One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Television is a Crack Whore

I see no reason not to add my two penn’orth to the terrabytes that have already been devoted to Jade Goody. (has this Yukanian obsession impinged on consciousnesses outwith Britain and India?)

It’s important to remember that two – or more – sides can both be wrong. Yes, her remarks were clearly racist and she is a bully. Yes, she had an outrageously negligent upbringing, and in the light of that one has to have a certain respect for her in being the only Big Brother alumnus to make a career out of it (can you name any of the others?). Yes, there is something despicable about the class prejudice against her. Yes, she has been scapegoated for representing a common-or-garden racism which is somewhat milder than much of what is out there.* Yes, the public (and I’m not excluding myself) have akin to the audience at the Roman circus. Yes, television is a crack whore that sullies anything it touches. Yes, she has been exploited by programme makers who are pimps for the crack whore (obviously in this analogy, we are the johns).

But only one person will suffer. Only one will suffer vilification, ostracisation and career meltdown. The nation will continue to be complacent about racism. Television producers will continue to be unmitigated cunts and arseholes**.

The accompanying photo is the second in my occasional 'Guess the Relevance of the Accompanying Photo' series.

*It is undoubtedly positive that her remarks were almost universally recognised and condemned as racist. Yet only a few years ago, I worked on a project for which the customer’s director was Iranian. He was commonly refered to, by people who didn’t have Jade’s excuses of stupidity and poor education, as ‘Onion Bhaji’. Do we think there’s been a massive culture change in the intervening period?

**Full Disclosure: I’ve had a couple of minor brushes with television and radio. Even in the context of Current Events programming and Open University units (yes – I am the man in the paisley shirt and kipper tie), it is not a pleasant experience. I have yet to meet anyone in the meeja who did not have their head firmly up their own arse.

There’s a new recipe on Flaming Pie: ‘The site that elevates tofu to a foodstuff’ coming soon. Keep watching.

Here’s how to hang someone without decapitating them. And here’s a drop table for calculating the required rope length according to the weight of the hangee. Nice!

Giving ‘Poddage to:
MC Solaar
Dylan – Desire and Blood on the Tracks
Serge Gainsbourg –‘Chez les Yé Yé’ is my chanson du jour.
Neil Young – Weld. I’d forgotton just how mighty it is.
The Good, the Bad and the Queen. Marianne Faithfull and Roy Harper should both consider sueing.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Freedom for Tooting!

I watched C4's 'comedy drama' The Trial of Tony Blair last night. I didn't expect to be as impressed ad I was. A lot of it was quite vicious. I especially liked the inclusion of the Brian Haw character. There were some killer lines, a couple of which I want to talk about later...but first...

Acting (again)

In this post, I touched on the difference between acting and impersonation. TToTB had two remarkable central performances by Robert Lindsay (as Blair) and Peter Mullan* (as Gordon Brown). Neither of them look much like their characters. But they didn't try for convincing impersonations - instead they managed to capture the essence of their characters. Their body language and vocal cadences were spot on - I kept thinking "I've never noticed that before, but that's just what Blair/Brown is like." Bravo!

The Killer Lines.

These lines are applicable far beyond their context. I'll be quoting them again and again.

Anyway...the context is that Tony has walked away from his memoir publishing deal on 'a matter of principle' (ie the editor can't believe his self-justificatory god-bothering shite) and has handed back his enormous advance. Cherie says to him:

"It's not enough to feel good with youself. "

and then:

"You can't lead you life by moral instinct. You need some analysis"

I love the second one especially. It gets back to his conference justification of his self-delusion:

"You can criticise me for being wrong, but you can't criticise me for believing
I was right."

No. It's not enough to go to war on the belief that there's a threat. You have to ask "What if I'm wrong? How can I test this out? What's the evidence?" Cognitive Behaviour Therapy 101. The whole basis of Rationalism.

*A most excellent man. Cannes bst actor for Ken Loach's My Name is Joe. Director of The Magdalene Sisters and Orphans (filmed round the corner from were I lived at the time). Leading donator to the SSP. Goes to the same gym as my wife.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How extraordinary, the cheapness of potent music.

By clicking through the blogosphere, I'm delighted to see that, top site for dissemination of files via bittorrent, is making a bid to become an independent nation. They are in negotian to buy Sealand - a concrete structure some seven miles off the Essex coast and thus outwith international jurisdiction. You can donate to their treasury here. (also gives the full story)

Actually - I usually reach thepiratebay via the isohunt or torrentz meta-search engines. They're cheeky boys and I love 'em to bits.

