Friday, 17 April 2009

Obviously my absence from blogworld inc. has been noticed by concerned bloggers the world over. Well, I’m back. And where have I been? What have I been doing? Nothing. I just didn’t feel like writing a thing. Amazing, huh? In the age of e-trivia overload I dropped out and chilled out in the Garden of Silence. Silence is underated of course. So I’ll stop here…

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Edinburgh Fringe: The Big Mac of Arts Festivals

Whenever I think of the Edinburgh Fringe I always bring to mind crime lord Marcellus Wallace’s immortal words to his victim in Pulp Fiction: ‘I’ma get medieval on yo ass’. ‘Cos that’s what doing Edinburgh feels like. It hurrrts And I should know. I’ve taken two shows up to Edinburgh. And the memories still haunt me; handing out flyers in the Royal Mile in the pouring rain and no one taking them; praying for a decent sized audience before curtain up, but resigning yourself to the stage manager’s hateful cue to start the show, and yet again, there are only 5 people in today. But that’s good, because that’s one more than yesterday.

So when I went up for a weekend this year as a mere punter I thought, yeah, what a relief. I can observe the madness from afar. I shall be joyously detached. Dream on, kid. Edinburgh was now getting ‘medieval’ on my friends who were in shows. In short, they were cracking up. That weekend I was a full-time psychiatrist. Sigmund Freud, you had it easy, you never analysed ‘Edinburgh’.
(Names have been changed to protect the innocent and mad)

It’s Friday evening and I meet X at The Courtyard after I’ve seen his show. He’s good, with a deft comic touch that I think is his forte, but I don’t like the show. It’s a hugely self-referential piece about two actors performing in a show by a writer I admire hugely. Anyway, X is visibly agitated and matter of factly tells me he wants to hit someone in the face. Hard. Um, this is not like him at all. He’s a luvvie for gawd’s sake. It transpires he’s having to mediate between warring factions backstage and it’s stretched him thin. He’s visibly twitchy, and I’m quite alarmed when at the end of the night he announces he’s off to a club to let off some steam. I have visions of him starting a fight with a local hard nut. Thankfully I don’t read about a savage attack in a nightclub in the local newspaper the next day, and I receive a text from him day apologisizing for being ‘low’. More like Jekyl and Hyde I mutter to myself. But hey, I say to myself, that’s Edinburgh for ya!

Saturday night and I meet Y after her show, which is about how the travelling people in Stratford, East London have been unceremoniously turfed out of their homes to make way for the Olympics jamboree. It’s a good piece, and an important one – is the Olympics trampling everything underfoot? what will survive once the circus has left town? anything at all? – but irritatingly the writer has placed didactic, stylized scenes taking the piss out of authority figures in what is an essentially naturalistic piece. It’s like dropping Brecht into an episode of Coronation Street.

Y greets me in what appears to be a state of shock and the first thing she says to me is – ‘My career’s over’. I take this with a pinch of salt. I know she’s had problems with the show, but hey, who doesn’t at Edinburgh? I’m intrigued by what she means but we can’t move an inch because the streets are rammed with ‘Tatto’ fans. At last we find a pub with half a seat free and out it all comes. She tells me she got pissed with the cast one night and spritzed abuse at them. It was ‘emotional’. (Uh oh. A golden rule of thesps is when things go wrong you don’t gang up on your fellow actors, no, you take it out on the writer.) Consequently they’ve ganged up on Y & are making sarcastic/snide remarks before she’s about to go on stage. At least that’s what she imagines is going on. In an alarmingly abrupt turnabout she says maybe this isn’t happening and she’s simply going quietly mad. She shows me a text message from a cast member as an example of her ‘victimisation’. It’s actually a nice message hoping everything is okay with her. I say to Y maybe she’s being genuine. Maybe she’s just being friendly. But Y is having none of it. She’s convinced the whole cast has ganged up on her & are intent on destroying her mind. I detect a mounting panic in her and swing immediately into practical mode and advise her to get all the actors together and apologize unreservedly.

Well, things go from weird to worse. She says she knows she’s let me down too. She knows I’m disappointed with her. She can tell from the comments I’ve been saying tonight. They are codes, signs leading her inexorably to the view I am angry and hurt with her for past misdeamours. What the fuck? All I’ve been trying to do tonight is help her. I’ve never seen like this, and frankly, it’s quite worrying. I could say to her, ‘hey, that’s Edinburgh for ya!” but I don’t feel like saying it. This is an extremely talented actress and a lovely person who I’ve worked with many times and never encountered any problems whatsoever.

