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London Film Festival 2016: Souvenir, Una, Bleed for This, and The Death of Louis XIV

October 8, 2016

I’m dipping in and out of London Film Festival press screenings over the next few days. This is my first twenty four hours.

Eurovision vs pate

The first film I saw today was Souvenir, starring the wonderful Isabelle Huppert. She plays Lilliane, a faded pop star and former French Eurovision contestant. Now she’s middle-aged, drinks too much and works in a pate factory, garnishing loaf-sized tubs of the stuff with bay leaves and dried fruit. All very French and of course, she still looks fabulous because she’s Isabelle Huppert. One day a gorgeous, young boxer joins the pate factory workforce. He recognises Lilliane and, after they begin an affair, attempts to bring her back out of oblivion, which involves Huppert attempting re-entry into Eurovision for France with a fucking terrible, terrible song.  It was slightly absurd, and yet whimsical and enjoyable in a way that only the French can pull off. If this was an English film it would be way more sordid and comical. Imagine Sonia, now living in oblivion, working in a processed food factory in Runcorn.

Melodrama in a packaging depot

Another film that could have been set entirely in Runcorn (not a good thing) is Una. The opening shot is of a young girl, sitting outside a large Barrett-style home. This is Una. Rooney Mara plays an older version of Una, who tracks down the man, Ray, who abused her when she was thirteen (though to be fair, the story is much more complicated than that). Anyway, this man now works in a packing depot, and a large proportion of the film is set in this packing depot. Maybe I’m biased because I briefly worked in a packing depot (in Runcorn) but this is a bit of a shit location for a film. Ray and Una circle each other in the work canteen, and then go on the run around the depot as minor industrial unrest breaks out, and Riz Ahmed and Tobias Menzies come looking for Ray.  Ray then goes home. Despite working in a packing depot and being an ex-offender, Roy now lives in a really middle class house, with a very middle class wife, and despite staying in the depot with Una until they’re locking up, he has time to go home and prepare a huge posh buffet for a party that evening with his wife and a load of their posh friends. This laughable lack of social reality just undermines the dark subject matter. The film was based on a play, and very much feels like it. There are some good performances here, but nothing whatsoever cinematic about the whole thing.

Boxing

After that, I needed a proper fucking movie, so I opted by Bleed for This, which has one of the best titles of the festival and couldn’t really ever have been set in Runcorn (though we did once have an Olympic medal winning boxer) Bleed for This tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza, a champion boxer who suffers a near-fatal car crash and is told he might never walk again, let alone fight. Anyone who has ever watched a sports movie will be able to predict what happens next. All the boxing-movie troupes are here, but Miles Teller, playing Vinny, puts in a good performance. And the fight scenes aren’t bad. The film has little to say other than the usual inspirational, triumph over adversity stuff, but it’s a boxing movie, so there you go.

The wigs! The ruffs!

Quite late last night I watched Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV online. This film could in no way be set in Runcorn. The plot, such as there is one, is that it’s 1715 and the legendary French King is, well, dying. It’s the definition of a ‘chamber piece’, being set entirely in the king’s boudoir. Jean-Pierre Léaud, young star of French New Wave films like the 400 Blows, plays the king, who lies in various stages of agony as courtiers come and hassle him to put on hats, the Duke of York and a French ally come pestering for money, and various doctors prod and probe, including a dodgy guy from Marseille who has a potion made from bull’s sperm.

But the wigs! The costumes! The cinematography, in candlelight, is stunning, at time invoking seventeenth century paintings. It’s a strange, dream-like film that still lingers and I’m tempted to see it again on the big screen, just to see those wigs again. No one in the whole festival is going to have better hair than Jean Pierre Léaud. So far, the best thing I’ve seen.

7 films to kill the festive ‘cheer’

December 19, 2015

Think ‘Love Actually’ is shit? Me too. Here’s my recommended anti-Christmas viewing list, based on some of the most depressing films I’ve seen:

7. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

An excellent, under-rated film about a man living in a tight knit Danish community who is accused of paedophilia and is turned on by the community. It’s a pretty good argument against all that Christmas bullshit about love and friendship and all that. No, people are really nasty.
It stars Mads Mikkelsen and his cheekbones, both of which are in phenomenal form.

6. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)

I fucking love Andrey Zvyagintsev’s films. The Return is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest films ever made, and Leviathan was the best film of 2014. It’s thoroughly depressing critique of Russian corruption, and loosely based on the Book of Job, except there’s no redemption at the end, just the bottom of a vodka bottle. The protagonist is a man who refuses to sell his house to the well dodgy, bent-as-hell local government bureaucrat. But because he’s taken a stand and stands his ground, the shit well and truly hits the fan. When I saw this in the cinema, people chuckled nervously at the sheer volume of neat vodka being consumed, that’s just Russians for you though, isn’t it? Amongst all the harrowing misery is some pitch black humour, and lots of breath-taking shots of remote Russian landscapes.

