Archive for the ‘Books and Movies’ Category
I have started — but, never finished — The Magic Mountain annually for over 30 years. I did lighting once for a student production of Strange Interlude but whenever I hear the title I think of Groucho Marx. But, as Nobel Prize Winners in Literature go, Bob Dylan holds a place in my heart that the others can never approach. I have attended literally dozens of his shows, some of them actually good and two or three of them among the best experiences of my life.
So there I was, no shit, when an email arrives from Jackie with the subject, “this is not a joke.” Inside, it had two lines which read
“Bob just won the Lit Nobel,” and
“Sooo boring at work today.”
Assuming she’d been reading some parody website, I replied,
“Ain’t it just like the web
To play tricks
When the library’s
She shot back,
“No, no, no,
It ain’t fake, babe.”
I checked it out and the ridiculous and sublime Bob-head had actually been elevated to Nobel Laureate. I came into work an hour and a half early and had toiled through lunch so I didn’t think twice (it’s alright) to leave a half hour early to find a bar with either an appropriate soundtrack or some other Dylanesque trait.
My train arrived in Hammersmith at sunset. It was time for my boot heels to be wandering. The first stop would be the Queen’s Head (approximately). The quest continued at the Jameson and the Bird in Hand before a most remarkable success at the Havelock Tavern.
Sort of related, I seem to reference Bob in these pages more than any other writer or musician:
A photo that looks like the cover of “Bringin’ It All Back Home”
Quoting “On the Road Again” in re: a trip to the States
Quoting “Outlaw Blues” for a Toronto Mayor’s obituary
Quoting “Like A Rolling Stone” in my Citizenship announcement
A tourist trip past the site where the film version of Subterranean Homesick Blues was shot
A plethora of Dylan lyrics for a house move post
A weird one about the move from Cambridge Uni to the U of Oxford
Nudity, beer, and a tiger refuge in Tennessee
Mis-heard lyrics from “On the Road Again”
And, “Bringin’ it All Back Home,” again, on a birthday run write-up
I was eight years old and my family had just moved to a former fishing camp my dad bought about 6 miles outside Griffin Georgia (which is to say 10 miles from the middle of nowhere and quite the asshole of the Universe). My sister was ferrile, but as my folks were going back to Atlanta to clear out an apartment (we had moved from Hawaii in the spring) they entrusted her with my care for the day. She then stole their other car and loaded me up to go camping with some of her friends.
300,000 of her friends, as it turned out. We went to the misnamed Atlanta International Pop Festival at the Byron Raceway another 60 miles south from our new house.
She also loaded up some records hoping to get some autographed. One, in particular, was Are You Experienced which she left on some grass outside our tent. Dew covered, some microdots melted on it resulting in the stains. She considered the album ruined and gave it to me; I still love the record and have laughed my ass off watching every friend to whom I have related this history over the last 45 years lick the cover.
Sadly, that’s what I remember of the show — I was only eight years old and overwhelmed by the crowd and excited to be camping in south Georgia nearly where I was born but also exotic to me as I hadn’t been ‘home’ since I was in swaddling clothes. I knew it was noisy and there were a bunch of stinky hippies everywhere, but nothing about the musical line up registered at all nor would it have made any difference to me had it done.
So, this past weekend I put on what I thought was a straightforward Hendrix documentary called Electric Church (my cat loves Jimi) only to find that it was a concert film of his performance in Byron. Jackie thought she’d be able to follow it by sound so I started while she mixed drinks in the other room. The film opened with white text on a black screen describing the date and location and I stopped breathing. Shit: I’ve been to a Hendrix concert. Most of the other acts I would want to see (the Allman’s, BB King, Johnny Winter, Richie Havens) I eventually did, years later; others, I let slip by (including Grand Funk Railroad, Mott the Hoople, Procol Harum, Rare Earth, and Ten Years After). I even worked with Colonel Bruce Hampton (Hampton Grease Band) in Atlanta briefly in the 80s.