Sunday morning, at the cavernous Underbelly; my friend Z is directing a slick farce about the origins of pantomime theatre, very silly, but a bit of good fun nevertheless. I’d texted Z before I came up and asked him how the show was going. Apparently there had been some ‘mad moments’. Not ‘alf, as Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman used to say. A cast member had to be removed from the actors accommodation as he had threatened to kill one of the cast. He was discovered on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor mumbling various violent oaths. He demanded alternative accommodation. Funnily enough, he got it. Paid out of the writer’s pocket who was financing the whole production. Then one of the cast went AWOL for a day. And some good news? He did return in time for that night’s performance.

The moral of this story for me is simple; why do we put ourselves through Edinburgh? What on earth do we get out of it except pain? Look at the stats: 2,000 shows, 20,000 performers, 450 venues. You have no chance!!! You are merely cannon fodder for the venue owners. And what on earth do the punters make of it? Just where do you start when there;s 2000 shows on offer and you got a weekend? For the last few years I’ve waited for someone to come out and break the last taboo in Western civilization. Well, looks like no one is, so I’m going to to say it: Edinburgh Fringe is shit! And why? It’s kinda obvious. It’s too friggin’ big! It’s the MacDonalds of arts festivals. And everyone knows it’s not about experimentation or idealism anymore, it’s about E4 finding the latest comedy sensation. O, and I say this as someone who’s had a big hit at Edinburgh. (shameless plug: see the mighty Gob on my website) So no, I ain’t bitter, pal.

Let’s start the ball rolling. Edinburgh sucks, go to the smaller Festivals that are getting a name for themselves; Brighton, Manchester, Dublin. And when they get too big abandon them and search for new festivals. I mean, artists are supposed to think for themselves aren’t they? Don’t be an Edinburgh sheep. Fuck the Festival.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

The best evil monster cackle in movies

This is a tough contest. I mean, where do you start? After all, that’s what monsters do. Make horrible noises. They love making horrible noises. They get a kick out of it. So would I if I was a monster. In fact, I’d do it just for laughs. Anyway, think how cathartic all that roaring and screaming would be? So show me a monster that doesn’t make a racket and I’ll show you a wuss monster.

Well, let’s have a go. Alien? No. Alien doesn’t do cackle. It hisses/slurps. The Fly? I think he just disintegrates. The Thing? Depends on which shape he’s currently changing into, but definitely no cackle T-Rex? Er, I don’t think so.

No, there’s really only one candidate. The Predator. Check out the scene where the Predator is crushed by a huge tree stem and Arnie is about kill it when he asks in vintage action movie dialogue; “What the hell are you?!” As the Predator engages its self-destruct mechanism, it lets out a terrific cackle. I mean, you must be able to hear it from miles. It fuckin’ resonates, man.

Of course you could argue it’s not really a cackle, more of a maniacal laugh, but often the two are intertwined. For instance, you might decide to lead with a crazy laugh and subside into a low, gurgling cackle. But now is the not the time to debate the finer points of cackle/laugh definitions.

The Predator is a traditionalist. He goes for the classic cackle. Long, loud and pure pantomime villain.

I howled with laugher and fell off the sofa when I first saw it. I hurt my elbow but it was worth it.

Salman Rushdie: he's funnier than you think

I went to see Salman Rushdie talk about his new book, The Enchantress of Florence, at the Charleston Festival recently. In an utterly compelling discussion about stories and their power in society, his interviewer asked him at one point if he thought we look to the writer as a prophet. Straight away he shot back: ‘I hope not. I’ve had quite enough of prophets, thank you very much’

Inevitably he went onto to talk about the Satanic Verses and he made the now long-forgotten point that the novel is actually quite funny. He said if he truly wanted to be offensive he would’ve taken all the funny bits out and just ranted at Islam. In other words, been as rude as he could. Shouted. Screamed. Hollered. Instead of piss-taking. Which is all it was.

Ok, Rushdie’s novels might not be your thing, you might find them boring, you know, ‘er, they’ve got too many words like’, or you might think, ‘one minute he’s talking about real people next minute this crazy shit about angels and devils’, but offended? Give us a break. Look, you’ve been going since the seventh century and you got 1.8 billion followers and you can’t take a bit of piss-taking?

The first casualty of religious belief is a sense of humour.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it: I debunk my Heroes. Part 2: Marvin Gaye/Save the Children

This hurts. This really hurts. You see, Marvin Gaye’s a personal of hero of mine. In a lot of ways. Here’s a few of them: I love the way that at the peak of his success with Motown he went off in a completely new musical direction and in effect invented socially conscious soul. I love the way he stood up to Motown’s boss Berry Gordy and refused to record another record for him until Gordy released What’s Going On. (Gordy hated the album, said it’d kill Marv’s career, doh!) I love the way What’s Going On is a prototype concept album exploring issues such as Vietnam, the environment, urban blight, and of course, I love the way it’s grooves are coolly funky like a summer street party going on late into the evening. But oh gosh, what exactly was going on with the track ‘Save The Children’?