5. Stoszeck (Werner Herzog, 1977)

This is a film about a poor German immigrant who comes to America, the land of the free, to seek out the The American Dream. But The American Dream crushes him and spits him out as a gooey chewed up splodge of crap. It’s one of the best critiques of American capitalism committed to film, and features Bruno S, a street performer who Herzog spotted and cast in his ’74 film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

4. Dancer in the Dark (Lars Von Trier, 2000)

Everyone loves musicals at Christmas don’t they? The gist here is similar to Stroszek, but possibly even darker… well it’s Lars Von Trier int’ it? The utterly fabulous Bjork plays a Czech immigrant who ends up working in a grim factory in the US, desperately trying to look after her kid whilst suffering a horrid degenerative disease that’s making her go blind, and then there’s some religious visions and stuff, and then… well one of the most heart breaking endings ever. But there’s music and dancing! And it’s all filmed in that gorgeous, timeless, dream/nightmare-like way that no ones pulls off better than LVT.

3. The Seventh Continent (Michael Haneke, 1989)

Haneke’s debut film is about a bourgeois family who tell their friends that they’ve moving to Australia but then actually (SPOILER ALERT) destroy everything they own, kill their goldfish and then their kid and then themselves, to Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love. Apparently people complained because there’s a scene in which they flush money down the toilet. It’s an absorbing, startling debut film from someone who has gone onto be the foremost contemporary critiquer of bourgeois materialism. Oh, yeah, and it was inspired by true events.

Haneke talks about the ‘money down the drain’ scene

2. Watership Down, (Martin Rosen,1979)

Included this one for nostalgia’s sake. This animated film about the trails and tribulations of a group of rabbits is the anti-Pixar. The scenes of blood-filled plough furrows are etched in my mind from when I watched this as kid, and the film doesn’t shy away from depicting the primitive needs of the rabbits, the cruel reality of nature, and the conflict with humans. It’s ethereal, brutal, and if you don’t shed a tear when Art Garfunkel sings Bright Eyes then you have no heart. They do actually sometimes show this on TV at Christmas.

1. Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzman)

You could actually spend the whole of Christmas day watching this eight hour documentary about the Holocaust. Perfect.

Film: are women extinct?

October 11, 2015

Last night I went to the cinema. It’s not that often that I frequent a multiplex, but there I was because I

Everest

Mother Nature steals the show

wanted to see Everest as it’s written by two of my favourite screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson, and I do love a good disaster movie.

However, even before the film started it became apparent that another disaster was unfolding: Women appear to be heading for extinction.

First up was a trailer for the Lance Armstrong biopic. Not a single woman to be sighted in that at all. Not one. Like, wasn’t he married to Sheryl Crowe who was way more famous than he was before all the bad shit came out?

Then there was Quentin Tarantino’s new film which seems to feature one woman to a ratio of eight men. And then, of course Spectre. A short trailer for this, which featured Lea Seydeux in a nice dress for about one second, and then lots of men doing man things.

Almost laughably, what followed all this testosterone-filled crap was a trailer for the Royal Exchange Live performance of Hamlet with Maxine Peake in the lead role, which is, of course, the role loads of male actors want to play.

And then Everest. It is, overall, a pretty great movie. The multiplex’s massive screen was perfect for those gorgeous shots of Nepal, demonstrating the sheer giganticness awesomeness of Everest, and inducing gut-wrenching vertigo as and when required.

But it was pretty galling to see two fabulous actresses, arguably both more famous than the main ensemble of men (Jake Gyllenhaal aside) playing bit parts. Keira Knightly plays expedition leader, Rob Hall’s pregnant wife, Jan Arnold. She has a few scenes in which she’s mostly in bed, looking tearful. A quick Wikipedia search tells me that Jan Arnold was actually a medical doctor and an experienced mountain climber who had summited Everest with her husband in the past. Backstory, but couldn’t they have at least done something to show that she wasn’t just a stereotypically pregnant woman, waiting for her daring, gallant husband to return?

Then there’s the legend that is Robin Wright who is consigned to an even more minor role, another wife waiting at home with the kids.

What was perhaps worse though was that one of the climbers who (spoiler alert) dies was actually a woman: Yaksuko Namba. She was one of the most experienced clients on the trek, having climbed six of the Seven Summits previously. But the actress playing Yaksuko, Naoko Mori is given one line. Not just a woman, but Japanese too, so the only non-white climber aside from the sherpas, to boot, and she was given ONE LINE.