I guess it means nothing, even less to non-fans. To me — and, I’m sure, to those few of you out there who have left spittle on my Jimi record — it puts another piece in the puzzle. Or something.
“You don’t look Welsh.” “My mother’s Italian…”
–lines from the road trip to Chicago in Inside Llewyn Davis
We continued the Winter Movie Weekend Film Fest with 2014’s Inside Llewyn Davis which had a lot in common with the Coen Brothers’ earlier Barton Fink (not least of which was John Goodman all but taunting the lead character with “I’ll show you a life of the mind!” just not in so many words).
It’s nice when time gets away from you like that and, when we came up for air during the end credits, we both realised we were starving and disinterested in going out for groceries. I scanned the larder and came up with these ingredients (mostly Welsh beneath but on the surface Italian):
1/2 pound of potatoes
a bulb of garlic
some dark, mature stem spinach
a block each of brie and feta
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
I had a recipe in mind from ages ago and started by slicing the onion thin and putting it in a bowl to steep under boiling water while I used a cheese slicer to cut the potatoes wafer thin. To these, I added 4 minced cloves of garlic, a handful of chopped olives, a glug of olive oil, some salt and black pepper, and mixed it all together before stirring in the drained, softened onions at the end. This mix was divided into two piles and baked at 220° C for twenty minutes while the rest was prepped.
The spinach was chopped then barely wilted and squeezed to remove the bitter juices (mature spinach has all the mineral content of the soil from which it is raised and can be less than subtle). This was mixed with a sprinkling of nutmeg and an ounce, each, of gooey, pungent brie and metallic, brittle feta. Split to cover the two chicken breasts, the creation was placed atop the just-starting-to-brown potato mix, topped with some cherry tomatoes, and returned to bake another 25 minutes at 200° C.
It’s surprisingly good and leaves you wishing you had more.
February saw the first really winter-like weather around here and that’s usually good for movie viewing. But, between busy times at work and starting to build up the running mileage there just wasn’t a lot of time to veg in front of the telly. When we did, it was mostly the news, Prime Minister’s Questions, fake news (John Oliver is back and Samantha Bee has a fantastic programme), or documentaries. Here are the documentaries:
Bottled Up: The Battle Over Dublin Dr Pepper (2014) Fuck corporate Dr Pepper (Snapple).
One of the few joys of life in Tucson was access to Coca Cola made with sugar instead of HFCS (since Mexican bottlers were not beholden to Archer Daniels Midland Corporation). Once I discovered that the cane sugar variety was more satisfying and tasted less syrupy — and more like the original formulation — I never again drank the corn syrup format (note: in the UK they don’t use corn syrup but despite that I have only had four or five bottles of cola in the last 7+ years).
This documentary is about the original Dr Pepper bottling plant in Dublin, Texas and how they were crushed by the Corporation started there because they stuck to the original — and, widely agreed, better — formulation. I’m a Pepper (Boycotter), Wouldn’t you like to Boycott Pepper, too?
Love Italy? Horseracing? Corruption? Then find a showing of Palio (2015), a documentary about the world’s oldest horse race which takes place twice each year in Siena. Lasting about 90 seconds, the race is the sideshow in this battle between the various Contrade (essentially, districts), to which the residents of each hold fierce allegiance.
The year is spent in preparation by collecting money and currying favour amongst officials and the jockeys who are essentially mercenaries that train horses nearby (but come from across the country and beyond). There is a Byzantine lottery to choose which horse will run for each Contrada after which the jockeys make their preference known for whom they would like to ride. If chosen, they are squirreled away under guard for the following four days leading up to the Palio so that they can’t seek (or make) bribes; even so, at the starting lineup (also chosen by an elaborate, ornate and ancient randomisation machine) the jockeys make deals amongst themselves or, if they bear a grudge, might start flailing one another with the long whips they carry.
