Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Empty Room

the candidate movie

Just finished watching ‘The Candidate‘ – the 1972 movie starring Robert Redford as a Democratic candidate for senatorial office in California. I thought it may be fun to watch given what’s going on over the water. Jeremy Larner picked up an Oscar for his original screenplay. One of the taglines for the movie was: “Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn’t have a chance. He’s perfect!” The other was: “Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.” The former clearly has resonance with regard to Obama. You can feel the presence of JFK throughout the film – I kept waiting for Bill McKay to cop some lead – as it happens the worst thing that happens is a fist to that blonde waspy jaw. Whether the second tagline says anything about Hilary or Barack – who am I to say…

It was the end of the film that struck me most. It reminded me of that thing about your twenties. You spend all that effort finding a mate, you get hitched and think you’ve finished something, you’ve arrived, you’ve made it …and of course marriage, it’s just a beginning. I remember a similar realisation when we arrived home with our first son. Just back from the hospital, we put him down in the middle of the living room in his Moses basket. Sat looking at him for a bit. I went in to the bedroom. Realised some kind of radar had been switched on in my head and I was constantly thinking about how he was – wherever I was. It wasn’t the end of nine months – it was the beginning of nineteen years, or twenty-nine, or forever.

At the end of ‘The Candidate’ Robert Redford momentarily escapes from his victory celebrations, ducks into a room in the hotel with his campaign manager (played superbly by Peter Boyle – veteran of Steelyard Blues, Taxi Driver, Where the Buffalo Roam and the unjustly overlooked The Dream Team) and asks him the terrifying question: “What do we do now?”

Which, of course, is the exact same sentiment as Roger McGough’s ‘The Leader’, indeed pretty much exactly the same words (just two letters difference):

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

I’m not sure whether McGough wrote the poem before or after the movie was made – I can’t see it in 1967’s The Mersey Sound nor 1983’s New Volume which exhausts my collection of his pomes and makes me wonder where and when I know it from then.

So with the words “What do we do now?” echoing in the room, McKay walks out and closes the door leaving an empty, blank, off-white room behind him as he goes to realise his ‘better way’ – “Bill McKay: For a better way”. An empty room – and the credits roll.

Barack Obama: Where’s the harm, huh?

Hilary Clinton: Let the bint* in!

[* UK slang: Noun. A woman. From the Arabic 'bint' meaning girl or daughter.] (Yeh, well you try rhyming with ‘Clinton’)

So let’s hope, once Bush has withered away, that the room’s not empty, the cupboard’s not bare, there’s hope and there’s care.

Long Players

whats going on - marvin gaye After playing the 100 Greatest Songs of all time parlour game with my friend Doug Miller over Christmas (me in the North of London, him in the South of France) he came back with the 50 Greatest LPs of all time challenge (no compilations, only one record per artist/band). I failed miserably – couldn’t boil it down to less than 75. So here they are – the 75 best LPs ever (of course, I’ll be popping back from time to time to make the odd sneaky change):

Beauty Stab – ABC
The Stars We Are – Marc Almond
The Last Waltz – The Band
The White Album – The Beatles
Post – Bjork
Go Tell It on the Mountain – Blind Boys of Alabama
Plastic Letters – Blondie
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Love Bites – Buzzcocks
The Clash – The Clash
A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay
* A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me – The Cure
* Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
Don’t Stand Me Down – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Hot August Night – Neil Diamond
The Doors – The Doors
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan
Bill Evans – Conversations with Myself
Tiger in the Rain – Michael Franks
* Stay Human – Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Score – The Fugees
* What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Flesh – David Gray
Guys & Dolls movie ST
Are you experienced? – Jimi Hendrix
The Miseducation of – Lauryn Hill
Yarona – Abdullah Ibrahim trio
All Mod Cons – The Jam
Jesus Christ Superstar
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
On Song – Brian Kennedy
Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Imagine – John Lennon
Cinquieme As – MC Solaar
The Snake – Shane MacGowan & the Popes
Madness – Madness
Correct Use of Soap – Magazine
Exodus – Bob Marley & the Wailers
* Solid Air – John Martyn
New World Order – Curtis Mayfield
Monk’s Dream – Thelonius Monk quartet
A Night in San Francisco – Van Morrison
Blues and the Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
Throw Down Yours Arms – Sinead O’Connor
Meddle – Pink Floyd
Dummy – Portishead
Metal Box – Public Image Ltd (in the metal box)
O – Damien Rice
Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
Stranded – Roxy Music
Rumblefish OST (Stewart Copeland)
The Crack – The Ruts
Abraxas – Sanata
Gymnopedies – Eric Satie
Never Mind the Bollocks – The Sex Pistols
* Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra
The Scream – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Six Days in June
Easter – Patti Smith
The Specials – The Specials
The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples
Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
Remain in the Light – Talking Heads
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor
Stan Tracey – Under Milk Wood
Joshua Tree – U2
Signing Off – UB40
Live in Leeds – The Who
Talking Book – Stevie Wonder
Harvest – Neil Young
*Road to Freedom – The Young Disciples