I suppose though, the greatest character in the film was female, though not human. Mother Nature kicks serious ass in Everest. But if I needed a reminder that we should all try to write more women into the picture, last night was it.

Footnote: How hot is Jake Gyllenhaal right now? Apart from the mountain, he was the best thing in this film and so, so good in Nightcrawler which is utterly brilliant if you’ve not seen it.

R.I.P The Film Shop

June 28, 2015

I discovered today that The Film Shop, a little curiosity on Stoke Newington Church Street in East London is closing down.

Russian selection at the old Broadway Market branch. Thanks @tpaleyfilm for the pic!

Russian selection at the old Broadway Market branch. Thanks @tpaleyfilm for the pic!

It was a DVD rental shop that stocked an unrivalled amount of world cinema and otherwise hard to find stuff, as well as the usual Hollywood fare and old classics. Basically, any film anyone could ever wish to watch. They had a free print out of their own list of top 100 films that they urged you to watch. I still have that list and, to my shame, have only been able to tick seven off, and now, with the closure of The Film Shop I’m going to struggle to tick off any more.

I was overjoyed when I first went down to Broadway Market and discovered the sister branch of the Stoke Newington shop. Here was a place that could feed my addiction to Eastern European cinema and facilitate one’s desire to binge on one director or actor or country’s films over the course of a weekend, like the Easter weekend I spent watching Tarkovsky films and ended up dreaming of Solaris-style motorways. The Broadway Market branch sadly went the same way months ago. I’m not sure what’s replaced it, but rumours circulate that the Stoke Newington shop is to be turned in a coffee shop… another coffee shop on Stoke Newington Church Street that will no doubt have five hispters loitering behind the counter, battered school chairs to sit on and the usual gamut of not-that-interesting cakes and vaguely fancy sandwiches for sale. Yet another place to spend almost a tenner on a coffee and cake. Great.

I only happened to find out about The Film Shop’s closure because I went there today intending to rent some Ingmar Bergman films out for a long overdue binge. I felt bad because I hadn’t visited for a while, but initially, as I reached the door, I was pleased to see it was really busy… then I realised it was really busy because they were selling everything off for a few quid each. And their extensive selection of Bergman filmed had already been pilfered. I consoled myself by purchasing, amongst other things, two Andrey Zvyagintsev films, which means I’ve almost got his whole back catalogue as I picked up a battered copy of The Return (brilliant film, should have been on their top one hundred) when the Broadway Market branch sold all it’s stock off. Where else could you even buy Zvyagintsev’s films?! My favourite memory of The Film Shop was renting out a rather obscure Macedonian film (Before the Rain) that garnered the impressed remark ‘Not many people rent that one’ from the very film-savvy guy behind the counter. They had stuff like Bela Tarr’s seven hour long Satantango, which I was plucking up the courage to rent. It’s rather a lot of pressure on the old bandwidth to stream a seven hour film, if indeed it can be streamed from anywhere.

As I said, The Film Shop also stocked a massive range of contemporary Hollywood and mainstream movies and it’s probably those films which they needed to rent out to keep going, as Bela Tarr fans are likely in short supply even in Stoke Newington, but I guess everyone’s streaming that Hollywood stuff, and not many people are paying for it.

It’s incredibly sad that The Film Shop is closing. It had been there for eighteen years. It’s hard to access world cinema or art house cinema as it is, even with sites like BFI-player and MUBI, and it’s especially hard to access a film-maker’s back catalogue even if you catch their latest release at an indie cinema, or even harder old foreign and even old British films.

But we’re living in this wondrous modern age, in this glorious era of technology in which just a handful of technology companies wield incredible power. Google are aiming to take control of cities, I hear. Don’t get me wrong, the internet has many valid uses, of course (I’d have no way of publishing this rant if it wasn’t for the internet for one thing), but… for sure, as well as spiralling rent costs, the internet has massively contributed to The Film Shop’s demise. Like it’s contributing to the demise of cinemas, and even Hollywood, and it’s the internet’s fault small bookshops are struggling and people expect authors, filmmakers and musicians to give their work away for free, and the internet’s fault that psychopathic twats can easily spread their vile hate messages on social media and inspire people to do terrible things, and the internet’s fault that eleven year olds can access hard-core porn. I digress.  But really, are we just going to let all this happen until our Goolge-controlled high streets contain only coffee shops with shabby chic furniture (or betting shops and chicken shops if you ain’t been gentrified), and all the artists have starved?

I don’t really know what the answer but on days like these it feels like modern life is a bit rubbish.

