The things filling my bandwidth

This blog has taken quite the hit recently. Its author recently logged in and was more than a little shocked to realise that there were no posts at all uploaded during February. That has been the result of two things. The first is that I currently have two jobs, one of which is copy-writing. So basically, I more or less blog for the better part of my living now, hence reluctance to also do it as a hobby. I suppose I must get used to the new configuration of my work/life balance and find a space in there to do what I love.

The second reason is I’ve been seeing a lot less art, reading a lot less, and watching a lot more of this type of thing:

Royal Weddings, etc.

April’s big UK wedding is drawing up a few contradictions and various other plainly weird things.  Apparently it isn’t actually a ‘Royal’ wedding in the strictest sense anyway because nobody getting married is a king or a queen or even a Prince of Wales. 

And then there are the commerative plates with no faces, the Facebook ranting bishop, and the erroniously applied ‘Peoples Wedding’ in some of the papers.  Great socialist slogan, folks, but seriously?  I guess royals have people and people have royals just as people have a collective identity and workers rights.

Anyway my favourite thing I’ve seen so far in connection with it was in today’s guardian: a trilogy of graphic novels, retelling the love story from the points of view of William and Kate separately, before a third and final installment.  Some of the usual grumbling, pseudonymed commenters at the bottom of the article seem to think it the ultimate about turn in relation to the press committment after William’s mother’s death not to obtrude into Royals’ personal business.  Erm, what, do they think the script writer and artists had to follow them around on scooters and stick cameras in their faces and bribe corrupt butlers to pruduce this?  Hokum! 

You can read the article here.

Here is creator Rich Johnson energetically discussing his field:

A documentary to look out for

Some months ago I posted here an anticipatory ramble about forthcoming Irish documentary The Pipe.  The film deals with the struggle of a community on the remote west coast of Ireland against Shell and the Irish government and how the surrounding controversies have taken their toll on the small community.  The Pipe has been doing the festival circuit in the meantime and has been officially selected for the Toronto Film Festival and saw its UK premier on 22nd October at the BFI London Film Festival.

Reviews have been encouraging, including Screen Daily’s chief critic Mark Adams’ description of the film as “delightfully shot and stirring in message.”

The film will see a general release in Irish cinemas on 3rd December.  A UK release inches closer as promotion of the film around the world gains momentum.  Today the film’s producers unveiled the official trailer.  Gripping and frightening stuff.

The not so Satanic Verses

I’ve finally buckled down to read Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, that most satanic of books, diabolical to a diabolical regime, incommodious to British conservatives, difficult for British Muslims, thoroughly inconvenient for its author and plainly daunting for a misinformed teenage heavy metal fan.  Several times over the better part of a decade I’ve opened it and started earnestly into the surreal opening sequence which culminates in the two principal characters plummeting to earth in an apparently mythic sequence from a Boeing 747.  But its lack of conventional satanic content (if there is such a thing) or its off-the-wall magical realism always got me in the end and I conceded defeat, or maybe exhaustion.

Having successfully navigated my way to the closing pages, I’ve come to realise that the notoriety afforded the book is disproportionate.  That a story about a character that is insulting to an analogy of a religion should be held offensive to members of that faith in the real world is not straightforward.  Having said that, this is a book whose plot is fixated upon outrage, pivots around ethnic and religious tensions, and culminates in violent confrontations.

At the centre of the controversy, I suppose, would have to be the character Mahound.  That God’s prophet should be renamed so as to be associated with a demon is no doubt insulting, as is some of the description of the character’s story.  But Rushdie uses this name to echo medieval European derision of Islam and its use in The Satanic Verses is intended to underline the conflicts of a dual identity associated with emigration.  The use of the insulting name powerfully portrays the author’s notion that integration into British society cannot be achieved without adequately dealing with the issue of self-loathing or betrayal of one’s cultural origins (it was written in the 80s; give him a break!), and this very issue is at the heart of the book.