A winning jockey is met with the adoration of his sponsors and carried through the city and into the Duomo while losing jockeys might take the sort of ass kicking usually reserved for those that betray their comrades in battle. Moreover, the race is run bareback at an incredible pace such that horses might slam into the walls of the Piazza and send their rider to the ground or into the crowd; a riderless horse can win this race, so those that continue on become one more strategic problem for the lead riders. This was all gripping stuff and recommended viewing for anyone who has spent time in Siena (or plans to).
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2015) was a surprising (to me) portrait of the great director or some of my favourite films (notably, The Third Man and Chimes at Midnight) largely because he always seemed to be an Establishment figure throughout my youth. As it turns out, he was even more weird and uncompromising than you might have thought possible, an avant-garde artiste shunned by the business end of the movie business and toiling away at projects he found beautiful and interesting. And, of course, drinking, eating and whoring around too much.
Talking heads throughout include Julie Taymoor, Steven Spielberg, Peter Bogdonovich, Elvis Mitchell, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Sydney Pollack, Buck Henry, Paul Mazursky, and Richard Benjamin. Look for the comparison of a long tracking shot in Touch of Evil to a similar one in American Graffiti (both of which we recently have been talking about re-watching, coincidentally). There’s also an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial starring Anthony Perkins which is on our to view list while the film teases with dozens of others…a trip to the British Film Institute looms.
“The Only Thing That Will Stop A Bad Guy With A Gun Is A Fat Guy With A Gun (and a counterfeit Fender)” — Wayne LaPierre
Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA (2015), an offering from PBS Frontline , is what you might expect, but well done. My country (soon to be my former country) is mentally ill.
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you don’t move?
Kipling’s Indian Adventure (2016) covers young Rudyard’s short but formative stint as a newspaper editor in Lahore (now part of Pakistan) from the age of 16 to 24 years old. Beautifully shot on location such that you can almost smell the squalor (and danger) he put himself in wandering the inner city streets unescorted (something the heavily armed police shadowing the film maker would not allow in the relatively modern-ish streets, today). From journeyman journalist to biting social commentator and novelist in 7 years, he was eventually advised to leave.
When I was a kid, the Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) were the coolest thing, ever, not least because they scared the shit out of my gun-crazed parents. Obviously, this wasn’t due to coloured folk carrying weapons (I come from 2nd Amendment fetishist stock), but had more to do with them uniting with other poor and downtrodden folk, feeding kids, and dressing sharp. Put your fist in the air and repeat after me, “I am…a revolutionary…I am…a revolutionary…I am…a revolutionary.” Now, be patient…the FBI will be with you shortly.
Buffalo Soldiers (2001), although it purports to be based on actual events, was one of the few fiction films we tried this month. In fact, as spectacular as it seems that stoned and drunken soldiers might accidentally wreak havoc on a host country in peacetime or that corruption and vice of such scale as portrayed herein might take place in the total-control environment of the US military, your humble reporter is one veteran who felt that most of this material seemed at least plausible (my job during my short service in the Army was then known as 71-Q, Journalist, with the primary responsibility to make stories like the ones portrayed here go away or at least get lost under reams of ‘feel-good’ press releases).
The Big Short (2015) should have taken the Oscar. They were, ironically, robbed.
The only non-documentary NOT based on actual events that we saw this month was Horsefeathers (1932) starring the always sublime Marx Brothers. Two years after the Hays Code was enacted, this was racy and rude and funny as hell (and, to paraphrase Captain Spaulding in Animal Crackers, another Marx Bros great, “that’s just the kind of film I crave”). Briefly, Groucho is the new college president at his son’s (Zeppo’s) school and Chico and Harpo get recruited from a speakeasy (Prohibition was still in place) to play football for the school. There’s a side bit about the “College Widow,” a contemporary term for “Cougar,” a woman who would teach the boys anatomy. Now that I think about it, this was kind of a docu-drama, too.
