Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Top 10 CD Box Sets

I love a good box set, me. The following is a personal list; I've based it on what music I like and what the box set contains – it should have unheard or hard to find rarities and not be just a collection of already-existing albums.

How many CDs is a box set? Three? Four? I guess the first criteria is it should come in a box, contain three or more CDs and have a great booklet. Peelable banana optional, but it helps.

1. Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 (1991)
Biograph got there first, but this one was the revelation, with many songs unheard of even by bootleg Dylan fans.
Essential: Farewell, Angelina, She's Your Lover Now, Blind Willie McTell, Angelina
See also: All the Bootleg Series

2. Velvet Underground – Peel Slowly and See (1995)
All their studio albums plus extras and a peelable banana.
See also: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 – The Quine Tapes (the volume one implies more volumes but no sign of them yet).

3. Faces – Five Guys Walk Into a Bar (2004)
Another revelation (I love a box set when it's a revelation). We always knew the Faces were great, but not this great, not, like, up there with The Stones. Particularly of note are the live BBC sessions.
See also: Rod Stewart: Storyteller – An Anthology; The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998; Rod Stewart: Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings (this is really all the Rod you need – his first five albums on three discs along with ten outtakes).

4. Big Star – Keep an Eye on the Sky (2009)
98 songs worth of unreleased demos, live versions and alternate versions; includes band members' solo work. This is the complete story of Big Star.

5. Bob Dylan – Biograph (1985)
Not the most imaginative compilation (it would be another six years before Dylan fans got what they wanted), but includes some rarities, and is said to have kick started the whole CD box set concept.
Essential: Percy's Song, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Abandoned Love
See also: Masterpieces, an Australian compilation which has a few rarities of its own, such as the Liverpool 1966 Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, George Jackson and Rita May.

6. Bruce Springsteen – Tracks (1998)
Four discs of mostly unreleased material. Great.
Essential: Born in the USA (acoustic version)
See also: Live 1975-1985

7. Miles Davis – Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (2003)
A 5-CD set not to played in one sitting.
See also: Numerous other Complete Sessions including Bitches Brew.

8. Tortoise – Lazarus Taxon (2006)
I love this one. Minimal packaging and labelling housing 3 CDs of rarities and a DVD.

9. Steve Reich – Phases (2006)
This bargain price 5 CD set should appease the casual fan.
See also: Reich: Works (1965-1995) is a £60 ten CD set for the more adventurous.

10. David Bowie – Sound and Vision (2003)
A curious, perverse selection of songs and less than user-friendly packaging; this is definitely not a Greatest Hits package. If you want to hear the German version of Heroes, get this.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silence

'Your silence is like an open door' he had said to him earlier, but he really felt it ring true now. He was listening to both of them talking and he wanted to join in but couldn’t. He didn’t really know what they were talking about. He wished they were talking a language he didn’t understand like Arabic, Spanish or Russian. But they were talking about music and he hadn’t heard of any of the band’s mentioned. He thought of changing the subject: no, they were too engrossed in what they were talking about. He was slipping (the slippery slope) and he wondered why: tiredness, yes; being stoned and drunk, it was late, yes; but they had all been through the same conditions, everyone felt the same. Who did he think he was?

Was he somewhere else? Where? No, he was here, he was there. He wasn’t on another plane, he didn’t feel superior (he wanted to tell them this, to apologise), he just wasn’t joining in, that’s all.

He always felt like being someplace else, not out of rudeness to the people who he was with, but just because he didn’t feel in his element where he was, wherever he was, no matter where he was. He never liked leaving a place (unless it was his home), and he never liked arriving at a place (especially his home; each new return home after a journey he feels more an alien, more lonely, more detached and unemotional).

It was always the journey he savoured and felt the possibility for something new, fresh and exciting. Of course, by the time he arrives it’s usually all in vain. When he leaves, he’s annoyed at first, for not making more of it when he was there, but is soon excited about returning home in the hope of some change having occurred. Alas, in vain again. Give him ten minutes of arriving back home and he’s miserable because it’s all the same again, though that first ten minutes is usually pretty nice. A life of continual movement might keep him in raised spirits. To have nothing, nowhere, yet everything, everywhere, anywhere.

It was good being back in the Medinas of Morocco, with the smell of Casa-Sports and a million other indescribable aromas mingling. But it's strange seeing middle-class Moroccan women smoking cigarettes – not often seen out of the big cities. It feels odd working here and staying in a middle class area: men and women mixing in public and plush new apartments. It’s the western influence with its penthouses and housing developments, all along the coastline. A stone’s throw away from the new apartments are the shantytowns.

Beautiful shantytowns. So far removed from what I know, they are beautiful. Beautiful women, and workers. Not European-type women with their European-type clothing, but earth women and their clothing. No bland man-made manufactured clothing but seeming to come from the earth and seeming unique, part of each person not part of every person.

These new apartments, they’re nice. But a home made from corrugated iron, cardboard, bushes, branches, tin cans: that’s something else. It’s hands on, in; it’s resourceful, unique, improvised, possibly art. In fact, it’s wonderful, but it’s poverty, and I guess we’d all rather live in plush apartments, than in poverty, if given the choice.

When I was a child I had a vague notion that all blacks and Asians looked the same. Then I got older, and saw a bit of the world, and came to the conclusion that all white people looked the same.

There’s an amazing similarity between walking from Putney to Wandsworth and walking from Fulham to Hammersmith. Roads and blacks become apparent, even paramount. ‘Roads divide communities,’ he said, solemnly. And I thought of Jakarta, where all the highways have forced communities and villages, called kampungs, into being.

And along the Thames at night, the ducks and the geese and the swans talking to us, and only now and here is London peaceful, romantic and beautiful; London at night along the Thames.

What is it with rivers?
Their peace, beauty and romance?

But the cold, and the empty darkness, sometimes ruins it and then I think of Manila bay at night with its people living on the banks, and the food stalls and children and smiles and greetings and the untouched vastness, the humidity, the real beauty, and the women… always the women.

The eternal visions of rivers and women, both just passing through.

(Rabat, Morocco, 1995)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Top 10 Record Labels

1. Columbia
(Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis)

2. Domino
(Bonnie Prince Billy, Four Tet, Pavement, Young Marble Giants, Animal Collective)

3. Warp
(Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, Battles, Broadcast)

4. Factory
(Joy Division, New Order, OMD, Happy Mondays)

5. Drag City
(Joanna Newsom, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Jim O'Rourke, Scott Walker)

6. Matador
(Pavement, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, New Pornographers)

7. 4AD
(The Pixies, Scott Walker, Deerhunter, Camera Obscura)

8. Island
(Grace Jones, Pulp, Portishead, PJ Harvey, Nick Drake)

9. Fat Cat
(Mum, Animal Collective, Sigur Ros)

10. Nonesuch
(Wilco, Brian Eno, Steve Reich)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Five A Day?

Today I indulged in eight kinds of fruit (as well as a few veg): apple, banana, orange, raspberries, cherries, loganberries, blackberries and gooseberries.