The story jumps between events in India and London, and as such it is eerily prophetic that the publication of The Satanic Verses caused such a furore at home and abroad (although Iran was the main eastern counterpart in the real-world story as it turned out), with tensions running along religious and ethnic lines.  Worst of all, there were numerous deaths across the globe linked to the book in some way.

When the religious controversy is put aside, Rushdie’s book emerges as a sumptuous and thoughtful reflection on identity and community, family, religion and change.  It is a multi-layered treatment of the complexities of life in a multicultural setting.  It doesn’t belong on the shelf beside other notorious rabble rousers, scandalous Alistair Crowleys or anti-religious Dawkins-esque sermons, but is at home amongst literature about diaspora, emigration and modern life.  The experience of reading it recalled for me films like My Beautiful Launderette, My Son the Fanatic, and East is East – films noted for their sensitive treatment of British Asian communities’ lives and adaptation, perspectives on and relationships with ‘home ’ countries and cultures, and how it all comes together for better or worse in the UK.

It’s a pity then that there has been so much controversy (not to mention death).  The book has of course been a huge success and has sold plenty of copies, but there have no doubt been readers who might have gained a lot and been touched by it had they not been scared away by its apparently blasphemous treatment of Islam.

I commend it to you if you’ve not already read it.

The Pipe: another oil company, another offshore controversy

This is not exactly the belle époque for oil and gas companies.  Since the disaster on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig began on 20th April 2010, between 30,000 and 60,000 barrels of crude oil have reportedly been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day and the problem has been so out of control that BP was thought to be facing backrupcy by mid-June.  We heard this morning that this flow has been slowed for now, but we’ve had false hope before and the well-documented efforts to solve this problem are ongoing.

However, this is not the only energy company causing trouble for locals along their coastline.  A new Irish documentary called The Pipe debuted last weekend at the Galway Film Fleadh to two full houses and walked away with the Best Documentary award.  The producers describe the film as the “story of a community tragically divided, and how they deal with a pipe that could bring economic prosperity or destruction of a way of life shared for generations”.  Following the personal journeys of people from the town of Rossport and Shell to Sea campaigners, the film is likely to reveal a terrifying level of intimidation and brutality which is more akin to a dictatorship that a modern democracy, as Royal Dutch Shell and Enterprise Oil Consortium attempt to bring gas ashore from the Corrib Gas Field, 80 km offshore.

Locals have been more than aware of the story for years.  Shell intends to bring gas ashore and refine it along a beautiful, remote stretch of coastline, rather than doing so at sea.  Many of the more traditionally minded locals don’t fancy it.  The government wants it.  Fishermen and protesters are attacked by masked men and brutalised by police.  A sad and frankly terrifying story about the way big companies deal with small communities.

This is a potentially explosive documentary revealing a struggle which many have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to.  See it if you get the chance.  It’s on my list.  The following clip gives you a flavour of the dramatic showdown.

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery is running an exhibition of films by the Belgian artist and filmmaker Johan Grimonprez.  It runs until 11th July so there’s still plenty of time to see it.  It’s well worth a visit but you have to be prepared to sit down for a while as the two highlights last in excess of an hour each.  There are a number of items to see here, the main draw being Double Take, Grimonprez’s newest work written by Tom McCarthy and featuring Alfred Hitchcock meeting his double.

However, most visitors will likely end up remebering the 1997 production dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a somewhat gruelling film about plane hijackings and subsequent media coverage that will certainly cause you significant stress.  If you’re about to fly in a plane somewhere, I strongly advise you not to watch this!  It’s a powerful and frightening take on a subject that has only grown in our collective consciousness since the film was previewed in the late 90s.  The only solace is that this is an experiment of sorts which demonstrates the shock factor that the media has in reporting terrorist attacks.  That is, when you leave the room at the end, that feeling of pure sickness at the bottom of your stomach is your own little piece of proof that the media do engender fear; your own fear is the evidence.  Why was this solace for me?  Because I realised at that point that Grimonprez is right: this manipulated series of media clips with a voice-over which features extracts from novelist Don DeLillo’s Mao II and White Noise, is put together to show you how horrified the media can make you feel.  In this respect I realised after watching it that this feeling doesn’t necessarily come from terrorists or the threat of terrorist attacks, but from the news, so panic over… for now.