R.I.P The Film Shop of Stoke Newington and Broadway Market, you will be sadly missed.

The top ten Ballardian destinations in London

March 29, 2015

Ballardian: resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments

Are you visiting London? Are you a fan of JG Ballard and so find something horrendous yet kind of beautiful in shopping malls,  traffic gyratories, industrial estates and other features of dystopian modernity? Yes?! Then why not check out my top 10 Ballardian locations in London. Conveniently, most of these are served by the DLR, or in relatively close vicinity to a DLR station, which brings me to our first entry…

10. The DLR itself

DLR train Trains without drivers that swoosh along elevated tracks, passing through places like ‘Blackwall’, ‘Cyprus’ and ‘Star Lane’ and some lines terminating at Bank (imagine a future dystopia where all stations are named after capitalist functions).

A ride from one end to the other of most of the Docklands Light Railway lines would be a pretty soulless experience*, passing through stations made of concrete and glass, everywhere that cold, jarring, green and blue version of the normally cheery London Underground logo.

*Apart from if you’re going to Tower Gateway as the Tower of London is pretty good fun.

 

9. Canary Wharf

At Canary Wharf everything is ordered. Nature, where allowed, is contained in little boxes, hemmed in by concrete. There are two very straight roads that go either side of a massive conglomerate of glass and concrete and there lots of water which is a bit ‘Drowned World’. All the bars are chains. There’s a massive, narrow skyscraper where only people who look like this are allowed to live, or more likely no one actually lives there, it’s just floor after floor of hermetically sealed, empty apartments which are owned by Russian and Saudi oligarchs for tax reasons.

8. New Cross housing estates

I used to live in New Cross. It’s a pretty cool area of London as it’s home to Goldsmiths University, used to be notorious for it’s number of squats, and was name-checked by Carter USM in their song: ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross‘, however, I think the squats must have been demolished because in the 1980s they built several estates of identical looking apartment blocks.

40248_NEW140162_IMG_00_0000_max_656x437

These might not look Ballardian in this picture, but imagine street after street of buildings that look just like this. I was unfortunate enough to get very lost one evening when I was so drunk I couldn’t find my way home, and spent a considerable amount of time wandering around these weird fucking estates. There’s a nice undercurrent of violence too, as a few years before I moved there, a really gristly murder had taken place in on the very street where I was to live.

7. Bow Junction

What has actually prompted me to write this list was a weekend shuttling around east, east London. Last night I decided to cycle to my friend Web Sheldon’s party and, after a nice ride down the river Lea, I emerged onto Bow Roundabout. Car fumes, hurtling traffic, a massive fuck off roundabout, traffic lights, but no zebra crossings, like whoever made all this never imagined that anyone would want to walk around here, and all there is for succour and shelter is a McDonalds or a huge Tesco. Off to the sides loom council tower blocks and the skeletons of gas towers, and there is big deserted building which reminded me of a blown out bank in Mostar, Bosnia. Oh, and three cyclists have died here in recent years.  Too depressing to have a picture.

North_Circular_Road_-_geograph.org.uk_-_11224366. The North Circular

Similar to Bow Junction, the North Circular is included here because it’s a massive traffic-fest and totally anti-cyclist/ pedestrian. Motorists passing over the massive roundabout, Great Cambridge Junction, are greeted by the sign ‘learn to Scuba Dive’, as there is dive shop located just off the roundabout in what is probably the most un-exotic place in the world that you could have a scuba diving shop. There is some water nearby though, a dirty stretch of canal that runs under the roads. The fumes are so bad and the traffic so heavy it’s reminiscent Bangkok (but with grey skies), and it’s the kind of place you find self storage depots, which are very Ballardian indeed.

The O25. The O2

As bleak an edifice of dystopian modernity as you can get. There is nothing comforting anywhere within the O2. And it used to be called the Millennium Dome but now it doesn’t even have a building noun, it’s just a brand name.

 

 

 

Westminster tube4. Westminster tube station

Westminster tube station is kind of cool, and totally at odds with the politician-dullness that is synonymous with the area itself. It’s all grey and metallic with exposed ventilation shafts, but the most Ballardian thing is the extra, see-through screen that separates the platform from the track which only opens when the train in docked, presumably so suicidal political aides can’t jump in front of incoming Jubilee tubes.