One of the new government's latest short-sighted cut backs is to axe the Food Standards Agency. Inevitably the government has been accused of caving in to big (food) business and ignoring public health; indeed news of the FSA's demise came just days after Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, sealed a deal with the food industry.

The FSA spent years trying to introduce an easy-to-understand traffic light labelling system on food: red, amber and green labels on the front of food packaging to denote the levels of fat, salt and sugar contained in them. The food industry has spent an estimated £850m trying to block the scheme. Well, they've succeeded. Instead, politicians have backed a rival scheme backed by obesity- and baby death-causing multinationals Kraft and Nestlé.

Whether or not the Five a Day campaign is going to stay afloat remains to be seen. It already seems a struggle for many of us to manage one a day. Soon Kraft will be telling us that eating a Terry's Chocolate Orange a day counts as one of the five. In other countries in Europe, partially around the Mediterranean, seven a day is a natural average.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Five women: #1. Chaya (Sri Lanka)

It was Chaya’s last day today. She seemed happy. We finished early again, at about two. She’ll be back again in December. She’s gone home to Colombo, Sri Lanka, for a while. Joseph didn’t get to say goodbye to her, which he regretted. Chaya was funny. Everyone liked her. I liked her life story. It was amazing. I’ve known her for the past year, and she’d return home every once in a while for a couple of months and then return and have amazing tales to tell. Listening to her made me want to travel for the rest of my life, or never leave home again, I wasn’t sure which.

Last time I saw her, her house in Colombo had been looted and razed to the ground in the middle of the night and she'd fled with her children. Her husband was a communist sympathiser and an anti-communist group raided her house. That was last year.

Just recently: she went back to attend her father’s 80th birthday party. A huge party had been planned with family turning up from all over the world. The day before his birthday, he died. He was poisoned. Chaya was as well, but after two months in an Indian spiritual retreat, she recovered. Her ex-husband had poisoned both of them with black magic. One night, Chaya awoke from her sleep to find her bed teaming with hundreds of maggots, placed there by her ex. There were remains of human ash, a sure sign of a curse. Her fridge had holes in it, and she could smell human ash everywhere. Her ex wants Chaya’s property (she owns a lot in Colombo) and by killing her father and Chaya, he would have been entitled to it. She tells me everything in such a casual, matter of fact way:

‘Yes, me and my father had a curse put on us. A type of voodoo curse. Maggots appeared from nowhere. My father died, I nearly died too. But I went to a spiritual retreat in India and survived. This was last week.’

She’s amazing. I told her I needed some of her spirituality. She told me I needed Jesus (Chaya’s a Catholic – she goes on pilgrimages all over the world with Brigit, who also works here); I wasn’t so sure. Chaya used to edit anti-government magazines with her husband in Colombo.

Chaya always smells of soap. She’s large with short, straight black hair and a soft voice. She sometimes wears glasses and must be in her late-forties. When I went back to work about a month back, Chaya was there and I told her I needed some spiritual guidance. She lent me a book. It was a short book, but it was boring and took me ages to read it. There was strange advice on how to end a sexual relationship: rub eggs on your genitals. Things like that. Baths of beer. Incense. I wasn’t really into it. I wanted Chaya to do something for me. Chaya says she’s a psychic, and yes, she feels negative attacks from me. Like pin pricks.

(2000, London)

Five women: #2. Leticia (Mexico)

There’s a European sensibility about her and I can’t believe she’s from Mexico. I still don’t believe it and tell her she must be from Spain. I mean she must be. She laughs loud. Her skin is light. I admired her for her bold use of Geneva (a font). We met in the Slug and Lettuce, just as empty as when Ruby worked here, three years ago was it? But it’s a Monday, it’s freezing and windy. I hadn’t seen her for months, and even then, when I had seen her, I had spoken maybe fifteen minutes with her total. In that time I had asked her if I could live and work with her in Mexico, and she had said yes. I thought no more about it, but I had a phone number and a day when she’d be back from Europe, Israel and Egypt. I couldn’t remember if I liked her or not. In fact, when first meeting her at college, I remember not only finding her ugly, but also annoying, with a grating laugh and a loud, unnecessary voice. I’m glad that my first impressions are always, absolutely always, completely and utterly, wrong.

There’s a European sensibility about her. I phoned her at 6:05pm on Monday 30th October. Before I phoned her I thought: I’m going to phone her once. If she’s not in, fine, I’ll forget the whole thing. I don’t even know her. I thought: even if she is in and I do talk to her, I’ll play it cool, maybe I won’t even mention Mexico, maybe I’ll just ask her about her trip. Anyway she’s probably forgotten, or thought it was a joke. I had. I mean, I thought it was a joke, just something to talk about and flirt about in college. I had also forgotten, until I remembered how I was getting nowhere in London, not doing what I wanted to be doing, or thought what I wanted to be doing.

The phone rang.

A man answered. I’ve never, ever, said her name before. She had written it down for me, but I’d never pronounced it. I’m bad with names, especially foreign ones. I ask for Leticia. The man says, ‘Who?’ I say it again, with a different intonation. The male voice says no. I ask him when she’ll be back. He says maybe in a few hours. Then he asks who it is, and I tell him my name and business. There’s a pause. I hear his voice off phone, and a female voice. Then the man says: ‘She’s just come in the door’. Then it’s Leticia’s voice.

Considering it’s the first time we’ve spoken on the phone, and turns out to be the longest time we’ve ever spoken, we do pretty well. Not only do I ask her about Mexico but I ask her if she wants to meet. I’m expecting her to say no, and I think to myself, if she says no, then I’m going to forget her and Mexico. I’m figuring her to say no because this is her penultimate night in London, and she must have plans with friends.
Leticia says, ‘We could meet now.’
I don’t know why, but my heart rises.
I say, ‘Err...’
‘If you’re not busy.’
She has to be nice, I mean she has to be a nice person. I had a feeling about her, if only because I know she had a feeling about me. That’s good enough for me. I don’t know what I want. Let everyone else decide for me. I’ll go along with it, I’m sure it’ll be all right. We agree to meet halfway, in the Slug and Lettuce, on the corner of the High Street, opposite the church, besides the Thames.
‘In fifteen minutes?’ She asks.
‘What, are you going to run there?’
Why can’t I just be nice?
‘No, I...’ She stumbles.
‘Fifteen minutes is fine, I was joking.’
‘Okay.’
‘Okay.’
I smoke a cigarette, then I run there. I get there first. I hate this pub. I don’t know if we’re going to get on. Maybe we won’t. Then I’ll forget about Mexico. I have a Kronenberg and stand at the bar. The barmaid looks at me. She can fuck herself, loser. Then Leticia comes in, flustered in a bright red anorak.

We kiss on the cheeks and I decide she has a European demeanor and must be from Spain, not Mexico. She was in Spain yesterday. Whenever I kiss on the cheeks, if feels like slow motion. Her skin is soft yet firm, but light, for a Mexican.