If you've not yet discovered the joys of bittorent, here's the gen.

Of course, I couldn't possibly condone etc. etc.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Best Acting

Forest Whittaker took a well-deserved Golden Globe last night for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. It was a tour de force performance. Since Golden Globes are usually an indication of Academy Award nominations, it’s highly likely that he’ll be up against Leonardo DiCaprio for The Departed. Excellent though Whitaker was – and my money’s on him - I have to say that I was totally blown away by DiCaprio. Allow me to compare and contrast:

Forest Whittaker

The night before I saw TLKoS, I saw the review on Newsnight. Someone mentioned that footage of the real Amin was shown with the credits “…and that usually means Game Up for the actor.’ Even forewarned I did a double-take. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t still Whitaker. So obviously it was a great physical impersonation. As it happens, I don’t much like impersonations – oftentimes they’re just a matter of clever makeup and learning some gestures in front of the mirror. Whitaker did better than that. To get Amin right, he had to draw on his considerable charisma and screen presence to give the impression of Amin as a force of nature. Plus he had to portray Amin across a range of personalities from joker to scared child to psychotic torturer. (There was one moment where he went, chillingly, straight from torturing James McAvoy and into jovial mode in front of reporters and hostages – but I think that was a matter of good editing. It would have been truly impressive if one had seen Whitaker make the switch in a single shot – although you’d also have to worry about his mental state). Anyway…suffice to say it was a virtuoso piece of method acting.

A Digression on Method Acting

One of my least favourite actors of all times is Dustin Hoffman*. Tootsie was a lousy film – you can see better drag in many a gay pub. And what was interesting about his autistic schtick in Rain Man? They could have got better realism by hiring an autistic actor with no great detriment to the part.

The best story about him (and about The Method in general ) is about when he was playing opposite Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. Before the famous dentist drill torture scene, he was agonising to Larry: “I don’t know how to, ahmm, you know, like, ahmm, get into this part, like, you know, ahmm, like really feel his pain”
So Larry says. “My dear boy! Why not just pretend.”

This to me sums up the difference between The Method and good, old-fashioned acting. In a similar vein, I’m a big fan of James Mason. In every one of his films, he looked and sounded like James Mason. But he also acted.

Leonardo DiCaprio

I’ve always regarded him as someone promising. He’s yet to do his best work. Obviously he’s a pretty boy, so he gets to do crap like the execrable Titanic – but it’s fairly plain he can act a bit. So far he’s not been stretched. His characters have (mainly) called for naïve puppy-faced charm, and with his face he hasn’t had to actually do much.

But – Scorsese has used him well this time. I haven’t seen Gangs of New York (the consensus was that he came over as too young). I slightly liked him in The Aviator – although all the OCD stuff was a bit too researched, cf Hoffman. But The Departed is different.

My theory is that it’s Scorsese’s film about the art acting. Over part of his career he had DeNiro as a muse – and over that period DeNiro’s performances were unmatched.** It was clearly mutual chemistry – DeNiro hasn’t done anything interesting since.

So – The Departed and acting. Firstly, the whole plot is about acting. Both DiCaprio and Matt Damon are in deep cover, the one a goodie acting as a baddie, the other a baddie acting as a goodie. So far so good. Secondly, Scorsese assembled a virtuoso ensemble cast. Standouts include (especially) Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and Martin Sheene. Thirdly, there’s Jack Nicholson. Usually when a director casts Nicholson, they want him to dominate the film with his Jack impersonation. For once he plays against type. His role is central and powerful and charismatic – but without hogging the limelight.

Now…onto DiCaprio. SPOILERS HERE. To a large extent, his part is a cipher. He has to play it deadpan and unemotional, holding in the dangerous truth. To do it properly, that takes clever but not exceptional acting. Where he goes beyond that is the few times when it slips – like the genuine panic revulsion he shows when Sheene’s body lands next to him. But best of all is the moment when he’s talking to the counsellor. She (says something like) “You always seem so vulnerable – or is that just an act? " And he says “No…I don’t think so.” And it’s that moment that made me go ‘Whooaa!’ – his body slumps slightly. He looks as though the mask has slipped – he’s stopped acting…Only, of course, he’s acting as though he’s stopped acting. Classy! It’s this kind of thing I like best. Acting that’s aware of itself as an artefact and yet still manages to take us to new emotional places.
See also the moment in Prime Suspect II when Tom Bell blew Helen Mirren off the screen with a single facial gesture - yet didn't move a muscle. I still can't figure out what he did. Maybe dilated his pupils a fraction?