And in case you’ve ever lain awake at night wondering what the top 7 LPs of all time are in order, here you are:

1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
2 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
3 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
4 Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra
5 Solid Air – John Martyn
6 Road to Freedom – The Young Disciples
7 Stay Human – Michael Franti & Spearhead

Doug’s top 50 is somewhat more sophisticated as befits an international man of mystery:
1. Mariano/Vant’hof/Catherine – Sleep My Love
2. Garbarek/Gismonti/Haden – Folk Songs
3. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
4. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder
5. Beyond Skin – Nitin Sawhney
6. Soro – Salif Keita
7. Leftfield – Leftism
8. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
9. Airto Moreira – Seeds on the Ground
10. Khomsa – Anouar Brahem
11. Santana – Caravanserai
12. Edu Lobo – Cantiga De Longe
13. Remain in Light – Talking Heads
14. Eastern Sounds – Yusef Lateeef
15. Devotional Songs – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
16. The Velvet Underground and Nico
17. Gabor Szabo & Bobby Womack – High Contrast
18. The Isley Brothers – 3+3
19. This Is My Country – The Impressions
20. Pharaoh Sanders – Journey To the One
21. Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
22. DJ Shadow Entroducing
23. Keith Jarrett – The Koln Concert
24. Sigur Ros – Takk
25. Let it Bleed – The Rolling Stones
26. Brian Eno/Harold Budd – The Plateau of Mirror
27. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
28. Tabula Rasa – Arvo Part
29. Mothership Connection – Parliament
30. Lou Reed – Transformer
31. Led Zeppelin – 2
32. David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive
33. Free Will – Gil Scot Heron
34. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name
35. Spirit – 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus
36. Jdilla – Donuts
37. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake
38. Clube De Esquina – Milton Nascimento
39. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus
40. Lonnie Liston Smith – Expansions
41. Anthony and the Johnsons – I am a Bird Now
42. TheInflated Tear – Rahsan Roland Kirk
43. Blue Camel – Rabih Abou-Khalil
44. What Colour is Love – Terry Callier
45. Fat Albert Rotunda – Herbie Hancock
46. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie
47. Assagai – Afrorock
48. Biosphere – Sub-Strata
49. Ein Deutche Requiem – Brahms (Simon Rattle)
50. The Nordic Quartet – Rypdal/Surman/Storaas.Krog

Feel free to join in…

Find Our World in Yours

Big 4

On Monday the artist Mark Titchner pulled by Channel 4 HQ to give some background to his new work, unveiled that day in front of the building, Find Our World in Yours. It is the latest incarnation of the Big 4, a 40 foot high figure 4 marking the 25th anniversary of the Channel and the advent of the Big Art Project, a bold cross-platform (TV, web, mobile, real-life) initiative focused on Pubic Art. Each quarter the Big 4 is reskinned by a different artist and this quarter it’s Mark‘s turn.

His approach involves punctuating the metal skeleton of the 4 with slogans in a style derived from trade union banners. Into the upstroke of the 4 is built a video booth, with echoes of the Right to Reply one at 60 Charlotte Street back in the day. Passers-by, staff or anyone who wants to can pop in and leave a message with their thoughts about Television. A selection of these is played out each week on the TV screens that pepper the framework. The main slogan reads: Find Our World in Yours, Find Your World in Ours.

What was most inspiring about hearing Mark talk was the eclecticism of his inspirations. In art history these ranged from Renaissance depictions of religious ecstasy to Duchamp op-art, from 60s psychedelia to contemporary advertising. And then beyond the art world he used everything from record labels to the aforementioned trade union banners, from the Black Panther movement to corporate mission statements from which to springboard ideas.

I’m a great lover of such eclecticism. At school I remember being given a book by velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch RIP (think Rob Newman’s Jarvis meets the Cyril from That’s Life) – it was a copy of Paradise Lost edited by someone called Broadbent (or similar) which had the most fantastically eclectic footnotes, from the biblical to the scientific, from the geographic to the historical, and all points between. Apart from turning me on to literature (I ended up studying English, French and German literature), it made me realise how interconnected all these disciplines are and how essential those connections are to creativity.

