Sunday 30 October 2005


Wittgenstein said that the way we understand the world is by interpreting its silence. How about doing it through conversation?

Sunday 23 October 2005

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (aka De battre mon coeur s'est arrete) (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film about a real estate debt collector, Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris), who rediscovers his love of the piano - his dead mother's profession - which begins to encroach upon his thuggish work. His fat old father (Niels Arestrup) asks him for help collecting a debt from one of his tenants. It's a scabby business. The hard men look out of place in the respectable office they plan their deals in. Violence is their currency. Thomas covers for his buddy, who is cheating on his wife; but then gets involved with her himself. All the while he is in intense rehearsal with a young Chinese piano teacher, Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who can't speak French, but somehow coaches him up to scratch for an audition in front of M. Fox, Thomas's mother's former maestro. His preparation is disrupted, however, with a last minute real estate deal and his father's problems with a tough Russian debtor.

Duris's fidgety, hyperactive performance is like a young De Niro. At the piano he is rarely relaxed, always passionate, seldom in total control. He is incongruous in both settings: cut hands at the keyboard from beating someone up on his father's behalf; aloof at work, lost in the world of his music. There is an unusual, awkward tension throughout the film. Duris is bursting with violence and energy; yet he seems to have so much promise. The shots of him practising Bach's "Toccata in E minor" are convincing. Either he is a talented mimer, or he can actually play competently himself. His hands are always moving: tapping to his electro music over headphones, tapping a never-ending cigarette, tapping out the notes of his piano piece in silence.

There are some joyous moments of comic respite: when Thomas's colleague goads him for being distracted with his piano playing, or when Thomas tells his father that he thinks his new fiancee is a whore, or when he and the Chinese piano teacher frustratedly shout at each other in mutually incomprehensible languages.

The film offers some interesting alternative points of view: what it feels like for the third party in an affair (Thomas asks his buddy's wife if she still fucks her husband); or what it's like for a dodgy roughhouse real estate dealer to evict immigrant squatters from his property like a herder of faceless cattle.

There's a coda, two years after the main plotline, in which Thomas has the opportunity to exact some fierce retribution when it seems as if he's been able to extricate himself from the struggle of his former life - a coda which at first feels out of place, but on reflection is appropriate to the fugue structure of this musical film and its fuguing Bach soundtrack.

Nugget: the unglamorous France (Paris?) of cheap restaurants, full of smoke and dirty wine glasses - yet a world in which these characters breathe.

Thursday 20 October 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

The return of the wearers of the Wrong Trousers. Nick Park's animated creations now run a humane pest control company called Pesto, which captures the local rabbit population to prevent them nibbling away at the townsfolks' vegetables, carefully guarded for the giant vegetable growing competition held at Lady Tottington's grand estate. "Totty" (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), as she is known familiarly, is being wooed by Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a gun-toting toff, but falls for Wallace when he solves her rabbit infestation without harming a single bunny. However, when Wallace's pest rehabilitation machine goes wrong, he creates a giant were-rabbit, who hunts herbage by night, stalking the locals' prize pieces, just days before the harvest festival.

Aardman Animations has grown considerably since the first Wallace & Gromit film The Wrong Trousers in 1993. This project is much more ambitious with rain drops on window panes, rabbits whizzed around in mid-air and more cheesy details than you can shake a cocktail stick at. The writing is saturated with Pixaresque homages to King Kong (rather predictably), An American Werewolf in London, Frankenstein and (probably) many others. The way it freshens cliche is, however, delightful. Although set in an anachronistic 50s suburbia, the film references contemporary issues such as obesity (Wallace is too fat to fit through his breakfast trapdoor - too much cheese), hunting (Quartermaine's aristocratic bunny blood-lust), and, tenuously, bobby's on the beat (PC Mackintosh is hosted by TV's Peter Kay). There are some wondefully cheesy puns: Wallace's bookshelf holds such fromagious works as Swiss Cheese Family Robinson, East of Edam, Grate Expectations and Waiting for Gouda, but I won't spoil the fun by recounting them all here.

Nugget: a thoroughly enjoyable plasticine adventure, with the sort of crossover appeal that we have come to expect of animated films.

Sunday 9 October 2005

DiG! (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary about two US West-Coast rock bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Anton Newcombe, frontman of the BJM, hails himself as a musical revolutionary, writing better stuff than anyone else out there, promising early in the film to show us how it's done, take us on a wild ride with him. The BJM are a big influence on the Dandys, who in 1996 were still in awe of them. Within a few years, however, the Dandys have been signed to a major record label and are making $400,000 videos with the fashion photographer David LaChapelle. The BJM are whipsnappingly productive, churning out five albums in two years, yet they never quite make the breakthrough, although they enjoy the underground credo of their indie scene.

The bands start out as friends, but the Dandys always seem to be a bit more switched on. They don't do as many drugs and they come from stabler homes...and they don't fight each other on stage, something which the BJM always seem to do when the industry bigwigs are watching, about to sign them to a big deal. The prima donna Newcombe always holds them back. It's as if he doesn't want success, doesn't want to sell out as Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the Dandy Warhols are only too willing to do.