She looks completely different from when I saw her last, four months ago, at the end of college party, at my house. She had made a lovely lemon cheesecake and worn a bright turquoise long coat. Now she was different. She looked lovely, I mean she definitely looked the lovely side of average. Maybe we were both average. What’s wrong with me? Here I am contemplating moving to Mexico, living and working there, starting a completely new life, but all I’m really thinking about is sex with Leticia, who I hardly know, and she must be a lot younger than me, and why would a Mexican woman fancy me? I mean, nothing romantic has ever occurred between us, and she wouldn’t be inviting me to Mexico because she fancies me, I mean that would be stupid. I mean, that’s how I think. I mean, I would travel eight thousand miles for a shag. I would.

We sit and talk for two hours (almost) without a pause. I make her laugh. She makes me laugh. And she’s just so goddamn nice.

And she’s different from when I saw her last with her cheesecake. Her hair is wavier (her hair has more waves. Before it had been straighter). She’s definitely sexier, and what the hell’s wrong with me, but we’re talking about Mexico and all I’m thinking about is kissing her. Then all I’m thinking about is us lying naked together in a hut in a Mexican village with a bottle beside the bed and music coming from somewhere else as the sun rises, there, just beyond the desert, and birds waking up. What the hell’s wrong with me? I’m thinking about how she smells naked, after sex. Warm, motherish, fresh, her sweat like melted sugar.

Leticia is wearing a black v-neck sweater and a necklace with a large cross on it. Her hair is wavy(ish), her eyes are big and they sparkle, and her lips are big. Fuck Mexico, we’ve got London. Fuck London, there’s a world out there. Or is there?

Then her three South American flatmates turn up. They’re all going to the cinema. Leticia asks me if I want to come along. I’d rather stay and drink, but she’s not a big drinker, she’s young, and maybe average, but extremely nice. Memento’s on, I’d been wanting to see it for a while. I know the South American’s won’t like it, it’s a cruel choice really, I mean I know the film’s going to be convoluted, difficult to understand with a fragmented narrative. I tell them this, and we all go and see it. I like it, a lot, but I don’t think the South Americans do. Leticia says, ‘It was...different’, which is a fair answer. It was different, but in a good way. It sounded like Leticia meant it in a bad way. Well, anyway, what’s the point of seeing What Lies Beneath on your penultimate night in London?

Leticia’s found it hard making English friends here. She’s made lots of South American friends, but no English ones, which is her main regret, having been here one and a half years. I like her. I mean I like anyone who likes me (if they like me, they can’t be bad, I figure). She never had a boyfriend here, she never got a good job, she never made any English friends. She regrets this, but has a sneaking suspicion that English people are boring. I ask her if she thinks I’m boring. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what you do.’ I told her what I’d done at the weekend (it had been a roller coaster of a weekend, a definite one off, consisting of two parties, various pubs and bars, meeting an unprecedented amount of beautiful and intelligent people, as well as playing chess with a chef and an annoying drunk lass from Leeds). Her typical weekend in Mexico would consist of movies, bars, friends, maybe rollerblading (whatever that is). I guess, all over the world, weekends are weekends and we all do the same things (just with different people). Apart from the rollerblading.

After the film we stand around awkwardly for a while. I go to the cash point, pay back Leticia’s flat mate (from Venezuela) for the ticket, and they all leave (all her flat mates leave, not her). Then things really get awkward. It’s just me and Leticia.

We are left outside the cinema alone. The wind is blowing and it’s freezing. It feels like my most romantic moment since I’ve been back in London (coming up to two years now). It is. I feel like a teenager who’d just taken a girl to the cinema. I was and I had. Then the outside cinema lights went out. We’re alone in the (our) darkness, except for her eyes shining at me in the wind. We say not a word to each other. We just look at each other. I thought I was going to collapse. If the truth be known, we will never see each other again. We were meant to kiss now, I mean it was written, now, now, it was just so obvious (it would have been a cliché), but natural, a kiss that might have changed our destinies (excuse me if I’m hyperbolising), but I saw no point, and didn’t, and went on my way, went home, turned on the Mac, launched Photoshop, and forgot about her.

But no, of course I didn’t forget her. I stayed up till four and imagined all avenues with her, from the kiss that didn’t happen to living and working with her in Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. I even imagined trips to the desert, and popping up to see Ruby in New Orleans. I imagined the sun, and speaking Spanish, and marrying Leticia, and having a gun, and taking Lomo photos, and kick boxing in the desert, and writing lots and drinking lots. But fuck it, I can’t be bothered.

But.

But. The girl knows her QuarkXPress, she does Ti Quan Do in Mexico, she likes movies, she makes a good lemon cheesecake. A man can’t have everything, but this seems like more than enough. And she’s nice. I like nice people. I mean, that sounds obvious, but it’s not. I mean I can’t be bothered with cool people, beautiful people, popular people, interesting, smart or intelligent people. I’m not bothered about a sense of humour or success or wealth. Just give me a nice person and I’m fine.

This is who thinks I should go to Mexico: Leticia (!), Richard, Pedro, Chayane, Rebecca, Daniel, Bianca, Sonia.

Richard: ‘Don’t be afraid of change, be afraid of no change.’ He says I’m young, free, single, what’s holding me back?

Mexican proverb: ‘Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.’

Why the hell didn’t I kiss her?

Her grandparents are French and Spanish, hence her light skin and her hair which isn’t black. Her flat mate has olive skin and black hair. ‘Is that how I should look?’ joked Leticia. ‘Yes!’ I exclaimed. Her great grandparents are pure Indian. She has a photo of her great grandfather wearing a sombrero, dressed in a blanket with belts of bullets over his shoulders and a big moustache. ‘He looks funny’, she said.

(2000, London)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Five women: #3. Olivia (Columbia)

Her beauty seems to have been lost by a matter of months, not years. I love her bulk, her tiredness and her haggardness. She’s from Columbia, though you wouldn’t have guessed. She’s married, but needs to have an affair, perhaps. She always looks tired, as if she’s been in London too long, married too long, spent too long on Photoshop.

(2000, London)

Five women: #4. Sandra (Devon)

I can’t stand her every single habit. I can’t even look her in the eyes now. When she drinks tea she slurps. When she smokes a cigarette she exhales loudly. When she eats she chomps. When she laughs it sounds ridiculous, like a joke laugh, loud and offensive. Like an annoying persons laugh. She never hears me. ‘Sorry?’ she says, about twenty times an hour. She even breathes too loudly. We are always in each others way. When she kisses her boyfriend they both make disgusting kissing noises. I wonder if he realises he’s taken on all her bad habits. But he loves her, and love is blind. Is hate?