For some light relief, Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter (1992) is a good follow-up.  In this shorter film, Grimonprez draws on his experience as a graduate Anthropology student to show how ethnographers have become cultural commodities and status symbols for many Papua New Guineans.  The profound effect that ethnoographers have had in certain villages and especially regarding village rivalries is troubling for the discipline but the symptoms of it evident in this exhibition are quite frankly hilarious.

The time factor is a little demanding for some of these films, especially Double Take and dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, but think of it this way: you’d probably go to see one of these in the cinema at the drop of a hat – they’re so compelling and affecting.  You can see them here for free (but only until the 11th July).

What did you think o’ that Dad? Lennon gets Naked for the Fatherhood season

Last night BBC4 aired the intriguing Lennon Naked drama, starring Christopher Eccleston as the man himself with Naoko Mori mainly standing around in the background playing Yoko Ono standing around in the background.  Billed as part of the BBC’s Fatherhood season, the drama is set around various real and fictive family settings from the Beatles to John’s first family, showing, er, their ultimate demise.

It’s no surprise that two key relationships highlighted are John’s with his father Alfred and John’s with his first son, poor old Julian Lennon.  In this respect last night’s feature had something sort-of new to say in that it attempted to demonstrate that John passed much of the problems he had with his father straight down to Julian.

Christopher Fairbank plays a believable and sympathetic Alfred Lennon.  But while Eccleston portrays a relatively convincing, enigmatic John, he is far less kind to the Beatle than Fairbank is to his father, presenting a self-obsessed, cruel megalomaniac who thinks he’s Jesus (Commodus anyone?).  We have to admit, though, Eccleston does a good enough job, despite the grating scouse accent.  What’s more, Alfred Lennon and John Lennon are two acting gigs which are poles apart: Fairbank has an awful lot of freedom to interpret Alfred and I can’t help feeling that he enjoyed filming this more than Eccleston, whose role demanded careful study and imitation, and promised more than a little mockery if not followed through successfully.  Related to this point, it has to be said that Eccleston really shines as John when he’s portrtaying him in his private life, away from the toe curling Beatles’ banter with the press, which allows scarce little room for interpretation.

Overall, this is a drama worth seeing, but one or two things annoyed me about it.  Mainly, the use of archive footage of the Beatles.  You’re filming a drama – make your own footage!  I know, I know, you can’t exactly fill up a baseball stadium for a TV drama, but come on, we all know the Beatles and their music, we believe they were successful.  This is a story of private lives, so why bother?  The worst thing about the footage was that it also focused on shots of various Beatles and Yoko jumping in and out of cars and planes and things in the middle in the story.  The problem here is that the veil of believability is torn down each time it happenes: just when you get into the swing of Eccleston as Lennon, they show you the real Lennon, and you think, ‘That’s what he looked like. I remember now’!  And poor old Eccleston has to start from scratch.  This is further added to by the fact that there are four Beatles and Yoko Ono for the viewer to accept, and the effect is the same for all of them.   The one enigma (as always) is George Harrison.  I wasn’t sure where Jack Morgan was going at all with this, although maybe it was a casting (or hair and makeup!) issue.  Andrew Scott and Craig Cheetham play a reasonable Paul and Ringo respectively.

We never hear of John’s death, only that he was not to return to the UK once settled in the States.  One of the twists of Lennon’s life and untimely death which this drama highlights is his unfinished family business.  In this portrayal, you can’t help but feel sorry for Alfred and Julian, and land a lot of the blame for the persistence of family difficulties on John himself, despite his difficult upbringing.  Furthermore, the connection between three Lennon generations and the repeated mistakes highlighted here makes one wish that John had lived to an older age if only to feel the pain Alfred felt and understand and make ammends for his own mistakes, as Alfred tries to.  By the way, and just for the record: Eccleston and Mori do get naked, just the once.