Till next month, here are links to Jan 2016 Part A and Jan 2016 Part 2.
Slowed the movie marathon a bit in the 2nd half of the month but managed to get in some dandies.
We never saw Love Actually (2003) when it was out in cinema because of a long-term boycott of Hugh Grant films (nothing he’s done, we just don’t like him), but at Christmas we saw a video of Bill Nighy doing a Christmas version of Love Is All Around as the has-been singer Billy Mack and decided, what-the-hell, let’s do it. It was surprisingly entertaining like a Robert Altman ensemble film (think Nashville or Short Cuts) plus it had the Oxford United Football Club victim Alan Rickman in it. Even Hugh Grant wasn’t awful and Martin Freeman and Joanna Page were hilarious as the lighting stand-ins on a porno set.
The Perverts Guide to Cinema (2009), however, had nothing to do with porn or, at least, not that sort of porn…just the sort you see every day and don’t recognise it as such. This film was actually a philosophy of art lecture by Slavoj Zizek and at the same time that it was enlightening it was actually very funny. Well worth the time involved (and even better than its sequel, The Perverts Guide to Ideology, which we saw a couple of years ago and got a lot of good tips on other movies to seek out or re-watch with a new perspective).
How I Live Now (2013) was an apocalyptic tale set in England with a selfish and self-obsessed American teenager (are there any other kind?) finding out her strengths as war comes to her cousins’ land. This one can be harrowing in places but it was really more of a teen picture than we thought it was going to be when we started up the DVD.
More conventionally — and Biblically — apocalyptic, This Is The End (2013) was just good, stoner fun although a bit too long (could have easily been 1 hour or, at most, chopped into 6 half hours with commercials). It was especially nice watching all these celebrities playing off their perceived public personae (or completely warping it) … except Danny McBride: I think that really is him and they may not have even told him a film was being made, just put him on the set and filmed what happens (this has always been my theory of Three Stooges films — “no boys, you’re not plumbers, you’re Romans; just ignore those cameras, whydontya?).
Ian was one of the main subjects who DIDN’T make an appearance in the film
24 Hour Party People (2002) was especially good watching for faces we recognise because actual members of the bands (as well as other personages) portrayed were cast in bit parts throughout the film. Good film overall, too, but then we spent the next 6 hours watching YouTube clips of So It Goes, a music showcase from the late ’70’s presented by the movie’s main subject, Tony Wilson.
So, the 2nd half of the January film binge was mostly ensemble and end-of-the-world pictures. And, we finished Season 2 of Californication.
This might be a new blog feature or it could easily be a one-off…hard to tell, but I’ll see how it goes. Anyway, we’ve been catching up on movies this past month and the more we see the more we realise we’ve missed. We both feel like anything more than an hour a day spent on non-news tele is excessive so it took the holidays and an extended battle with the Dreaded Lurgi to push us over the energy barrier; now that we’ve started, though, we are ploughing through cinematic DVDs and TiVo captures at, for us, an astonishing pace. Plus, the Oscar nominations are about to come out and we have not seen a single likely suspect (until Amy, below) and felt compelled to at least make an effort on those. So, here’s the selections for the first ten days in January:
Babette’s Feast (1987): When this was originally in Atlanta theatres, I missed it (one of those, “I’ll see it next week,” things). Later that year, a local restaurant reproduced the feast for New Year’s Eve (and still do annually to this day); there was no way we could afford it, then, and it tends to be booked years in advance, now, so I had to settle for this bit of food porn.
And, great food porn it is. The story centers on a woman who refugees out of Paris to a remote and insular town in Jutland in the late 19th century. Decades pass as she house keeps for two sisters in charge of a Protestant sect then one day she hits the lottery back in (now much calmer) Paris and offers to cook a Parisian meal for her hostesses in honour of their father who founded the sect. The food she turns up with horrifies the townsfolk when they see it but, as they are all fond of her, they make a secret pact to choke it down without comment. (Turns out, before the Communard issues, Babette was the head chef at the most exclusive — and expensive — restaurant in Paris and the meal, to put it mildly, was a success.)