 

3. The Greenway at night.

The GreenwaySimilar to Bow Junction, this entry was inspired by my cycle home from the party last night. The Greenway is a cycle and footpath that goes through places like Bow and West Ham. By day, it forms part of the Capital Ring, but at night, it’s as dark as London gets. I was pretty nervous as I passed under the metal bridge and turned my bike light onto full beam. On the path, I could only see about a metre ahead of me at a time, and it felt like anything could be lurking in the darkness, but I didn’t encounter a single other sole. Either side of me, down below the Greenway, the industrial landscape glowed – cranes, scrapyards, clusters of boxy new build flats. And then I almost crashed into a wire fence and a sign proclaiming that from here on the Greenway was closed because of Crossrail construction. Boo! I was really enjoying the Ballardian dystopianism up til then.

2. Westgate Stratford

Ballard set a large part of Kingdom Come, his last novel, in a shopping mall. No surprise, shopping malls were made for JG Ballard stories, and Westgate would surely be in contention should Kingdom Come ever be adapted for the screen. It’s vast cess-pit of consumerism where everything is for sale, always heaving with bodies seeking out their capitalist fix. It all bright lighting and shiny floors but the toilets absolutely reek, suggesting something is rotting underneath it all.

1 . Olympic Park

Olympic park somewhere in the background

Olympic park somewhere in the background

If you ever want to be alone in London, go to Olympic park at night, it’s dead. It’s often relatively dead in the day too. The Orbit rises up in front of you, a dazzling tangle of red metal, and the disused stadium, the glory long faded, looms in the background. The only sound is the hum of far off traffic. There’s some sculpted landscapes going on, a smell of canal slime prevails and the Olympic Village flats look like something from China. It’s impossible to imagine that Ryan Lochte et al once partied here. The party is long over and the decay is setting in.

If you haven’t got a clue what I’m on about, go and read some JG Ballard novels. I’d start with Crash, but Empire of the Sun is, whilst not very ‘Ballardian’,  one of the best books ever written.

The night I threw an eppy in the Apple store

April 16, 2014

As God said to Satan, the fallen angel, I say to Apple: thy was perfect before inequity was found in thee…

Perhaps quoting the Bible is a little strong, you might think, but the Apple store is actually in Hell, which therefore legitimately makes it a candidate for being the Devil right?

Hell being, of course, Westfield Stratford: a gigantic, ugly shopping centre that was built for the Olympics. Yes, our country is so obscenely capitalist that the government builds shopping malls to celebrate sporting events. It is a place where no-one with an IQ in double figures would willingly spend their Wednesday evening and yet here I am, sitting outside the Apple Store eating a frozen yoghurt which I have regretfully spent four quid on, awaiting my appointment at the ‘Genius Bar’.

"Westfield" by Garret Keogh

Hell

I was summoned to the ‘Genius Bar’ because less than a week ago I bought an Apple computer. I am a former ‘Windows-user’, so buying a Mac was a big deal, a LIFE EVENT . All writers seem to use Apple computers and I have to admit, I was a little swayed by that. Maybe buying a Mac would make me a better writer, I foolishly thought! I’d bought into that dream, the ‘Dalston coffee shop dream’, the dream of being that person sitting amongst the industrial-chic furnishings, sipping a Monmouth coffee latte and nibbling a salted caramel macaroon, with a little glowing white apple in front of them!

But clearly real writers don’t have Macs because… The bloody cAPS lOCK is unusable!!!!!!!! If you type fast it sticks and it can’t keep up.

So, how I ended up taking my computer back to the Apple Store: I mistakenly thought the sticking caps lock was just my Mac. I called up Apple’s ever so helpful customer service line, which seems to go all the way to America, because, nothing against against Americans, but it’s always answered by some unbearably cheerful person with an American accent who doesn’t seem to comprehend that people in London mostly rely on public transport to get around. This person thought my caps lock shouldn’t be sticking and so they arranged for me to go to the hallowed ‘gENUIS Bar’ at an allotted time to get it fixed.

So here I am, and the hour is nigh. What to expect at the ‘Genius Bar’? A glass of vino with Leonardo Da Vinci? Some cocoa with Albert Einstein? sHOTS WITH siR sTEVEN hAWKING!?

No, sadly, just a load of blokes and a few women in blue t-shirts, all surrounded by mobs of customers with faulty Apple goods. I was disappointed, and when my blue t-shirt person came over to me and informed me within seconds that actually, no my computer hadn’t got a problem, the caps lock is just like that on all Macs, I was furious. It’s just like that on all Macs? It’s just fucking UNUSABLE on ALL MACS?? Yes, it seems all Apple computers are hard wired for slow-typing douchebags.

“It’s got a delay on it so you don’t knock it” Blue t-shirt says.

I’m sorry, how are you actually going to ‘knock it’ unless you have six fingers or are perhaps typing drunk? Who were they testing on, Ernest bloody Hemingway?