(2000, London)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Five women: #5. Gemma (Hounslow)

Short, slim, pale, blonde, lives in Hounslow, not my type, parents from Cornwall, maybe working class or lower-middle, a bit of intelligence and culture (she’s just read The God of Small Things), a piercing through her tongue (I see her playing with it and it makes me queasy), feisty, bored, finished university recently (pharmaceutical chemistry), wants to be a forensic scientist (I do too!), may do her Masters next year, quiet, cheeky; me and her, apart from Michael (who doesn’t count; he may as well be), Eng (Malaysian – though to everyone else he says Singapore, twenty-three, can’t understand a word of his English and I practice my kick boxing and smattering of Indonesian on him) and Sarah (blonde, early thirties, a bimbo but not a pretty one but certainly one of the most stupid, empty ones I’ve met, just past her prime, doesn’t know what to say; Hugo and I were discussing theatre – Shakespeare to Orton via Wilde – we attempt to bring Sarah into the conversation, she says Starlight Express and we ignore her) are the only two under the age of fifty-five, and that’s our only bond (along with hating our jobs), and it’s enough (to form a relationship of some kind, even if it just involves piss-taking, joking, drawing pictures on the ‘dead filing’ folders – gravestones, knives, a dead mouse, a gun, plays on words – loving the smell of the black permanent marker, and the screeching sound of it, and surly, sexy looks I’m not quite sure what the meaning of is). I don’t know, I’m starting to like her.

(2000, London)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Permanent Match Making

Seeing as arranged marriages are meant to work better than non-arranged ones, and this online dating thing seems to be big (never tried it meself), why not combine the two and have a database automatically auto match couples. What I mean is, people don't get to choose – the computer does its maths and makes the choice for them. This has its flaws of course – mainly that people aren't altogether honest in their profiles. But if the match-making site has access to other databases such as bank accounts, location, education, work, social networking sites etc, it should be able to collate an honest account of a person's life and match them accordingly. The first time the couple meet... is on their wedding day. We'll call it MatchMade.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Here's to you, Robinson

'Robinson alone at Longchamps, staring at the wall.'
– Aspects of Robinson, Weldon Kees

The character Robinson appears in literature and film from time to time, a sometimes strange and mysterious figure; other times an everyman. Often it's not obvious if it's a first name or a surname: it's just Robinson. But is it the same Robinson all along?

He first appeared as Robinson Crusoe in 1719, said to be the first novel in English. Crusoe is shipwrecked and spends twenty-eight years on a remote desert island. Almost a hundred years later, Swiss Family Robinson (1812), about a family shipwrecked in the East Indies, was obviously based on the Defoe classic.

In the late 19th century, cult French symbolist poet and adventurer Arthur Rimbaud apparently coined the verb 'robinsonner', meaning 'to let the mind wander or to travel mentally', obviously taking its cue from Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

The 20th century sees a more underground, sinister Robinson, sometimes a Zelig-like character, part Harry Lime from The Third Man, always ahead of the game.

Franz Kafka's unfinished novel Amerika (a country the writer never visited), published posthumously in 1927 (and not published in English until 1938), features a drifter and chancer called Robinson. There's an enigmatic Robinson in Celine's Journey to the End of the Night (1932). He appears again in Aspects of Robinson (1954), a collection of poems by Weldon Kees. Simon Armitage 'borrows' Robinson in his book of poems, Around Robinson, 1991. With BBC producer Daisy Goodwin, Armitage made an (appropriately) faux-documentary-cum-film-noir about Weldon Kees (who mysteriously disappeared in 1955), called Looking for Robinson (1993).

The novel Robinson by Chris Petit (first published 1993; reprinted 2001, appropriately out of print), who directed the fine British road movie, Radio On (1979), continues the quest for the elusive Robinson. Here, the narrator is sucked into the dark, seedy underbelly of porn film-making and, er, London's second hand bookshops. The mysterious Robinson is charming yet dangerous as the narrator becomes increasingly entangled in Robinson's violent activities. Patrick Hamilton meets JD Ballard is an obvious analogy but Petit has a cinematic style all his own.

Patrick Keiller's film London (1994) introduces the unseen Robinson examining 'the problem of London'. 'It is good to be born in depraved times', says Robinson. Keiller's later film, Robinson in Space (1997), has a mysterious advertising agency hiring an equally mysterious and still unseen Robinson, homosexual and potential spy, to look for 'the problem of England'. Influenced by Defoe's Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, the film takes us on a journey round England's industrial past, stopping off at little known literary landmarks including the pub where Defoe found his inspiration for Crusoe, Rimbaud's residence in Reading and Dracula's mansion in Carfax. By the end, the narrator informs us, Robinson has disappeared: 'I cannot tell you where Robinson finally found his Utopia.'

...I fell for a Robinson once (a woman, in case you're wondering). More a Ms Robinson than a Mrs Robinson ('We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files') but she still took me for a journey into the dark depths of my soul.

UPDATE
Keiller's latest film, Robinson in Ruins (2010) follows Robinson resume his investigations as he leaves prison. Vanessa Redgrave narrates this one (Philip Scofield died in 2008).

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Offensive Office

The office has the rules of a prison and the atmosphere of a hospital, and indeed it feels like a place where we are all dying, slowly, day by day, of boredom, despair, of what an utter waste of time it all is. In fact, I can't think of a worse possible environment for human beings to spend eight hours a day in. Surrounded by complete strangers, forced to be nice, polite to them, people who in real life you wouldn't want to be in the same room as, who you wouldn't talk to at a party, in the office you've probably got to lick up to them. You see them every day, you spent more time with them than the people you actually love. You have to say 'How are you?' every day, 'What did you do last night?' and the answers are the same, exactly the same every single day. Like a gorilla in a cage, knowing he's better than all this, knowing there's a better life somewhere, but not being able to do anything about it: this is office life.

The backstabbing, bitching, gossiping, power struggles, close proximity to people you wouldn't choose to be near, a breeding ground for viruses, surely the office is one of the unhealthiest places imaginable for humans to spend their working life. Management are like corrupt politicians. Middle management are pointless (the UK has the lowest productivity of any country in Europe; middle management are partly to blame). All emotions, feelings and conversations in the office are false.

This world is out to waste as much of your time as it possibly can until you die and forget to do anything important or change anything. Working eight pointless hours a day. Waiting for buses, trains, in traffic jams, queues. Adverts on TV. TV. Books. Films. Life feels so circular – meeting the same types of people again and again; making the same mistakes again and again; doing the same old shit day after day.

(But why am I more emotional towards TV and films than real life! A death, a pregnancy, are far more poignant in a film than in reality. I cry during films but haven't cried over real life for decades! It must be the lighting, the music, the mood, the manipulation of emotions.)

The only moments of any true feeling or resonance in the office day is my lunch hour in the park. I choose to do this; every day, rain or shine, sitting on a park bench in the little park round the corner from work. Hardly anyone from work goes there; mainly kids in hoodies, dogs, Asians playing football in the tennis court. A dog jumping up on me whilst I'm eating my lunch.

And the other day, a little Asian boy who comes and sits down on the bench next to me; said he'd been scared of a bee, and came running over. I told him bees weren't harmful; he didn't believe me, and talked and talked, looking at my bag, lunch and book. Ran off again, on his own, playing in the rusty mini-playground, then came back again a few minutes later, talking about his fondness for nuts (I was eating a Tupperware of them), I eventually get the message, and offer him one, even though I feel like a paedophile doing so (at least it's not a sweet). He hesitatingly takes one, an almond. Then tells me where he lives (just over there, that house there). Runs off again, plays on a climbing frame, talking to himself. I go back to work.

