March 25, 2009
I don't even watch Mad Men, but I find myself gripped by this mystery:
Who is it that Don Draper's wife so totally looks like?
It's not Grace Kelly, although Betty Draper does bear a resemblance to that Monacan Princess. It's someone relatively current -- or at least recent -- that I just can't place.
Any assistance in this matter will be gratefully received.
March 23, 2009
City Jitters 10
March 19, 2009
In addition to the previously pictured haircut, the wonderfully springy weekend also included such delightful activities as bookstore wandering and Kensington Gardens parrot-spotting with Alastair and Davide; and lunch and ambling with Matthew. During the latter amble's detour through HMV I was surprised and delighted to chance on a copy of one of the most formative BBC productions of my youth, David Rudkin's weirdo teleplay Artemis 81.
It's one of the joys and also trials of our digital age that one's past becomes ever more available, but I swear I've googled this one time and again over the years and found only a few offhand and inaccurate references on dodgy cult TV sites. The last time must have been a while back, though: apparently the DVD has been out a year and a half. I bought it without hesitation and watched the same night.
I was 14 when I first saw Artemis 81, and it is very, very difficult to try to unpick the film itself from my memories of it and how it affected and influenced me at the time. I can't pretend to know what anyone else might make of it. Certainly it looks a bit dated now -- though perhaps not as much as you'd expect -- and is arch and artificial and sometimes clunkily pretentious. But even so it's an amazing piece of work, unashamedly strange and difficult, with some unforgettable images that managed to seem newly minted even while they exactly matched my nearly three-decade-old memories. Unusually for such a revisitation, I wasn't disappointed in the least.
The thing that struck me in particular, though, is how firmly this fits into the same narrative class as a number of other pieces I especially cherish: an almost-genre we might call mindfuck fiction, whose twitchy, twisting diegesis is apt to lurch suddenly into something completely different -- but intimately connected -- at any moment. David Lynch is an obvious exemplar of this form, especially in Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway; as is Steve Erickson, whose Arc d'X strikes me as perhaps its definitive expression. Artemis 81 is not as fully-realised as those, but it is very much in the same mode -- I'd like to call it a tradition, but that would be to impute to the whole endeavour a level of community it clearly does not possess.
Artemis may not have been the first piece of this kind I experienced -- though I can't just now summon up another that would have preceded it -- but it certainly predated by quite a few years my recognition that such a category existed, and until Sunday night I hadn't managed to make the connection. Seeing it again after all this time was not only a pleasure in itself, but allowed me at least a small increase in understanding of the things that appeal to me -- and perhaps the sort of things I'd like to create, if I ever get around to writing anything other than science and humdrum bloggery again.
March 16, 2009
March 14, 2009
Beige Winter Hymnal
A number of musical artists I really like belong loosely in the -- or at least a -- "folk" tradition. But every time I see or hear Fleet Foxes I just want to club the smug, twee, bearded mawkish twats unconscious with a TR-808. Not that I've ever possessed said blunt instrument, but I'd track one down for the purpose.
Is it just me? How have these useless berks come to be hailed as the saviours of American music? What is the fucking matter with critics today?
March 12, 2009
Although it may not be evident from recent postings here, my time has not been taken up entirely by Watchmen. Later that same day, in fact -- the double-booking alluded to a few entries back -- we trundled off to see Canadian circus company 7 doigts de la main's satellite show Traces.
It may be an artifice, but you get the impression that this adoptive troupe pretty much put the show together themselves. Which is unfortunate, because the show is pants -- smug, meandering, padded out with irritating "street" posturing, displaying no hint of coherent artistic vision -- even though the performers are absolutely top notch. All five are highly personable, kick-ass acrobats, talented dancers with powerful stage presence. Brad Henderson stands out for his awesome Chinese pole and single wheel work, and Héloïse for holding up the distaff side (and for calling one of her fellows a cunt in front of the child-filled audience -- in French, of course), but they're all great. They deserve great success; just not with this irritating toss. On the other hand, the child-filled audience lapped it up, posturing and all, so what do I know?
Saturday was approximate labmate Damian's stag do, for which the headline activity was karting somewhere off in the shadow of the Thames barrier. I was, resolutely and with no shame, far and away the worst at this activity, and despite having quite enjoyed it in the past found myself absolutely hating the whole business at first, gripped with terror and a general sense of wanting to get the fuck away as soon as possible. Fortunately, by the time it actually became possible I was over that level of panic and persevered with only the slightest hint of reluctance. It was painful though, and rather chilly on the ungloved hands, and though I got steadily faster as I rediscovered what minimal courage I possess, I nevertheless racked up the slowest fastest lap times and never troubled second-to-last place.
Then, as is traditional, the focus moved to drinking, at which I can hold my own with the best. Damian being a denizen of the inner east himself, this activity was held at the Eagle, so when I bailed a few hours later it was all of 3 minutes walk home. Handy.
Work proceeds apace, and today I started hosting some CoMPLEX students who will be doing a short project -- akin to my own case essays, but retooled to include a practical element -- on the SICM. Heaven help them. It was, anyway, quite fun to take a couple of complete newbies through the experimental procedures on which my PhD is laughingly predicated -- but it did bring into sharp relief just how fucking baroque and frustrating and probably doomed to failure the whole process is.