As the Dandys become more successful, the rivalry between the two bands starts to heat up. The Dandys turn up unannounced at the BJM squat in Portland for a photo shoot the night after a heavy heroin party; Newcombe responds by writing a parodic track "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth" (ripping off the Dandys' "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth", the first track really to impress Newcombe).
Joel Gion of the BJM
Dandys lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor narrates part of the movie, which seems to capture every significant moment in the arc of these bands' careers: the fights, the parties, the getting arresteds in Atlanta on tour. It doesn't take itself too seriously, tripping on the same vein as BJM member Joel Gion (see picture), who seems to do nothing except get wasted, be kinda funny lookin' and play the tambourine. A self-conscious expose - these bands know they're rock 'n' roll, and even though their music is nothing special and they're all a bunch of losers, the rock mystique nevertheless transforms them somehow.

The American music industry looks so fickle. These bands can't get airplay, and yet they pack the venues in Europe and Japan. The Dandys sell 40,000 UK records in two weeks and play in front of over 100,000 on the summer festival circuit. The talking heads from the indie labels that sign these bands complain how stupid the big record companies' marketing strategy is: blowing hundreds of thousands on a few select bands, making expensive videos, crowbarring airplay, when only 1 in 10 of them gets you a hit. The money could be spread more evenly, allowing more bands to make records at a more modest profit, the sort of records the public really want to buy, not the sort they have to be told to buy by capitalass commercialism.

We see, essentially, the BJM break down on camera, blowing one opportunity after another, tearing themselves apart, acting like the kids they evidently still are. Newcombe (everyone keeps telling us) is a genius; and with that comes all the egotistical cretinous behaviour, making him such a cunt to live and work with (cf. Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, etc.). He may be musically creative, but he lacks the smarts in every other aspect of life, although there is something admirable in his refusal to be commercially successful, to make the most of his ability.
Nugget: a great study of commercial success versus underground cool; cleaned up act against fucked up junkies; lucky averagebodies over wasted talent.

Monday 3 October 2005

Red Sox win to reach playoffs ::yay!::

The Idiots clinch their third straight American League Wild Card berth with a sweet 10-1 win over the Yankees. I say bring on the White Sox!

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) - ickleReview (TV and video)

Martin Scorsese made-for-TV documentary about the early part of Dylan's career, up to the end of his 1966 European tour. It was touted on BBC Radio 4's Front Row arts review programme as the best rockumentary of all time; but I'd still give that laurel to Festival Express (to which there is a connection with this film because members of Dylan's band, including bass player Rick Danko, went on to form The Band). I'm not a Dylan nut, so most of it was news to me and I can't judge how much of it was revelatory, or how much of the footage unseen (and I'm unwilling to sift through the publicity bullshit to find out what they want us to believe). I'm aware of the whole mythology surrounding him as the "voice of a generation", singing protest songs and tapping into America's collective unconscious, but Scorsese and Dylan seemed to confound that. In the recent interviews recorded for the programme, Dylan denies that his songs in 1963 were topical and still seems baffled by his popularity. He certainly played hard to get, shunning Joan Baez, who was much more active politically. Dylan insists that he didn't take sides, that he wasn't interested in politics; but he didn't help himself by making albums with titles like "The Times They Are A-Changin' ", playing at the 1963 March on Washington after Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, or by standing next to big protest posters. There is some hilarious archive footage from press conferences in which he responds drily to quotidian questions about his cult status.

On a first viewing, I'm not sure the intercutting of live footage from the 1966 UK concerts was entirely successful; it jarred somewhat with the exposition of his early career; so we are told on the voice-over that he was a revolutionary spokesman for the civil rights movement and yet see pictures of him beeing booed by audiences wanting to see a folk singer, not a rock band. I have a feeling, though, that this juxtaposition is entirely deliberate, emphasizing the inconsistency and unconformity of his career, his stollid selfishness, refusing to bow to his audience's demands, developing musically to where he wanted to go, not to where they wanted him to stay, never buying into the commercial media circus, although it is a little strange that he agreed to do these press conferences when he was so unwilling to cooperate with what they wanted to write about him. A lot of shoddy, lazy journalism, asking him dumb, ignorant questions. Never ask an artist to explain or account for his work; it's an insult and he won't be able to do it anyway. Let it speak for itself.

Dylan comes across, especially in his early New York City days, as being cast in the mould of Holden Caulfield (from J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, 1951): his rebellious nature, his naivety, his affected scruffiness. Even as an old man of sixty-odd he looks young, young in the eyes, not quite understanding everything that's going on, not willing to understand it; and yet comprehending it almost by intuition on an entirely different level. There's still something innocent about him, and yet he seems to be holding back his intelligence. Why does he play his songs the way people don't want to hear them?

Many of the old folk musicians who function as the talking heads overdo the whole Dylan mystique, exaggerating how great he was, what a buzz the movement was - the usual rock nostalgia crap - bigging themselves up no end. I suppose that's as much the filmmakers' fault for asking the leading questions that would let them say that sort of thing. I'm glad I taped this thing because it's worth at least another viewing. I see they're releasing it on DVD already. It was made for TV as an Arena documentary in the UK in collaboration with PBS in America and a whole bunch of other production companies. A mighty fine film, but one that is slightly misty-eyed; a sweet relish nevertheless.

Nugget: it strikes me that a lot of musicians are total geeks, outsiders, the sort of kids who would have been uncool at school. So, forty years later, when they get to look back on it all and chew the fat, it's a big fuckoff hamshank of a burger they're eating into.