Finally seeing this after carrying it around for so many years (I have a 25-year-old VHS tape in the attic on which a recorded copy from a PBS broadcast sits) stirred the chef in me. It also makes me want to re-watch things like Chef (2014) and Big Night (1996) — the latter for the food AND Isabella Rossellini.
True Romance (1993): About 10% of the way through this I commented, “looks like someone is doing a great impression of a Tarantino flick;” this was NOT meant as a compliment. Turns out, the story of losers stumbling into a suitcase full of drugs and then trying to flip this without getting killed by the rightful owners nor imprisoned by the cops couldn’t be ruined by either Tarantino (who wrote the film but had nothing else to do with it) nor Christian Slater rehashing his role in Heathers (1988) and, for that matter, everything else he’s ever appeared in.
Legion (2010): Gripping while you’re watching it, but hit pause to refresh a drink and your first thoughts are, “what a load of horseshit” (or as autocorrect would have it “a lode of horseshit”). Action film-cum-apocalypse film, Archangel Michael renounces his commission as one of the heavenly Generals (I shit you not) to protect the human race at a diner out in the most remote reaches of the Mohave Desert. There’s lot’s of violence and kind of a thin plot but there’s lot’s of violence (and the violence is fairly well done, as these things go). Don’t go out of your way either to avoid it nor see it; enjoyable enough but you might feel a bit dirty afterwards (often a side effect of a good experience, btw).
The Aviator (2004): A child of the 60’s/adolescent of the 70’s (some would argue the 80’s through now), I have always had a minor interest in Howard Hughes. I was eager to read the Clifford Irving hoax just before it came out that it was a fake autobiography (finally working through an internet copy while in grad school); then, there were all the rumours of his mental health or lack thereof that, mostly, turned out to be true. This was a pretty good biopic covering the period from the 1920’s until the 60’s; a bit overlong, the better docudrama on Hughes (although his character appears but briefly) is Melvin and Howard (1980).
Django Unchained (2012): Tarantino. What can you say? Jackie has this problem with historical accuracy so if I want to watch something set in ancient Egypt I have to get her to leave the room or agree to ignore the stirrups on the horses (for instance). “Stirrups” has now become shorthand for film anachronisms. D.U. is full of these stirrups, but is also dumb on so many other levels. The action/violence might have carried the picture (the lack of any spark in the romantic storyline sure didn’t) if it hadn’t been done identically in Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and every other Tarantino flick so far. Stylish once, pap the second time, and yet he’s built a career on it (granted, most scientists I know are no more self-aware or capable of shame).
The original, worth a look as well (or read the book!)
The Quiet American (2002): I like it when Brendan Fraser is forced to act; I really like it when Michael Caine bothers to act. Both were on form in this ‘Saigon before the Americans were all in’ pic, and not one character comes out as a good person. Brilliant twists bring this realisation about for the audience and the cinematography is such that you can almost smell the jungle decay and pre-environmentalist petrol fumes.
Behind The Candelabra (2013): When this was out (no pun intended) a couple of years back, everyone in the press spouted lines about how brave Matt Damon and Michael Douglas were to play gay characters. I didn’t get that, but the way Hollywood is I did find them especially brave to play fat characters. Like Howard Hughes, above, I knew more about Liberace than folks born after the 60’s would (and more than anyone, at anytime, should). It brought back fond memories, though, of sitting around the folks’ house eating mom’s pharmaceuticals (she always had plenty to spare) and reading American tabloids like the Weekly World News and National Enquirer until the dope kicked in. Speaking of which…
Amy (2015): GREAT documentary about Amy Winehouse (1). Sorry, I meant to says that this is a GREAT documentary about Amy Winehouse (2). That’s right, a GREAT documentary about Amy Winehouse (3). And, a GREAT documentary about Amy Winehouse (4). Finally, a GREAT documentary about Amy Winehouse (5). Oh, what the hell, here’s video number (6): Amy Winehouse.