(Little birds hiding in the leaves / Watching me eat my sandwich / Waiting for me to leave... Too busy for love, she worked, / Hoping for better things. / Nothing came.)

(2005, London)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Country manners

Strolling in a countryside isn't the relaxing activity one imagines it to be. Aside from possible attacks from cows, insects and people's dogs, approaching a person now fills me with mild terror. Should one greet them or not? Sometimes when I have done I've been completely ignored, and felt like a fool. So now I usually wait for the other person to say hello first, by which time they've usually walked past me and it's too late for me to reply, so I end up feeling rude.

Occasionally I just smile, or half-smile and this feels like a good compromise, though usually the other person isn't looking.

It's also tricky knowing where one should greet a stranger. In the countryside, the middle of nowhere is fine but where does the boundary end? As soon as you reach tarmac, civilisation? Once you reach a town you should probably stop, unless the town's absolutely deserted, then it's possibly okay. Conversely, if it's pretty busy in the country, you can't greet everyone. Maybe just nice-looking old people with dogs.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lookalikes #4: Margaret Atwood & Gothel


Gothel the witch (apologies Margaret, I do like your books, even if you do write like Stephen King – according to http://iwl.me – but then again, it seems everyone does) from Barbie's film version of Rapunzel (2002, direct-to-video) and Margaret Atwood, author.

Update: Margaret Atwood reads my blog!
Well, what actually happened was someone Tweeted this post to Margaret Atwood, then she Retweeted it. I'm not a Tweeter and don't know exactly what that means, but I guess it means she must have looked at it. Possibly very briefly. After she Retweeted, some 237 people looked at the post that day. And one made a comment.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chessed Out

Gavin called on me unexpectedly today. He said, ‘Do you want to play chess?’ and I said yes. I hadn’t seen or heard from Gavin for five months, when he had turned up unexpectedly and asked me if I wanted to play chess.

I don’t know Gavin very well at all, so it comes as a surprise when he tells me he’s been in a mental hospital for the last six months. He’s getting out this Friday and moving into a hostel. Most people are cagey talking about their mental illnesses; not Gavin – he’s positively forthcoming about it. He’s on medication and I could kinda tell because his sense of humour has gone. There’s a new intensity and seriousness about him and, if the truth be known, a touch of craziness. He may be a paranoid schizophrenic.

Gavin has been playing a lot of chess in hospital. Every day in fact. He’s been studying the moves of the greats. He likes Bobby Fisher a lot. Gavin and I used to be roughly on a par; now his game is leagues ahead of mine. Gavin says he can think eight or nine moves in advance.

‘Eight or nine!’ I exclaim. ‘A grandmaster is meant to be able to only think six moves ahead.’
‘By the time I’m thirty I’m going to be a grandmaster,’ says Gavin.

Gavin is twenty-two, well-built and black. His eyes are narrow slits, his head is shaved and he wears a silver whistle around his neck. He chain smokes Silk Cut Ultra Lows, maybe forty a day, if necessary. He’s stopped smoking dope now, but finds it difficult. Hence the Silk Cut. He needs to keep in shape. He’s going to be a professional footballer as well as a grandmaster. He wants to learn French.

He’s written a book on chess, on how not to play it, he says. I like Gavin. He tried to kill himself six months ago. He’s better now. Someone stole his manuscript but he still has the notes. He says he’ll show them to me one day.

I like it when Gavin compliments me on a move then his next move wins the game or at least a piece, then he goes back ten moves and shows me various variations I could have done. The only way I beat Gavin is by my, as he calls it, ‘unorthodox’ moves. What starts off as a possible Queen’s gambit turns into something quite unexpected and this flummoxes Gavin sometimes, and he’s not quite sure how to respond to my moves.

I like the names of the different chess openings: the Sicilian Defence, Philidor’s Defence, the Queen’s Gambit, King’s Gambit, Danish/Spanish/Budapest Gambit, and all the Gambit’s Declined. In short, a gauntlet of gambits. Gavin’s memorised them all and even invented some of his own. He thinks I should copyright some of my openings because they’re so weird and original.

After four hours I won once, Gavin twice, and we drew twice, though I had to take a couple of moves back.*

Six months later we played again. This time we drew four times: we were on a par once more. Gavin was upset that he couldn’t beat me.

He estimates he’s played 30,000 games of chess. Of course, no two games are the same.

Sometimes the chess gets to be like a martial art, or the movie The Matrix, where you see your opponent in slow motion, you know all his moves, all the possible combinations, and your mind races ahead beyond the game.

Gavin says chess is good on acid, and Casey says it’s not so good on heroin.

(2001, London)

* We play speed chess with a chess clock nowadays and get through about twenty games in four hours. Last time we played: Gavin won nine, I won one, nine draws.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

858 films in two years

Art Garfunkel has published on his website a list of every book he's read since 1968. Partly-inspired by this pointless endeavour (though he is ridiculously well-read – at least he can say to Paul, 'Hey, you may have recorded Graceland but I've read War and Peace'.), I thought I'd publish my film list: I stumbled across a hand-written list of every film I watched from December 1990 to October 1992 (no, I'm not sure why I did it in that period, though it was probably my most intense film watching time).

Foreign titles appear in title most commonly known. Director only appears in brackets after film if more than one film with same title. Some titles appear twice in a row, or a few films later. This is not a misprint. I was a film student and sometimes watched the same film twice in a row, or a few days later. I was young and pretentious and had too much time on my hands (now I'm older, still pretentious and still with way too much time on my hands – but still not as much time as Art Garfunkel). The rating of the same film might even change depending on my mood. My tastes have changed slightly; I'd probably be less harsh on a lot of films, like The Untouchables (given two crosses on the original hand written list), Goodfellas (no rating at all) and Repulsion (inexplicably given a cross). I might not be as keen on other films, such as The Big Easy (this was years before I'd actually been to New Orleans), The Graduate and Uncle Buck. I still love Polanski, Lynch, Altman, Hitchcock, early Scorsese and Jean Vigo. And still hate Brian de Palma.