And tonight we were at the Coliseum for their spiffy new production of Doctor Atomic, John Adams's nearly-new opera about Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in the last days and hours before the first New Mexico atom bomb test. Director Penny Woolcock, who made The Death of Klinghoffer, and designer Julian Crouch, who styled the ENO's gorgeous Satyagraha a couple of years back, make a decent fist of what is frankly pretty feeble base material, and I enjoyed the evening quite a lot. The history is powerful enough that even the best efforts of Adams and librettist Peter Sellars can't make it entirely dull. But, for all the forceful staging, it's a flabby and maundering piece. The scenes with Kitty Oppenheimer serve no purpose other than to drag things out into tedium, the Tewa Indians seem hopelessly tokenistic and the vast majority of the score is just background noodling of the drabbest kind. Despite some similarities of concern, it's a far cry from the earlier, much more enjoyable -- and altogether stranger -- Adams and Sellars collaboration Nixon in China.
March 7, 2009
And another thing...
I can't help returning to what ought to be a done and dusted subject to single out for further discussion the absolutely terrifying level of effort (and, presumably, money) that Zack and his crew expended to put on our screens picture-perfect duplicates of the original comic frames. The effect, for a hardened fan of the original, is quite disorienting, especially during the first hour's incredibly painstaking and at least superficially thorough reproduction of issues #1 and #2. Barely a shot goes by that isn't a direct translation of Dave Gibbons's art; what we cannot now avoid seeing as his storyboard. Even the casting has been fastidious, nay anal, in selecting performers on the basis of their resemblance to the original drawings rather than any other, more pertinent, qualities. Nearly everyone looks exactly like their print counterpart: heroes, policemen, bystanders. Even Tricky Dicky is made up to resemble the comic art rather than the real Nixon.
The one obvious, outstanding exception, is Adrian Veidt. Matthew Goode may or may not have great qualities as an actor -- Watchmen doesn't really gives us much evidence either way -- but he certainly bears little visual resemblance to the original Ozymandias. And, indeed, his character is the one most betrayed by the screen version, recast as exactly the "comicbook villain" he (in one of the more acceptable rewrites -- how much of the audience, after all, would even know what a Republic serial was?) claims not to be: a fey, liberal Lex Luthor with floppy hair.
Anyway, courtesy of Robin yet again, here's a great antidote to all this nonsense:
I think we're probably over it now.
March 6, 2009
Well, it could have been worse.
Watchmen is too long by a good hour and suffocated by its slavish recreation of panel after panel from the comics, but is at least watchable. It's hard to say whether the movie is helped or hindered by its obsessive faithfulness, since those occasions where the makers do summon up the courage to deviate from the source -- very few in the early stages, more as the thing lumbers on and on and on -- are generally the weakest. This is strangely noticeable in the dialogue, for instance. Much is reproduced verbatim or at least patched together from the page and sounds mannered coming out of actual mouths; but all the new material is so uniformly rubbish, such a complete porridge of vapid Hollywood clichés, that it makes Moore's comicbook stylings sound exactly right.
Zack Snyder does his best, he really does -- who would have thought he had it in him? -- but the poor clodhopper can't quite get past the whole thing as an opportunity for lots of flashy, stylised ultraviolence. Preferably in slow motion, accompanied by glistening arcs of crimson blood and some crass rock music. He knows this stuff is supposed to be ugly, but, you know, it's just so fucking cool.
And given how much of the comic is transcribed to the screen with fetishistic exactness, it's telling that the things that aren't are those things that go right to the soul of the piece, to its essential humanity. To me, the most egregious example comes at the end of Jon and Laurie's Martian excursion. Much of their dialogue is retained; it's clunky and unconvincing as speech but still sort of beautiful. But the lines that tie it up and give the whole sequence -- and in a way the whole book -- its value, are casually dropped. In case you don't remember -- or never knew -- they go like this:
Laurie: But... if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!
Jon: Yes. Anybody in the world.
There's some more, but that's the really important bit. It sums up exactly what it is about the book that the movie fails to grasp. Why all the peripheral characters are almost entirely absent, and the central ones are all hollow ciphers. Why Watchmen remains, despite this dense but shallow attempt, unfilmable. Because, for all its outlandishness and fantasy, Watchmen is about the ordinary. And blockbusting Hollywood cannot cope with that at all.
March 3, 2009
No Repeat Guarantee
Jesus fucking Christ I hate commercial pop radio. It's like the constant sound of fingernails scraping blackboards, but with advertising.
FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK THE FUCK OFF!
And, btw, that "Breakfast at Tiffany's" song from a few years back? That is one of the most hateful pieces of "music" ever recorded. I don't remember who it was by -- I hope you don't either -- but whoever it was they deserve to spend eternity in Hell. With Toploader. Torturing each other forever with renditions of their putrid hits. Yes, that would be justice.
March 2, 2009
The Final Countdown
Here's Salman Rushdie, from Saturday's Guardian, on the subject of adaptations:
We can learn this much from the poets who translate the poetry of others, from the screenwriters and film-makers who turn words on the page into images on a screen, from all those who carry across one thing into another state: an adaptation works best when it is a genuine transaction between the old and the new, carried out by persons who understand and care for both, who can help the thing adapted to leap the gulf and shine again in a different light. In other words, the process of social, cultural and individual adaptation, just like artistic adaptation, needs to be free, not rigid, if it is to succeed. Those who cling too fiercely to the old text, the thing to be adapted, the old ways, the past, are doomed to produce something that does not work, an unhappiness, an alienation, a quarrel, a failure, a loss.
Tragic fanboy that I am -- and following an unfortunate double-booking incident -- I'm seeing the 00.01 IMAX show. I'll let you know how the world ends.