knocked off icons, innit.) The two I remember from the weekend past are an announcer on ITV 2 or 3 or 13 or 98 bigging up some tawdry space-filling REPEAT, by calling the TV version of Agatha Christie's POIROT 'iconic'. And then an article in some TIMES section or other [TIMES MONEY? TIMES YACHTS? TIMES FELLATIO?] calling, oh sweet Jesus, the doorway of the restaurant Le Caprice 'iconic'. There was a third instance, but the very fact I cant remember what the third instance is may be more telling than the other two or ten or twenty. I remember thinking, with the third instance: this is degree zero. Because whatever it was, the deployment of the phrase was so knee-jerk meaningless that, in effect, all it signalled was that ... well, basically EVERYTHING IS ICONIC NOW. The first three things I THINK OF ARE ICONIC. Ian McShane in Lovejoy? Iconic. The new Joanna Newsom album sleeve**? Iconic. Old photos of Sam Fox. Eighties iconic. News photos of all those poor Amish folk yesterday? Iconic. Like that film with Harrison Ford. Icon. Star Wars. Iconic. Icon.... (Cue scene inside my head a bit like the overload moment in Being John Malkovich...)

What made me think of this to start with, paradoxically, was the lovely illustration MarK has chosen to head [t]his De Palma post with. Properly iconic.***

As for the rest of it, we might enquire: "iconic OF WHAT," tho?
Iconic of iconicity, essentially.
Icons or ikons used to be venerated (or execrated) precisely because what they portrayed or represented was so powerful. But now that a little known footballer's 1981 season tight shorts or egregious perm can be passingly referred to as "iconic", or the Miami Vice credits, or an old Coke commercial, or a little seen and badly made porno movie, or a clip of David Jason falling through a serving hatch, or, not just album sleeves, but MUSIC, sound, can be called iconic, that something from 3 years ago or 7 weeks, that Jon Snow might say it of Scarlet Johannsen, say, or an announcer supposedly "ironically" of John McCririck... we're all icons now; everything is iconic, a child with her skin peeling off from napalm is, of course, what else, iconic, those two athletes at the Olympics giving the Black Power salute, iconic, Free Willy, he's iconic, the prosthetic dong in Boogie Nights, that’s iconic, George Galloway as a cat, iconic, Eric n Ernie, o wow SO iconic, the laptop I’m writing this on – oooh, so cool n ICONIC!, my cat Buddy – he looks just like the ICON on the FELIX tin! Feline ICONIC! JFK's head exploding or Yves Klein leaping into the void ...
My ballsac…
Sorry. There was a serious point there when I started, but I seem to have lost it somewhere along the way. Something to do with repetition and overload. With surface and belief, or surfeit and lack of belief. A war of civilisations - one sated with icons, against one scoured of them.

Altho the scarecely iterable irony may be that "They" are ahead of the game in their relation to the techniques and scenes and critical sense of the edge of an encroaching post post-modernity; that, precisely because they are able to think outside it, and critically, they can wield it effectively as a weapon; whereas we are so stuffed with it, gorged on it, made sluggish by it, that we just flounder n flail. How else explain that the propoganda war is being won by a handful of ragged guys in some cave somewhere, who want to return to a centuries ago vanishing point; whereas our governments with all their experts in "spin" and presentation and billion dollar 'hearts n minds' campaigns, just seem to blunder into one more (PR, tactical, ICONIC) cock up after another? (Corpses AREN'T iconic - whereas a man on a leash led by a female US soldier = iconic, and catastrophically so.)

*Coincidentally, the night of the same day I wrote that Scarface thing, the History Channel had a yeah-yeah BIG-revelation programme about Sinatra and Mafia types, and one of the 5-oclock-shadow interviewees actually went by 'Tony Montana'. (Oh, and last night's Simpsons repeat featured Homer guarding a huge pyramid of sugar. He soliloquizes thus, in a husky Pacino-as-Montana voice: "In America, furst you get da sugar, then you get da power, den you get da women.")