Key: * = Great | * = Terrible | TVM = TV Movie | s = Short Film

(4/12/90) Lust For Life, How to Murder your Wife, The Right Stuff, Les Mistons, L'Atalante*, Mr Mum, The Year of Living Dangerously*, Tampopo*, The Muppets take Manhattan, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Frances, Subway, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Dreamchild, La Nuit Americane*, Poltergeist, Honky Tonk Freeway*, Pinocchio, Innerspace, Blanche, Elivira Madigan*, Sugarland Express, The Big Easy*, Nickelodeon, Masters of the Universe, Blind Date, Rouge*, Poltergeist II, This is Spinal Tap, My Left Foot, Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Pelle the Conquorer, Mr Vampire*, Chocolat, Man without a Star, Spiritual Love, Espirit D'Amore*, Videodrome, Roxanne

(1991) Young Frankenstein, Torn Curtain, The 5000 Fingers of Dr T, Notorious, Suspicion, The Morning After*, Night of the Demon, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World*, Pirates, The Thin Blue Line, Pillow Talk*, Summer Rental*, Daughters of Darkness, Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House, FX – Murder by Illusion*, Voyage to Italy, The 39 Steps*, The Paradine Case*, Jean De Florette, Manon Des Sources, High Noon, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Crimewave*, Cyrano De Bergerac, Split Image, Salvador*, Once Upon a Time in America, Southern Comfort, Bonnie and Clyde, Running Scared, River's Edge, Arachnophobia*, The Big Easy*, The Quiet Earth, Clean and Sober*, The Burbs, M*A*S*H, Glory*, Don't Look Now, A Star Is Born (Cukor), Sea of Love, Tin Men, The Bell Boy*, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The Bedroom Window, Internal Affairs, Fellow Traveller, Raising Arizona, The Hideaways, The Butterfly Murders, Hairspray (Walters), Oedipus Rex, Caravaggio*, American Graffiti, The Godfather*, 12 Angry Men, Do you Remember Love? (TVM), The Verdict, Serpico*, The Godfather Part II, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil*, Nightshift, Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity*, Sleuth, The Fabulous Baker Boys*, A Short Film about Killing*, Zelig*, Layla Ma Raison*, This Sporting Life*, Surrender, Exorcist III*, The Honeymoon Killers*, The Exorcist*, Laura, Jeux Interdits*, Kiss me Deadly*, The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer)*, Sweet Smell of Success*, The Apartment, Against all Odds*, The Wrong Man, Cocoon, Modern Romance, La Ronde, Frenzy, The Big Heart, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Brighton Rock*, Green Card, The Last Temptation of Christ, Miller's Crossing*, House of Games, Gilda, Gone with the Wind*, Mean Streets*, The Graduate*, The Boost, Images, New York Stories, The Last Temptation of Christ, The King of Comedy*, Panic in the Streets, The Parallax View*, Blind Fury*, The Big Sleep (Hawks), WR – Mysteries of the Organism, The Last Detail, Midnight Run, Nikita*, Fright Night Part II, Who's Harry Crumb?, The American Friend*, The Gospel According to St Matthew, Atlantic City, USA*, Mine Own Execution, Scum, On Dangerous Ground, Heaven's Gate*, Brimstone and Treacle, Buffalo Bill and the Indians Or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Jubilee, Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Dog Day Afternoon*, Hope and Glory, Sebastian*, Blue Velvet*, Twentieth Century, Blue Velvet*, The President's Analyst, The Big Silence, Wild at Heart*, Great Expectations, Drowning by Numbers, Fourteen Going on Thirty, Sherlock Junior, Pick-up On South Street, The Untouchables*, On the Run, La Strada, Goodfellas, The Hard Way, The Name of the Rose*, Rome, Open City, Freaks*, Psycho*, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Graduate*, Les Carabiniers, Ceclia*, Cat's Eye, Home and the World, The Beguiled*, Masquerade*, Je Vous Salute, Marie*, The Graduate*, Je Vous Salute, Marie*, Stromboli*, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Blood Simple*, Misery, Cinema Paradiso*, Vamp*, Dragnet*, Used Cars*, Stromboli*, Voyage to Italy, Mona Lisa, The French Connection, Knightriders, Andrei Rublov, Billy Liar!, The Yakuza, Citizen Kane, Catchfire, Catchfire, The Little Girl who lives down the Lane, Q – The Winged Serpent, Something Wild*, A Clockwork Orange, A Clockwork Orange (this was when it was still banned – I was so excited about seeing it on pirate, I had to see it twice to see what all the fuss was about. Twenty years later, I'm still not sure.), Vampyr, Martin*, Dance of the Vampires, The Hunger*, The Silence of the Lambs, Dance of the Vampires, Point Blank, Carnival of Souls*, Near Dark*, Macbeth (Polanski), Vampire in Venice, Knife in the Water, Thief of Hearts*, Un Chien Andalou* (s), The Exterminating Angel, The Flamingo Kid, Circus of Horrors, Badlands*, The Prowler*, Out of the Dark*, O Lucky Man!, Nosferatu (Murnau), Field of Dreams*, Absolute Beginners, If...*, The Company of Wolves*, Performance*, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, The Late Show, Vampire's Kiss, The Army in the Shadows, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Preppie Murder (TVM), Made in Britain, Lift to the Scaffold, Body Heat, Eraserhead, Shame*, Alpine Fire*, Ran, Sex, Lies and Videotape*, L'Atalante*, L'Atalante*, Walk Don't Run, The Lovers, Ordinary People, L'Atalante*, The Duellists*, Cape Fear (Thompson), Monsieur Hire, The Driver, Klute, Monsieur Hire, Nosferatu the Vampire (Herzog), A Room with a View*, Some Kind of Wonderful, Edward Scissorhands, The Ladykillers (Mackendrick), Thelma and Louise, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Le Souffle au Coeur, A New Life, Zazie Dans le Metro, Susperia, The Graduate, Vampire Circus, Mortgage, Lifeforce*, Weekend, Belly of an Architect, The Last Waltz*, Bang the Drum Slowly, Trafic (Tati)*, A Chorus Line*, Heaven's Gate*, Heathers*, Hells Angels on Wheels , Rumble Fish*, Chinatown*, Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider*, Amazon Women on the Moon*, Viridiana*, Rock All Night, A Bucket of Blood, Tommy, Switching Channels, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?*, Clockwise, The 39 Steps*, Hidden City, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, And the Pursuit of Happiness, The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Flesh and the Fiends, Solaris (Tarkovsky), The Long Goodbye*, Big Trouble in Little China*, Midnight Run, Good Morning Babylon*, Bathing Beauty, Pretty in Pink, Leningrad Cowboys go America, The Seashell and the Clergyman (s), Entr'acte (s), Two Men and a Wardrobe (s), Film (s), Un Chien Andalou* (s), L'age D'or*, Dreams That Money Can Buy, My Dinner With Andre*, Red and Rosy*, Tetsuo: The Iron Man*, Citizen's Band*, Chiller (TVM), The Hairdresser's Husband, What's New Pussycat?*, The Discarnates, The Big Picture*, Gas-s-s-s, Lethal Weapon, The Life of Oharu*, Bleak Moments*, Who's That Girl?, Fatal Attraction, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Black Marble, This is Spinal Tap*, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre*, Hawks, Zardoz, Sweet Charity, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Lust for a Vampire, Great Balls of Fire, Santa Sangre*, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Spellbound, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre*, Two Evil Eyes, Out of the Blue, The Lady from Shanghai*, Wilt*, The Blackboard Jungle, Chimes at Midnight, Touch of Evil*, The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, Red Sorghum*, The Captain's Paradise, The Wild One, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, A Better Tomorrow 3*, Nocturnal Demon, Nekromantik 2*, Repulsion*, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, The Music Lovers, Streets of Fire, Notorious, Vampyres, The Exorcist, Witchfinder General, The Wickerman, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen*, The Vampire Bat, Homicide*, No Mercy, The City and the Dead*, The Bad and the Beautiful*, Casual Sex?*, Golden Gate (TVM), Moonglobe (TVM), Taps, The War of the Worlds (Haskin), The Virgin Spring*, Diary of a Country Priest, Nick Knight*, The Butler's Servant, The Ladykillers (Mackendrick), Last Images of the Shipwreck, The Smallest Show on Earth*, The Little Shop of Horrors (Oz), Niagara, Justice Denied, Carnival of Souls*, Beat the Devil, The Card, The Icicle Thief*, The Beyond*, I Spit on your Grave, Drugstore Cowboy*, French Connection II, It Happened One Night, The Two Jakes, Rosemary's Baby*, Fantasia*, Querelle, Double Indemnity*, The Undead, A Short Film About Love*, Big*, Dillinger*, The Fall of the House of Usher*, Rio Bravo*, The Sure Thing*, The Man in the White Suit, Color Me Lurid (s), Hold Me While I'm Naked* (s), This Mongreloid (s), ...Forever and Always..., A Reason to Live*, Motel Hell, Xtro, Eureka, 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle*, Fitzcarraldo, Hangover Square, Un Chien Andalou* (s), Las Hurdes (s), Simon of the Desert* (s), The Nutty Professor, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie*, My Childhood*, My Ain Folk*, Belle de Jour*, The Ladykillers (TVM), Pather Panchili*, Night of the Eagle, My Way Home*, Howard: A New Breed of Hero, The Never Ending Story, It's A Wonderful Life*, My Favourite Year*, Hellzapoppin', Rear Window*, Comrades*, Project A, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Imagine: John Lennon, Notebook on Cities and Clothes, The Immortal Story, Zero de Conduite, Empire of the Sun*, Marnie, Hail the Conquering Hero*, The Blues Brothers, Lady Eve, The Night of the Hunter*, Willow*, Beetlejuice, Palm Beach Story, Flirting*

