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:

Refugee Tours

An artefact, whether a painting, vase or samurai sword, will inevitably have a multitude of stories to tell, stories of miners in times long past, forgers’ furnaces, battles, artists’ workshops, aristocrats’ houses, temples, churches and so on.  And then there are the stories of modern recovery and interpretation, often involving imperialists or archaeologists, communities, maybe the odd chancer with a metal detector or perhaps more excitingly the Russian Mafia.

We can of course focus on materials and techniques, but mostly what draws the crowds in are the human stories associated with these inanimate objects, whether ancient or modern – whether we are facinated with the sexual exploits of Cleopatra or the series of ominous events which befell so many members of Howard Carter’s team after discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923.

Last week was Refugee Week and one of the most interesting efforts to mark it I read of was in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  They want more stories told about and around their collection, and on Sunday the BBC reported that the V&A held a series of events to mark Refugee Week including inviting refugees to give personal tours of their collection, reflecting on their own experiences and journeys, discussing and reacting to the collection as they go.  It’s a facinating article and a wonderful idea, which all museums could consider implementing.  Not only would visitors gain insights into the lands from which the various items were pilfired and the experiences of people from those places, but there is also a lot of integrative and educational potential in such an idea.

It would be great to see this rolled out in Scotland.  The Royal Museum in Edinburgh had a related event, Travelling Tales, but this had a more limited scope, being concerned with children and fimilies as part of Storytelliing Week also.  I’d love to see an event which involved old-time Highlanders and Islanders, for example, reacting to the material culture of the Kingdom of Scotland exhibit in the National Museum in Edinburgh.  Imagine how much they could potentially have to say on the materials, crafts and fishing techniques, for example, evidenced there.  The fantastic collection in the Kelvingrove in Glasgow also has huge potential with respect to Glasgow’s culturally diverse population.  Plenty of potential here.

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.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kErQAo5qlds

Let’s put this into perspective

Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 8:21 pm

The Comely Banking Crisis has been a stressful working crisis for the last two weeks and as a result my blog has been hit by its first dry patch.  But there’s been plenty of election-related action to follow on every medium available so why would I spend time blogging when I could be playing with the BBC’s absorbing, interactive election map.  And more to the point, why would YOU be reading this? With all that excitment?

Anyway, to finish this spate of election related blogging, now that the sorry affair is over, I’m kicking back and putting things into perspective.  Pleased by the current winds of change?  Fancy a younger, handsomer PM?  Let’s not get carried away by such indulgences and contemplate who’s running the UK now.  And by the way, did you see that smile on the Queen’s face?  A Tory at last!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeLSNzEorbI

The Electoral Matrix

Honestly, I must move on from politics soon and get on with matters more aesthetic and sublime – we’ve all got the Guardian, Times, BBC News, etc covering this election anyway.

But I want to make one vaguely aesthetic or cultural point about this election’s media coverage, and to make this point I shall marshall two pieces of evidence:

1) The BBC’s coverage of the election in general; and

2) Derek Jackson from Land is Power, the so-called Landless Peasant party, who has already become a facebook hit since holding a Black Land is Power Salute behind Gordon Brown during the PM’s entire Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath election victory speech.

As my friend Gareth observed during our election extravaganza last night, don’t you think there’s something seriously Matrix-esque about both features?

We spent all night watching Beeb presenters walking through virtual Commons, virtual Number 10s, floating over electronic UKs.  And then we have Derek, resolutely sporting his “peasant” look with a pair of indoor shades and a carefully sculpted goatee.  Is he supposed to be some sort of activist Agent Smith?  Look at him there!

My Own Private Michael Sheen Season

I love Michael Sheen.  I can’t get enough of the man.  His little face, his brilliant acting, that cheeky grin that can say ‘I’m a champion’ one moment and ‘I’m in misery’ the next.  The man is a chameleon, a vessel for weird and wonderful Britons of the last hundred years.  His deployment in so many iconic roles recently has been inspired.  A truly great British actor.

So it follows that I should host my own Michael Sheen Season!  I’d like to call this my Sheen Season but that could be confusing (not that I’d begrudge anyone a Charlie or Martin season).  I have to admit this wasn’t planned very carefully.  It’s rather been an organic exploration testifying to the addictive property of the actor’s presence and work – you just want to go back for more.

Front/Nixon

Most recently for us it’s been Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon.  This has been one of those big films that everyone cool says is great – a bit like Good Night and Good Luck – critically accclaimed, intelligent, big.  It always takes me a while to get round to watching these.  Maybe it’s War and Peace syndrome except on a small scale with movies: a big committment for a Friday night!  Anyhow, we watched it and loved it.