There’s no doubting Gaye’s sincerity about ‘saving the babies’, it’s just that it’s so at odds with the rest of the album’s deeply heartfelt spiritual power; the transcendent ‘What’s Going On’, the tender, delicate ‘Wholly Holy’, the powerfully haunting ‘Inner City Blues’. I have a theory. It’s well known that Marv liked a puff or two of the old herb when he was recording. Must’ve been some serious ‘shit’. I mean, how else do you explain these lyrics:

Live life for the children
Oh, for the children
You see, let's save the children
Let's save all the children
Save the babies, save the babies
If you wanna love, you got to save the babies

Marvin, I’m still crazy about your music, and I’ve never skipped any track of yours except this one, hope you don’t mind.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Real Life is rubbish

I don’t know about you, but I loved Yann Martell’s Life of Pi. I thought it was one of the most startlingly original novels I’ve ever read in my life. And that includes Mervyn Peake’s monumental Gormenghast trilogy. So we’re up against stiff competition.

But not long after I read it, a peculiar thing started to happen. People began to say to me: a shipwrecked boy sharing his lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, hyena and orang-utan in the Pacific Ocean? You gotta be kidding they cried! They said it couldn’t happen. It wasn’t real. The boy would be eaten, the tiger would drown, the boat would capsize, blah blah yawn yawn…their voices began to merge into one long continuous drone. I began to feel depressed and needed a Jack Daniels and coke. Quickly.

Yes, these people had an effect on me. When they said Life of Pi wasn’t true what they meant was; life is not like that. Apart from the obvious question of how on earth would they know (who do you know who’s recently been shipwrecked in a lifeboat with a tiger?) they miss the point of storytelling; it doesn’t have to be true to be believable!

Personally I’ve never come across fairies in my local woods but I groove over Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream every time I see it. Who is Keyser Soze in the film The Usual Suspects? Arch-criminal? Bogeyman? Anti-Christ? I couldn’t give a fig, it was a damn good crime thriller. Salman Rushdie is up against this problem all the time. Here’s the opening chapter of The Satanic Verses:

‘To be born again’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die. Ho ji! Ho ji! To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly. Tat-taa! Taka-thun! How to ever smile again, if first you won’t cry? How to with the darling’s love, mister, without a sigh? Baba, if you want to get born again…’ Just before dawn one winter’s morning, New Year’s Day or thereabouts, two real, full-grown, living men fell from a great height, twenty-nine thousand and two feet, towards the English Channel without benefit of parachutes or wings, out of a clear sky’

Men don’t fall 20,000 ft out of the sky and live do they? No they don’t, if you don’t believe it. But when the words are this good (as they often are in Rushdie’s case) o, yes, I believe it alright. Good storytelling requires a willingness to believe that is almost akin to religious fervour, the only difference being of course that getting ‘really into a book’ rarely leads to stuff like The Crusades, home-grown suicide bombers and George ‘Dubya’ Bush.

I realize it personal taste, but people who don’t get Life of Pi and baulk at the ‘unrealness’ of its hero’s adventures remind me of the grim-faced schoolmaster Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times:

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

It was Daniel Pennac in his wonderful book, The Rights of the Reader, a passionate defence of reading for pleasure, who said you have the right to mistake a book for real life. And he’s spot on. I’d rather go to an unreal place I believed in than one that was real but I didn’t believe in.

Because let’s face it, real life often is rubbish.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2: The most stylish KO in the history of boxing.

It’s not only the most stylish KO it’s also one of the most memorable fights in boxing; Rumble in the Jungle, or if you like, Ali-isn’t-given-a-hope-in-hell-against-a-mean-moody-and- awesomely-powerful-George-Foreman.

You must know the story. Ali stays on the ropes while ol’ George batters him relentlessly, everybody’s worried sick for Ali, they think he’s gonna die, even his corner are screaming for him to get off the ropes, but Ali’s a magician and this is his infamous rope-a-dope trick.

He lies against the ropes and becomes a human punch bag for George. George takes the bait and hammers Ali for eight rounds. Only trouble is Ali doges most of the punches and by round 5 George is tired. Very tired.

What happens in the eighth is the stuff of pugilistic history. A left hook followed by a right straight to the face topples George. As George goes down it looks like Ali’s going to throw another punch just to be sure, but he pulls back. He wants his KO to look good, not ugly. It does, it looks great. Check it out yourself here.