(1992) Spag* (s), The Dark Backward*, Rubin and Ed, Cockroach* (s), Delicatessen*, Invitation to Hell (TVM), Bare Behind Bars*, Family Plot, Amsterdamned*, Proof*, Bird, Stakeout*, Street Cop*, Bunny Lane is Missing, This Land is Mine, Perfect*, An Angel at My Table*, High Sierra, The Freshman, Q&A, Marathon Man, Lola (Demy)*, Permanent Record, Comprimising Positions, Woman of the Dunes*, Ai No Corrida*, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot*, The Wickerman, Young Mr Lincoln, Stop Making Sense, Tales From the Darkside*, Creepshow*, Graveyard Shift, Fright Night, Basketcase, Shadow of a Doubt*, Dial M for Murder, Topaz*, Sunset Boulevard*, Rosalie goes Shopping*, Bagdad Cafe*, Ace in the Hole*, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Metropolis, Ride the High Country*, Out on the Edge (TVM), Cape Fear (Thompson), King of New York*, Ballet Mecanique (s), Lot in Sodom (s), Hold Me While I'm Naked (s), Anticipation (s), Pirate Tape (s), Intervals (s), Windows (s), H is for House (s), Water Wrackets (s), La Jetee* (s), Un Chien Andalou* (s), Dick (s), Jules et Jim*, Matewan, Blood Beach, Vertigo*, The Birds*, The Birds*, Ride the High Country*, Shamus*, The Angelic Conversation, The Loveless*, The Gang's All Here, Psycho*, Strangers Kiss*, The Phantom of the Paradise, Talk Radio, Barton Fink*, The Object of Beauty, Exposed*, The Big Bang*, Dressed to Kill*, The Ambulance, Obsession*, Head, The Long Goodbye*, The Long Goodbye*, Dont Look Back*, Monterey Pop*, Don't Look Now*, Roadie*, Wise Guys*, Dracula AD 1972*, Seconds*, Seven Days in May, Frantic*, Truly Madly Deeply, Pink Floyd The Wall*, Beyond Therapy, Lonely Hearts*, Hellraiser*, Macbeth (Polanski), White Palace, The Double Life of Veronique, The Silician, Psycho*, Utz, Secret Agent, Dr Strangelove, OC and Stiggs, Georgette Meunier, A Propos de Nice* (s), Taris* (s), Las Hurdes* (s), Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Crimes of the Future*, Kitchen Sink (s), Coffee and Cigarettes (s), Foutaises (s), Zero de Conduite*, My Own Private Idaho*, Body Double*, Fat City*, The Treasure of the Sierre Madre*, The Apartment*, The Killing*, Sweet Smell of Success*, Before the Revolution, The Spider's Stratagem, The Conformist*, 1900 (Part 1), Naked Lunch*, Enter the Dragon*, Dead Ringers*, The Naked Spur, What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like This? (s), It's Not Just You, Murray!* (s), The Big Shave (s), ItalianAmerican, She's Having a Baby*, La Belle et La Bete*, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance*, The Grapes of Wrath*, Enchanted April*, 1900 (Part 2), Mystery Train, After Hours*, American Boy – A Portrait of Stephen Prince, Greetings*, Hi, Mom!*, Aria*, The Brood*, Witchcraft Through the Ages*, Manhattan*, Duck Soup*, Powaqqatsi*, Koyaanisqatsi*, In A Lonely Place*, Eraserhead*, White Zombie*, Where the Buffalo Roams*, Manhattan, La Belle Noiseuse*, Through a Glass Darkly*, La Grande Illusion, Cat People (Tourneur)*, Cul-de-sac*, Daughter of Darkness (TVM), Cat People (Schrader)*, Immoral Tales*, King of Kings, The Rescuers Down Under, These Foolish Things, All I Desire, Written on the Wind, Lolita (Kubrick), The Presidio*, Rita, Bob and Sue Too*, Malpertuis*, Eyes of Laura Mars, Jesus of Montreal, Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes*, Shivers*, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, Eating Raoul, Days of Heaven*, The Curse of Frankenstein*, All that Heaven Allows*, Grand Canyon, The Shining, Easy Rider*, The Doors, Lifeboat*, The Plague of the Zombies, The Seniors*, The Mummy (Fisher)*, Grevious Bodily Harm*, A Brief History of Time, High Hopes, Blonde Venus, Rosemary's Baby*, Cold Comfort, Renaldo and Clara, Jane Eyre (Stevenson), Dream Demon*, Van Gogh (Pialat)*, The Thing From Another World, The Milagro Beanfield War, Aguirre, Wrath of God, I Know Where I'm Going!*, Les Parents Terribles*, Les Enfants Terribles*, Orphee*, Un Chien Andalou* (s), The Diary of a Chambermaid (Bunuel)*, Vassa (Part 1), Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Strangler, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Life and Nothing But*, Elena et Les Hommes, The Top of his Head, Cries and Whispers*, Nosferatu (Murnau), The Last Laugh*, Destiny*, Vassa (Part 2), The Lair of the White Worm, Biloxi Blues*, Un Chien Andalou* (s), L'age D'or*, El*, F for Fake, Psycho III, Roadkill, Dishonored*, That Obscure Object of Desire*, Psycho II, Black Sunday*, The Dead Can't Lie, Paperhouse, Fantomas (Episode 3)*, Repo Man*, Fantomas, Rabid, Shanghai Express*, Error of Youth, Persona*, The Seventh Seal*, Scream of Fear, Aparajito*, Fletch Lives*, Personal Best*, Jacob's Ladder, City of Pirates, Murders at the Zoo*, I Confess*, Three Crowns of a Sailor*, The January Man*, The Caine Mutiny, L'Amour Par Terre*, Céline et Julie vont en Bateau*, The Belle of the Alhambra, Take me out to the Ball Game, Betrayal, Les Yeux Sans Visage*, Judex*, The Yellow Submarine, A Hard Day's Night*, The White Room*, The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett), Ride in the Whirlwind, Borowczyk/Lenica animations* (s), Svankmajer animations* (s), Bad Company*, Kiss of Death*, Svankmajer animations* (s), Alice (Svankmajer)*, Pierrot Le Fou*, Les Diaboliques*, Le Beau Serge*, Emmanuelle 5 (I only watched this because it was directed by the late, once great Walerian Borowczyk. Honest), Baby Doll*, Deranged (Fonda)*, Housekeeping*, Cross my Heart, The Lady From the Shanghai Cinema, The Red Circle*, The Chase*, Les Bonnes Femmes*, The Player*, La Bete*, Heaven Can Wait (Beatty/Henry)*, Les Quartre Cents Coup*, Lola (Demy)*, The South, The Executioner*, Fox and Friends*, Winter Kills*, The Picture of Dorian Gray*, Roadhouse, Une Femme est Une Femme, Dracula, Prisioner of Frankenstein*, A Woman Under the Influence*, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie*, The Man who Fell to Earth*, Son of Frankenstein*, Cleo a 5 de 7*, Little Big Man*, Shadows*, From Here to Eternity, The Most Dangerous Game*, Le Peau Douce*, Tirez sur le Pianiste*, Paris Nous Appartient*, Mean Streets*, Les Cousins*, Cape Fear (Scorsese)*, Harem*, Endangered Species*, Last Year at Marienbad, Secret Behind the Door, La Religieuse*, The Flesh and the Orchid, Heart Beat*, La Dolce Vita*, Cousins, Track 29*, The Last Waltz, Mr Deeds goes to Town*, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, Bring me the Head of Alredo Garcia*, The Passenger*, The Getaway*, The Crimson Kimono, The Nanny, Orphans, Tracks*, The Garden, Opera, Uncle Buck*, El Amor Brujo, Diary of a Mad Man, House by the River (Lang)*, Ju Dou, My Name is Julia Ross*, The Big Knife, Heaven, Used Cars*, Throw Mamma from the Train*, The Day of the Locust, Alien 3*, Blood Relatives, Freaky Friday (Nelson)*, Lisa and the Devil, Journey of Hope*, Song of the Exile*, The Maltese Falcon, Sisters*, Renaldo and Clara*, Stage Fright*, Amarcord, Barberella*, Life is Sweet, The Breakfast Club, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Red Heat, High Plains Drifter, Harvest of Hate, McCabe and Mrs Miller*, The Man who Knew too Much*, The Lost Boys, Alien*, The Elephant Man*, McCabe and Mrs Miller*, Waterland*, Cops (Keaton/Cline)*, Terms of Endearment, Riff-Raff, Commando, Peeping Tom*, Return to the Edge of the World, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Dead of Night*, Capricious Summer* (3/10/92: the list stopped. I moved to Wales).