Sheen was great as hedonistic David Frost.  We felt that Frank Langella’s Nixon was something of a caricature, but maybe this role demanded a bit of overplaying.  Nixon has been caricatured so many times since his presidency that it’s the caricature that everyone remembers anyway.  It was the right choice, because we forgot about Langella quickly and focused on his Nixon instead.  A great, entertaining film that gives you just enough information on the background so that you can learn and enjoy.  And Sheen?  Perfect!  The role doesn’t stretch him hugely, but that’s the role.

Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa

Before Frost/Nixon it was Fantabulosa.  Aired by BBC4 (I missed it and rented the DVD – worth it!) this drama depicting the adult life of Kenneth Williams is stunning.  The writing felt just a little slow and clumsey at the very beginning, but the story unravels fantastically and manages to be dark, tense, uncomfortable and funny, like the man.  Playing both the young man and ageing Williams, Sheen is camp, delerious, mentally and physically ill, and miserable.  This finished on BBC iPlayer but it’s all over youtube.  Here’s one of my favourite sections (it’s worth waiting until around 5 minutes in to see the brilliant, hideously awkward ‘love’ scene – be warned, not one for the kids).  In my opinion this is Sheen at his very best:

The Deal; The Queen

Sheen has played Tony Blair twice.  I would summarise these as Nasty Ambitious Blair in the 2003 TV drama The Deal and Great Guy Blair in The Queen.  He’s best known for the latter, but I prefer the Nasty Blair of The Deal because its focus is on Blair himself and it’s a more thorough exploration of the man.  And he’s portrayed as a nasty git!  In any case, Sheen gets quite the accolade from me for doing two different Blairs, each one great.

The Blair character promises a lot more screen time.  We’re still waiting for War Criminal Blair, but I suspect that can only be done once the outcome of the current Iraq Inquiry is known and Blair is retired and we have a little distance from it.  Perhaps Pierce Brosnan’s ex-Prime-Minister in Polanski’s The Ghost will take us part of the way there.  I haven’t seen it but I don’t think a character played by Brosnan who merely alludes to a Blair-type figure is a sufficient third part of this trilogy.  There’s a great movie in the Blair story yet.

Wilde

And last but not least in my Season, we must revisit Wilde (1997).  Sheen in a love scene with Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde?  Must be done!  Ealier roles such as this promised just what we have now:  a fantastic, developed actor with a great CV, screen presence and versatility.  And tonnes of potential yet.  Look at him there, snogging Fry! (Again, NOT for the kids!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4mTcelHf5s&feature=related

Anyone have any other recommendations?  I still haven’t seen The Damned United due to my football-schmutball attitude, but I must get over that!

To Blog or not to Blog, to Save the Planet and Other Such Clichés

There’s been a lot of talk recently about diaries.  The BBC gave us a whole season on the subject, with illuminating programming which revisited the diary of Anne Frank, Roger Casement’s terrifically scandalous ‘Black Diaries’ and the undeniably fascinating journals of Kenneth Williams (pictured), among many others. 

Whether the concern is historical, such as with The Diaries of Tennessee Williams on Radio 4, or espousing the merits of writing one’s own and tips for so doing, exemplified in the Dear Diary series, the message is pretty clear: we like diaries and we should all write one.

And then there are blogs – the public, showy-offy version.  To say that blogs are de rigueur these days is so obviously an understatement that I needn’t even bother listing off recent examples; there are too many anyway.   I’ll take it that you’re convinced. 

But aside from settling on what’s worth reading, we quickly reach a problem when confronted by the plethora of blogs now online – a neurotic and especially modern problem.  What value is there in setting up yet another one, taking up that little bit more space, making the internet one blog more cluttered than it was before?  Surely one could adequately fulfil one’s sacred duty to the improvement of the internet simply by abstaining from the whole business, just as one might help the environment by laying off the beef or staying at home more (in the cold with the lights off, of course)?  Simply put, is the best kind of blog these days one that is never started?

Well, aside from the obvious ‘just make it a good blog’ solution to this conundrum, I’m going by the principle given to me by the Beeb at the license fee-payers’ expense: that it’s good to write a diary, and by that I understand blogs too. 

Anyone (read: me) who’s concerned that blogging has become clichéd and that we are overexposed to the habit should wonder whether all of those ladies and gentlemen of yore who gave us all the great diaries spent a lot of time worrying about such issues when they were writing.  I suggest that they didn’t.  Nor should we.  And besides, those yore-folk were too busy worrying about wars, God, untreatable diseases and the illegality of homosexuality. 

And as a final word in this little ode to the blog, I correct myself:  blogs might well be public and ‘showy-offy’, but there is no reason to suppose that diaries are any less so.  I grew up reading other people’s widely published diaries, for God’s sake.  So, thanks Leither Magazine for setting up this timely blogging service which I now benefit from.

And so I begin yet another one, but this one doesn’t waste paper; instead, they have a big engine in California or somewhere that powers hundreds of computers.  Oh Hell, we can’t win!  At least they’re more efficient with home heating over there!

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