I stormed out, feeling mildly embarrassed that I’d thrown a bit of an eppy in the Apple store. Would I rather be still on Windows though? Hmm… No, I guess I do like my little glowing white apple better than crappy Windows. I’ll just have to train myself to become a slow-typing douchebag. And I cannot forgive them for sending me to hELL on a Wednesday night.

An ode to Britpop

April 6, 2014

So it’s the 20th anniversary of Britpop, because 1994 was the year that parklifeBlur’s Parklife was released which has been declared by some music journalist or other to be the birth of Britpop. Well, I myself would say it was more Suede’s eponymous album is 1993 that started the whole thing, though Suede were never really fully onboard with the whole Addidas trainers and lager thing and all that. Anyway, 1994, fair enough, let’s say it all started then. I was too young for grunge, which would probably have suited by angsty teenager persona much better, but I was exactly the right age when Britpop happened.

gazellsI had a pair of pink Gazelle trainers and I had the audacity to buy ‘Country House’ (on cassette) from Our Price in Picadilly, Manchester – I hated Oasis, though when I think of the word ‘Britpop’ the first thing that comes into my head is Liam Gallagher bawling ‘I’m feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic‘. Gin and Tonic? That sounds quite classy now, when we have even twerps like Mily Cyrus extolling the benefits of ecstasy.

Pulp-Different-Class-choose cover-2I thought Damon Albarn was cute, Alex James better and Brett Anderson totally gorgeous and couldn’t understand why Justine from Elastica had dumped him for Damon. I loved my Different Class CD with the covers you could change and would ensure that the album displayed a different one each month. What sad times we live in now when everything is invisible and electronic and you don’t get album covers with silver embossed writing and interchangble covers. But then you don’t really get songs like ‘Common People’ or ‘Sorted for Es and Whiz’ now either do you? That album still sounds fucking great, twenty years on and there is no better song for being hungover and miserable than ‘Bar Italia’, the last song on the record.

And then there was Louise from Sleeper with the cool hair, and Menswear, Echobelly, Lush and all those other bands who never made it out of Britpop  alive.

I wished so badly that I could go to art school in London, travel around the city in taxis and hang out at the Good Mixer pub in Camden which was the centre of the universe. I work in Camden now and often walk past the Good Mixer and find myself wondering who the hell would go there now.

Britpop was Pop Art to grunge’s messy Abstract Expressionism: it was, on the whole, jaunty, having it large, colourful, commercial. Everyone selling out and being cool with it. Everything that Kurt Cobain railed against. But what a time, eh? This weekend I intend to have a very-90s larger and lime and give Parklife it’s first spin in at least ten years.

A short list of celebrity murderers who are more interesting that Oscar Pistorius

March 23, 2014

Ok,ok, so I know, innocent until proven guilty and all that, but I’m buying the defence’s argument that Oscar Pistorius fired that gun intending to kill someone, Reeva Steemkamp or not.

Having an unhealthy interest in such things, as my novel, The Vanity Game, also features a murdering sports star, so I’ve been following the Pistorius trail closely but I am a little disappointed by the lack of scandalous revelations. So here’s a short list of some far more interesting celebrity killers.

OJ Simpson

1995, retired football player and actor OJ Simpson is chased by police OJ Simpson mugshotdown wide LA highways, then tried for the murder of his ex-wife and her love on TV. This was the first celebrity murder I became aware of as a young teenager I tried to comprehend the whole absurdity of the US justice system. Was OJ Simpson even known in Europe before the murder trial? Reviewing the trial for this post, it was actually far more farcical than I remember with a Kardashian involved, the jury turning up in black, a police officer being compared to Hitler. Of course, OJ got away with it, at least in the criminal trial. And then was arrogant and stupid enough to write a book with a title like ‘If I Did It’?

Phil Spector

Phil SpectorLegendary record producer Phil Spector is currently serving time for murdering actress Lana Clark who was found with a fatal gunshot wound to her face in Spector’s house, and, as Wikipedia notes, ‘teeth scattered all over the floor’. He hired OJ Simpson’s lawyer, Robert Shapiro, which seems dubious, but got away with it in initial trial, only to be convicted in a second trail and shacked up in the same prison as budding musician Charlie Manson, who has expressed a desire to work with him. He did  turn up to court with the best ever hair style though.

William S Burroughs

William S BurroughsI don’t think William S Burroughs was a nasty guy, like the preceding people on this list, just incredibly stupid. In 1951, his common-law wife and fellow Beat-generation member, Joan Vollmer Adams balanced a shot glass on her head and encouraged Burroughs to shoot it, William Tell style. Of course, he ended up shooting her in the head. Burroughs was found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to two years, suspended. He later said: “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death … So the death of Joan brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and manoeuvred me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had no choice except to write my way out”. So the lessen there is recklessly killing someone you love enables you to become a cult writer. Courtney Love played Vollmer in the 2000 film, Beat.