Faults aside, a worthy addition to the Fatherhood season.

A book a day…

Hi folks – I know, I know – it’s been an outrageously long time since my last post.  What can you do when you’re busy at work and then, oh then, such a gorgeous spell of divine, sunny weather?  What better than to take a couple of days off work and ponder how far we’ve come since the horror of winter?  Better than blogging!

But I was compelled to return to the blog by the inspiration of a friend of mine over at Somnopolis, a blog by a true globe-trotter on all things couch-related barring psychotherapy (although that’s open to debate).  He and his wife have just moved to Australia, and while he’s sitting around waiting for his bridging visa, unable to work legally, his wife has come up with an excellent plan to foil that natural loss of morals which, as everybody knows, accompanies male idleness.

She has challenged him to use his state-given spare time to read a book every day, a review of which will be posted on his new blog a book a day till I can stay.  He has assured us that this is but a side project and that Somnopolis is inviolate and enduring.

His first read was Mira Grant’s Feed, “a self-contained political thriller that just so happens to feature zombies”.  He seems to really like this one.  I wonder if he’s putting off the troublesome tomes!  Can you think of any particularly onerous titles that we could challenge him to read in a day?  I’m all for a petition!  You’ve got to admit it’s an admirable project, so keep an eye on it.

Staying with things blog related, another friend of mine, a bona fide sports journalist no less, has started up his own American sports blog for European audiences called 3rd and Goal.  If like me you think this is a cryptic title, it isn’t: it’s probably just a sign that you should read the blog!

In other news, I’m happy today because the Irish passport office has apparently ‘printed’ my passport, so the online tracking tells me, despite a long-running industrial dispute and a backlog of 64,000 applications.  So my own globe-trotting  looks set to continue.  And now a letter to my bank manager…

Passport to Edinburgh

This has been an exciting week in the realm of the Comely Banking Crisis.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that a bomb disposal team was called out to the University of Edinburgh to attend to an intimidating, apparently unexploded hand-grenade which some workmen found under a stair-well.  It later turned out that it was not a live device.

I can picture the scene.  Man A in mid conversation lifts a filing cabinet, and suddenly freezes in silent horror.  Man B, his interlocutor, doesn’t think.  His experience in the service has taught him not to.  He just grabs the menacing device and throws it in the direction of his other colleagues outside the door, who are standing around outside chatting and enjoying their bacon rolls.  Then Man B leaps to the ground, hands covering head.  Colleagues never speak to Man B again.

When the devise finally detonated, the resultant crater exposed a hoard of Burgundian treasure and a small document archive.  Experts in the university have reported that among the latter is a royal charter stating that the university and its grounds are officially ceded to the Duke of Burgundy in perpetuity, implying that all students and staff of the university are now, technically, French.

On Saturday, I watched Passport to Pimlico.  I am currently renewing my own passport too.

Key: truth; lies; speculation.

Workday montage, if only!

Books and Film — Tags: , , , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 11:35 am

Today has been such a hectic day at work so far.  I really can’t believe that I’ve decided to start writing for a blog in the midst of this day I’m having, the irresponsibility!  I disgust myself!  But that’s the way it is sometimes.  Busy busy busy and then stupid.

Wishing your life away

I just wanted to share one thing, though.  Do you think you would like to have a ‘montage’ option for busy days at work?  Put it like this: would you like to get through a busy day in an exciting dream-like state, with motivational music playing in the background, with the whole day lasting ten minutes maximum, and all your work done at the end of it?

Sometimes in the morning I think I would just love this!  The whole ‘I wish somebody else would go into work for me’ sort of feeling.  But I’m going to step out and say it: no, I don’t want this, because I would never wish my life away, even for one day.  But, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the odd fantasy.

So here’s something from the fabulous Team America World Police to contemplate while you’re being a busy little bee around the office.  Anyone have any others to share?  Now back to work!

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