Which brings me to a peak of creativity, my favourite book, James Joyce’s Ulysses. One of the things I most love about the book is the fabulous ecelecticism of the novel – whether you want to know about the water supply of Dublin or the dynamics of grief, the family life of Shakespeare or the history of Irish Republicanism, it’s all in there. And, of course, the art of advertising (Leopold Bloom is in the business) which brings us full circle back to Find Our World in Yours which, like Channel 4, has advertising in its life-blood.

Get up, word up (stand up from the night)

It’s always nice to lay down your head at night in the belief that you’ve learnt at least one thing in the day.

So here we are at 10am and I’ve bagged today’s thing – just learnt this cracking new word courtesy of A.Word.A.Day from wordsmith.org.

“hypnopompic (hip-no-POM-pik) adjective

Pertaining to the semi-conscious state before waking.”

Being still to some degree hypnopompic myself (my most lively and creative time is around midnight), I’ll have to give it a few hours before I start trying to weave my new word seamlessly into conversations today.

Unusually, for me at least, in my horizontal hypnopompic state earlier this morning I’d composed a whole four-line poem Shelley-like in the pit. Like England FC playing away, I pretty much knew I’d lose it by morning. And I did. That’s the problem with hypnopomposity – it’s great for creativity but a bit of a bugger to bring to the light.

Medicine Chest

There was a rather jolly illustrated piece in yesterday’s Independent derived from my latest project, Medicine Chest.

cobweb

The online version sadly has none of the colourful visuals but you still get the idea…

When Nature Knows Best

The aim is to gather and preserve for the benefit of future generations traditional remedies and folk know-how in the realm of health and healing. I’m doing the project with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where my old compadre Mike Saunders is now Director of Digital Media (we first worked together back in 1996 on MindGym in the red ant infested HQ of NoHo Digital).

Modern Times

stars of cctv - hard-fi

lonelygirl15

The fellas from LG15 (Greg and Miles, two of the three co-founders) pulled by yesterday on a trip to London. As I’ve made clear earlier on Simple Pleasures, I’m a big fan of LonelyGirl15 as an indicator of what can be done in the realm of interactive drama. I’ve also indicated previously that I’m not quite as convinced by Kate Modern – whilst I like the logo, I’m not crazy about the acting and I’m still confused about the point-of-view (don’t they feel a little socially awkward interacting with others with a camera constantly pointing out from in front of their face? or who is that cameraman following them around? – as the drama moves out of the bedroom, it needs to be recognised that the mobile equivalent of the webcam is CCTV). Now that was a great title – ‘Stars of CCTV’ – by Slough’s finest Hard-Fi. I never got to see that Scottish film Red Road but there’s got to be a great CCTV movie to be made (by all accounts Red Road was a pretty good stab at it). Likewise – thinking about the product placement-driven nature of Kate Modern, there’s got to be a great comedy interactive drama to be made around the sometimes less than subtle weaving of mundane products into the storyline. Of course not all the products punctuating Kate Modern are mundane. FilmFour’s Hallam Foe featuring Jamie Bell got the Modern treatment in an imaginative enough way, including both a cardboard cut-out of the aforementioned star and a live encounter with him in a bar. So it was good yesterday to close the circle and introduce LG15 to the Channel 4 Film & Drama department.

Greg always talks with fabulous energy about LonelyGirl’s narrative, his retelling is always infectious and makes you want to do a box set binge. Equally charming and infectious was Mike Bolland who chaired a panel I was on at the RTS in Birmingham the night before about the first 25 years of Channel 4 with Dorothy Hobson, author of Channel 4 : The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy. Mike was one of the original, first generation Channel 4 Commissioning Editors, responsible for some C4 classics including The Tube and Comic Strip Presents. He recounted with glee the youthful energy around the nascent channel and the latitude Jeremy Isaacs gave him. As we rounded off the evening, I tried to bring out the commonality between then and now – the experimentation that comes with the dawn of a new era – back then the era of independent television production, now the dawning of the digital age, a far more significant revolution with the transition of media to on-demand and two-way/interactive.

And what a lovely example of the experimental and interactive character of our modern media age I had a couple of nights ago, albeit with primarily analogue technology. My older son (10) had to record a piece of his persuasive writing for his homework, to which end be borrowed a crappy old dictaphone from his grandma. The younger one (7) found it around the house and began by recording a spoof interview about his brother. By the end of the evening the pair of them were recording amusing two-hander comedy interviews. By the time I resurfaced the next morning they had recorded a full-on drama with sound effects, initially provided by long abandoned toys and then by GarageBand.

Meanwhile back at LonelyGirl, Greg quit being a lawyer to start the basically homemade webcam show. Miles was a plastic surgeon when he veered off on the new media route. For all the chopping&changing of these fast-moving modern times, one thing is for sure – there’s a wealth of creative opportunities in them thar hills

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