The Bling Ring (2013): Alternate title, “Stupid Shallow Bitches Steal Shit From Other Stupid Shallow Bitches” (above). Verdict: I’ve got to find out how TiVo determines what it is going to record without my explicit consent.
And, although not really theatrical releases I’m including these two indulgences:
Californication (binge watching first 2 seasons, have the rest ready for later in the year): This is the story of reprehensible folks and is greatly compelling. Ducovny is a hack writer (at least I HOPE that’s the subtext), and his agent’s wife is constantly on drugs (and played by the woman who does Bobby Hill’s voice in King of the Hill). Every description of Californication that I ever read has turned out to be completely wrong (based on what I’ve seen so far), so this is all you get from me. A guilty pleasure, but a pleasure.
Dickensian: This is still being broadcast but the hook is this: every Dickens character lives within a 1/4 mile of the Three Cripples Pub and someone has murdered Jacob Marley, Miss Haversham’s brother has hired a gigolo to con her out of the fortune he thinks is rightly his, Scrooge is quite a bit more of a piece of work than I remember and Fagin in quite a bit less so. It is fantastic fluff and the creation of a guy involved heavily with the Eastenders, the bleakest soap opera I have ever seen. And, it’s not the first Dickens pastiche we’ve gotten caught up in.
Last week here, and
Next week here
Another week with less mileage than I had planned but Jackie took Saturday off work for my birthday so that day was a bit curtailed (just a quick 8.6 mile loop before breakfast). On the day I was born between Lake Blackshear and the infamous Andersonville Civil War Prison, by the way, John Glenn splashed down from the first American space flight, Adolf Eichmann was having his last meal ahead of the gallows the next day, and six weeks later the Beatles played a show in Swindon (home girl Diana Dors features on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s). Kennedy had a little more than a year-and-a-half to live, the Cuban Missile Crisis was months away, LSD was still legal and segregation the law of the land across my native Deep South…I’m ancient.
Yes, we’re going to a party party
Additionally, 5 weeks into treatment of a small surface lesion (another superficial BCC) with a cream that stimulates the production of interferon a much larger area has erupted and started oozing; I’ve been running a fever with body aches and sensitive-to-painful skin (common side effects) for more than a week now and the open wound sticks to my running garments. One more week and the healing can start (and I can ramp the mileage up where I had hoped to be at the start of Summer); the medicine has a biological half-life of about 30 hours and the induced interferon should clear the system in about 2 weeks.
We caught three movies during the week. Of Time and the City was a fantastic remembrance of Liverpool in the 50’s and 60’s made up entirely of documentary film clips and a literary narrative. On Saturday we doubled up with We Need To Talk About Kevin (which eerily parallels the reasons we never wanted children) and, to lighten the mood after that bleak family film, Seven Psychopaths. Both of us were ill (me with the cancer induced side order of lurgy and she with actual flu) but somehow got through a bottle of champagne and an entire box of chenin blanc.
Faringdon is eternally weird
So, the next morning I was a bit shakier than the meds alone have been making me, and I carefully planned a run from Faringdon out to the Thames Path to Kelmscott (where Morris and Rossetti camped out for a few years). I was running a bit slow but the pace was perfect to bring me to the front door of the Plough at Noon:02 just after the opening times I got off the CAMRA online entry for the pub (although it is listed as 11:30 the rest of the week). Here was the sign that greeted me:
Shit. And, it was raining lightly the entire run and the wind was fierce and seemed to shift to stay in my face the entire 3 hours. And, when I reached Coles Hill I couldn’t find any sign of the North Wilts HHH trail and had to consider it a no-go. Depressing.