And I really liked Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

* OK – so I liked him in The Graduate, obviously. And Midnight Cowboy. And Straws Dogs. And Little Big Man.
** Barry Norman used to say that he used to think that DeNiro was best actor in the world, until he saw the next Depardieu. Then he’d think Depardieu was the best, until he saw the next DeNiro...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I’m the last person to want to leap to the defence of that lying, murdering cunt Blair – but in the spirit of contrarianism I shall grit my teeth and try.

He’s started back peddling now…but he’s recently got himself into trouble by saying that climate change won’t be reversed by individual sacrifices like telling people not to fly on holiday.

He’s right, isn’t he?

Yes, airliners are vastly more polluting per passenger mile than other forms of transport. But their overall impact pails into insignificance against the number of passenger miles travelled by car. And then there’s the road miles travelled by goods. And not to forget the sea miles propelled by inefficient, polluting, lo-tech marine engines (including the freight carried between coastal container distribution centres around the coast of Europe. New cars carried from port to port around Britain are a significant carbon source).

And then there’s stuff like using low-energy lightbulbs and not leaving the TV on standby overnight. All very laudable, but even they are pissing against the wind when one considers:

  • The inefficiency of manufacturing and distribution processes.

  • The necessity for growth within our economic system. (Basically, if capitalist economies lose speed, they collapse).

  • The understandable desire of emerging economies to match 1st world standards of living.

So Michael O’Leary of Ryanair* is right, isn’t he?. All this focus on air travel simply serves to make the public feel guilty about weekend breaks while the rich continue to afford their high-carbon, jetsetting lifestyle (leaving aside the fact that much budget airline traffic consists of East European labour we import to keep our economy up to speed). And trivia like lightbulbs pass guilt from industry and consumers. And we’re meant to feel guilty about driving along gridlocked motorways from areas of affordable housing to wherever our employers decide to base their industrys. And the third world had better feel guilty about the way they’re stopping us from fixing the atmosphere that we’ve been fucking up for 100** years (that is – if we were fixing it).

No, Blair’s right, on this one surely? It’s not bottom-up effort that’s needed. Even Green Consumerism isn’t going to change industry. Let's face it, if they pump it out cheap enough, we’ll buy it. The EC has been talking about a ‘new industrial revolution’. That’s about right, isn’t it?

But let’s have a think about the last industrial revolution. It didn’t come about through individuals’ desire for smelted iron, steam transport, mechanised weaving, etc. etc. It was part of an economic process. The definitive description of this process and the resultant pain is here. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to be a privileged member of a modern, affluent society – but it’s that process that’s killing us, isn’t it? So agreed, big solutions are needed***. And by its nature, capitalism can’t deliver. Can we have a new industrial revolution without a revolution?

* O’ Leary has an interesting but highly successful attitude to customer care which can be summed up (and I think he has summed it up) as “If you don’t like it, fuck off.” His continued profitability is evidence that customers don’t care about the pollution emitted by his aircraft.

** "A hundred years of transportation whoopee." Kurt Vonnegut: A Man Without A Country.

*** By the way – assuming that, as James Lovelock thinks, we’ve passed the tipping point, these solutions will need to go waaaay beyond cutting down on energy use.

The Curse of the Bonobo

I'm a regular visitor to the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre - a little-known treasure consisting of a number of warehouses 'round the back of an industrial estate where a nice lady called Pauline will show you neolithic stone balls and stuffed weasels or pull paintings and drawings out of massive storage racks to order. Last week I got her to pull out a sketch of Scooby Doo and Shaggy by their creator, Iwao Takamoto. And now - bugger me! - he's dead!*

Moral: Never offer to show me your etchings.

* What with Joe Barbera, this is the second creator of Scooby Doo I've killed in a fortnight. I'd have got Hannah too, if it wasn't for those pesky, meddling kids.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Momofuku Ando (I swear that's his real name), the inventor of the cup noodle and a saint to Pastafarians, has died . I do hope he's asked for his body to be freeze-dried and buried in a giant polystyrene pot.

It's amazing (or do I mean 'disturbing'?) the amount of information that Wikipedia gives both on noodles (in general) and instant noodles. Amongst other things I've learned that in Poland they come in beetroot flavour.

My own favourites are the Korean kimchi ones. And I'm also fond of the noodlepie Vietnamese food site.

The Grauniad article on his death (no link - not online at time of writing) was written by...Justin McCurry!