Sid Vicious

It’s debatable whether Sid Vicious did fatally stab his girlfriend, Nancy Sid ViciousSpungen, in the stomach in room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea, New York, but their ill-fated love affair has fascinated writers and film-makers. Of course, Vicious was never tried, he himself died several months later, perhaps honouring the suicide pact he’d made with Spungen, which gives the whole tragic debacle the air of a dysfunctional Romeo & Juliet story. Or perhaps because he mum gave him some dodgy heroin, as mother’s do. Sid and Nancy is a great film directed by Alex Cox. This time Country Love has a minor role, but she apparently begged Cox for the part of Nancy.

Caravaggio

CaravaggioMichelangelo Merisi o Amerighi da Caravaggio was a genius, a visionary but also a frequenter of disputable drinking establishments and a serial brawler. He caused got into so much trouble, his all-powerful patrons couldn’t protect him. At one point he was the most famous painter in Rome, and then when he was exiled, he was the most famous painter in Naples. This being the sixteenth/ early seventeenth century, there is some confusion about what exactly happened when Caravaggio killed a young man called Ranuccio Tomassoni, and other events in Caravaggio’s life are sketchy, but maybe this is because he got into so much trouble with so many people it would be hard to untangle his private life if he was a modern day rock star living life in the tabloids. I’d still have gone drinking with him though. Derek Jarman made an art house film about him, but I’d like to see his life less ordinary given Amadeus-style blockbuster treatment.

Sheffield, and not liking Blue is the Warmest Colour

January 11, 2014
sheffield

The view from my garret

For the past few weeks I’ve been living in the attic of my friends, Amy and Tom’s house in Sheffield. Yes, I’ve finally achieved the writer’s dream of living in a drafty garret, though it’s not that drafty I have to admit.

Years ago, I studied at the university here and so it’s strange coming back.  Every street name, pub, cashpoint, cafe, Supertram stop I pass invokes a memory of my former life here – that house where old friends used to live, that chip shop where they told us ‘fuck off we’ve got nowt left’ when we sought nourishment after a night frequenting that public house which still smells the same, and the like.  I’m thinking of creating a comprehensive walking tour of scenes from my former life, I think Tracy Emin did something similar once?  And of course, now all the students look so young. I walked past one of old haunts on West Street and for a moment was outraged that there were children drinking and smoking outside, but then I realised, no it’s just me that’s old.  But Sheffield has a certain charm, a whimsicality that the cities in my native north west, laden with their histories, don’t have, maybe because the city centre was pretty much razed in the war.  I am missing that reality of London I can’t afford though.

In other news, I felt uncomfortably but reassuring British when I went to see Blue is the Warmest Colour yesterday. Really, how can (mostly male) critics laud a film with such sloppy editing, notably, during the notorious sex scenes?  I wondered if it was meant to be funny after the tenth comedically-loud slapping flesh sound.

I just kept thinking throughout the whole thing, ‘if this was a British film’… Yes, if this was British film, the class differences would have been markedly more exaggerated, there’d have been none of that clichéd talking about John Paul Satre, the kids would have got really smashed at Adele’s 18th, and, of course, the sex scenes would have been much less gratuitous as we’re a bit more reserved about that kind of thing here. In my exceedingly humble opinion, these things  would have made it a better film.  After the stories emerged of the actresses being subjected to a gruelling ten days of shooting for those sex scenes, it felt horribly voyeuristic watching it. I know part of the cinematic experience is voyeuristic but this was rather unpleasant and it tainted the rest of the film for me. A bit like the story the kids read later on in the film, there was ‘no need’.  I wish Mike Leigh had directed it and it had been set in Hull or somewhere.

I can’t argue with the universal acclaim the two actresses have been given though, it must have taken a hell of lot to play those roles and to play them so convincingly shows dazzling talent.  But if the even more critically acclaimed 12 Years A Slave fails to live up to expectations I am never trusting another film critic ever again.

My backpacking trip around the world in books

December 4, 2013

Well, I never got round to explaining more about the manically creative, super fun time in Colorado, but maybe that is best left to the collective memories of me and hugely talented fellow artists, Melanie Reese, Molly Schulman and Rose Lambert-Sluder (who totally needs a website).