** {A kind person sent me this; and yesterday evening I tried listening to it for the first time, and I must admit to … really not getting it. Virtually everyone I know seems not just to like this, but think its stellar, astonishing, album of the year, more, album of the decade, ICONIC! (Irony being, of course, that the sleeve IS a genuinely thoughtful take on something properly iconic.) I only lasted 12 minutes. I just don’t think she has a voice that was made for 19 minute tracks. Rickie Lee Jones used to work up to, or occasionally fleetingly indulge that kind of faux kiddie vocalese. But to have to sit through 70 odd uninterrupted minutes of it? And the rhythm and setting of each track on Ys seems so unvarying. It just sent me screaming back a) to her less ‘ambitious’ last album whose stark normal-length songs suit her lark-on-the wing voice FAR better I think; or b) Rickie Lee Jones Pirates, in which odd lapses or leaps into slurry or kiddie voices, and beautiful string arrangements, are strung like odd beads and personal amulets along different song types and rhythms and registers, moods and moorings and mournings… now, THAT was ambitious. (In fact, it pretty much sank her career.) Whereas… well, IS Ys as “ambitious” as everyone is saying it is? Isnt it in fact pretty unvaryingly monotonously complacent? I get the feeing it doesn’t even TRY to make the journey halfway to us with whatever its hermetic secrets and spells are? Whereas… oh, never mind. Because a) this is a huge argument and if I get started on Pirates I’ll never finish (literally). And b) I have, after all, so far only listened to Ys for 12 minutes, once, in the crabby panic-room space between The Simpsons finishing on C4 and Lovejoy starting on ITV 3. (But can I just mention Cat Power's neglected The Greatest, too, here, and passingly wonder why, tactically, Newsom is getting so much praise NOW for THIS, where other female singer songwriters aren't or havent?

***{Altho I might argue that we might be able to date the rot kicking in precisely with this sort of 'homage'. With film students so hung up on the icy 'iconic' perfection of Hitchcock... but that’s a different post. Hitchcock’s feelings towards his female actresses were so disarmingly real he had to stage them as fake. (See also: MARNIE's "scenery". In fact, maybe some clever sod of a student out there could write a thesis intertwining Marnie's compulsion to STEAL, qua sexual sublimation or pathology, with De Palma's compulsion to repeat or 'reference' cinema "history"...)

... an interesting sub-note to this, about hidden-ness and the power of revelation maybe. When I first came to London, you couldnt see Vertigo or Rear Window (and possibly some others, I can't remember), because of some kind of unresolved legal knot regarding the Hitchcock estate. I remember taking a girl to see a double bill at the old Electric, which had merely been advertised as a 'Special Presentation' or something, and then, so, subsequently, consequently, I did indeed see Vertigo and Rear Window, on a double bill, on a Saturday night, in an old fashioned - and PACKED FULL - movie house, on a big big screen. It was staggering, as you might imagine. Nothing quite prepares you for just the opening credits of Vertigo ... (The feeling with those opening seconds of Vertigo is: what the fuck is going on? Whereas I never have felt that with De Palma; on the contrary, you always feel the proffered duration of a smug pause, where you can think 'Ah! I KNOW what he's doing here...')

... and maybe this is where the story begins, or begins to go wrong. When what should remain properly unsayable or excessive, uncategorisable, gets reduced to quondam 'Iconic'. For - what do you call the genuinely iconic, when the phrase itself has been reduced to something with the status of a toilet roll commercial or a pimple on the arse of a B movie fluffer or C list reality contestant?

Maybe in that repsect the use of the word is consolation - in the same way that youre not a desperate mugger, you're an unemployment-stressed statistic of "gun enabled crime"; not a crack whore but an "addiction indexed sex worker"; and not a war criminal but a "proponent of neo conservative democratic triumphalism".

In that sense "icon" is yet another tool or category in the worldwide spread of spectral New Labour(s) (AKA 'media business'). What I mean is, one minute youre a fat old scumbag strung out on Seroxat and Viagra who used to do porno movies in the 70s; the next morning you wake up to a cell phone call from your manager Vinnie, who sez, "Good news Donkey Dick! I heard from my sista in law's nephew that ... get dis! Youre an ICON! You got Star Wars level recognition with all da kids on campus and at the mall... This is big bucks kiddo!"

Before you know it, Sadsack has his own T shirt range and hip "profile" on Channel 4, directed by some pillock with a Hoxton fin and an "ironic" affection for 1970s cop show muzack. Iconic up the wazoo.

posted by Ian 10/03/2006 06:44:00 AM

(7) comments