Now I am back in England and the whole Intrepid Vegetarian mission seems like a dream.  Now every day I trudge through the gauntlet of hanging skinned chickens and stalls selling potentially stolen Blackberries, otherwise known as Peckham Rye Lane, on my way to Peckham Library where I sit applying for jobs and trying to finish editing my novel against a background of noise that is several decibels higher than that recorded in most bus stations. What happened to the concept of libraries being quiet? Anyway, if it wasn’t for my fabulous friends here I think I would have a severe case of the post-backpacking blues, but so far I am warding them off, just.

To remind myself that I have actually just spent nine months circumnavigating the planet, I’ve compiled a little list of all the books I read whilst I was away. Most of them would make a great Christmas present by the way!meyer

  • The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. Yes, I read The Hunger Games. It was sitting on the bookshelf at the Arte Studio Ginestrelle, on top of, might I add, shelves and shelves of far more intellectual tomes. Anyway, I thought it okay. I can see why you’d love this if you were fifteen and I can’t fault the feisty female protagonist.
  • 1989: The Year That Changed The World by Michael Meyer. Charts the real story behind the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe. A fantastic read which gives a persuasive argument for making the Hungarian Communist Party reformers as big a heroes as Vaclav Havel etc.
  • Rome: A Cultural History by Robert Hughes. I forbid anyone to set foot inside the Eternal City without reading this book! In fact, everyone should read it whatever because it’s totally brilliant.
  • Mafia State by Luke Harding. Continuing an unusual  run of mafnon-fiction, I wisely downloaded, read, then deleted this off my Kindle a good while before I was anywhere near the Russian border. Guardian journalist Luke Harding was expelled from Russia by Putin and it’s a convincing, devastating critique of the regime.
  • Ever Fallen in Love? by Zoe Strachan. Zoe was one of the tutors on an Arvon Retreat I did a few years ago and I finally got round to reading the book she read a saucy extract from, and I was glad I did because it’s great.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy… well I didn’t quite get to the end of it. In fact, I’m not sure I even got halfway through. Didn’t EM Forster say 8 or so is the optimal number of main characters in a novel? Tolstoy gives that notion a big two fingers here. I think I was trying to read this from Italy to China then gave up.carson
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. A very sweet, very sad mediation on loneliness and alienation. Thank you to Linda who I met in Italy for recommending this beautiful novel!
  • The Scent of the Night by Andrea Camilleri. A pretty straight crime novel… can’t really remember much about it which doesn’t say a lot.
  • The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo. We were sitting on the blocks of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin talking about how the Holocaust was able to happen when our tour guide recommended this psychology book which explores why people do evil things. Interesting, though got a bit boring towards the end.
  • The Beach by Alex Garland. I was now in Kunming, China, waiting for beachmy Vietnam visa, and there was nothing to do but sit and read this book which was good as I just couldn’t put it down. I partly blame this book for my decision to sod going hiking in the Yunnan mountains and just get into the SE Asia backpacking trail, even though it made the thought of it rather terrifying.
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene. A totally fantastic, perfect novel set in Vietnam at the end of the French rule. But I am totally in love with Graham Greene so I would say that.
  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. “What an absurd thingthe-heart-of-the-matter3 it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery.” I so wish I could have gone out drinking with Mr. Greene.
  • Coming Up For Air by George Orwell. I think I was in Saigon when I idly picked this up off the hostel bookshelf and started reading and then it absorbed me for the next few days and stayed with me long after I’d finished it. It made me homesick for an England long gone before I was even born.  Wouldn’t have said no to a drink with our George either.
  • To Catch A Rabbit by my friend Helen Cadbury. A fantastic début novel and a cracking mystery by my fellow Arvon attendee. Buy it now! I have had a drink with Ms. Cadbury and hope to once again some time.
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paulo Giordano. Found on my bookshelf in the Gingerbread House at Elsewhere Studios, Colorado, read in a matter of days and kind of like One Day for people who like the Graham Greene quote above.
  • In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbon. An admirable attempt catat explaining Quantum Physics in ‘lay terms’. I had, for reasons I shall keep to myself, been trying to come up with my own theory of time travel since I was on a train in Thailand. Found this book on the Elsewhere book shelves and it kind of helped, kind of. Don’t try reading it when you’re drunk, it will crack your brain.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pisses all over War and Peace, and pretty much everything else written before and since really … 
  • The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck… though this novella is a very powerful allegory for German occupation in WWII, and has a fascinating history.
  • Nicolas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Nicholas came home with me, back to England as I still haven’t finished it. I found myself fancying him. Even though he is only about 18 and was made up by someone who is long dead. But there you go, such is the power of Mr. Dickens’ prose!
  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare. So I guess I can claim the whole trip led to much self improvement as I started with Hunger Games and ended with Shakespeare!tem