Most watched film: Un Chien Andalou (6) – Okay, it is only a short film but I had to go to a cinema each time to see it. I have it now on DVD but have yet to watch it. Ain't it just the way?
Most watched directors: Bunuel, Hitchcock, Altman, Scorsese.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Tournament

(Extract from an abandoned novel, circa. late 1990s)

You can’t tell just by looking at someone if they’re, say, a martial arts expert. Likewise with sex. No matter how sexy someone looks, or how ugly, you have no idea what they’re really like in bed. And so it is with chess, sort of, mused Ralph.

Ralph was at a chess tournament in Alicante, Spain, down on his luck, pondering such things. More accurately, he was at the hotel bar. He said fuck it, got himself another straight vodka and thought about the twelve year-old girl who had just beaten him in twenty-nine moves. Bitch, he thought, downing the clear liquid, straight. He grimaced, for it tasted rank.

Her great grandfather had patented the gas lamp, she had just passed her 'A' levels in maths, physics and chemistry, she was going to study physics and maths at Imperial college, London, in September, and Ralph hated her. Ralph hated his poverty, his parents, his friends, in fact just about everything and everyone, except chess. And here was this girl, this child – her name was Rosie Jenkins – who had beaten him at chess, his game, his saviour. It wasn’t fair. He silently cursed his choice of opening: he’d opted for the Sicilian, but should have gone for the King’s Gambit. He cursed his middle game, he cursed his end game – which hadn’t lasted long – and he cursed the $10,000 he’d lost out on.

He thought about the twenty – twenty! – years between them. What had he done with the last twenty years? He remembered playing chess in Cairo in cafes with their sawdust-covered floors, and shisha pipes smelling of cherry and peach. No one beat him in Egypt. The fools. He'd played on a hill in Morocco, and Hyde park in Sydney, and on a pavement in Kuta, Bali at 3am where they tried to hustle him. He remembered the mental hospitals and vaguely looked at the ceiling. The fools. He’d even played chess with an Aboriginal girl in a prison in Sydney. He’d done nothing but play chess for the last nine years.

Twenty years is certainly a long time and Ralph doubted the girl would be playing chess in twenty years time. Look at Fisher. Look at all the greats. They all burn out early. Ralph had come late to the game. This was his advantage. He thought about all the things that could go wrong in twenty years. Lots. Fuck, lots and lots. Everything. You’re not going to have twenty years of things going right.

‘Ralph’ said a voice, like in a dream. At first he doesn’t recognise or hear it.

‘Ralph’, said the voice again. He looked down and Rosie looked up at him. He’s tempted to look away, to ignore her. Even hit her. But he catches her eyes, her face, and sees that she’s not smiling, or gloating, but she looks sad, and grown up, and wisdom flows from her face and he can’t help but look at it.

‘What?’ Abrupt, but not disinterested.
‘Ralph, I’m sorry.’
‘For what?’
‘For beating you. You’re good; you’re really good. You’re one of the best players I’ve ever played. Ever.’
Like that means anything, but secretly it does.
‘Where are your parents?’ Just for something to say.
‘My parents are dead. I have a chaperone looking after me but I hate him. He’s over there, watching me.’ She points at a large dull man, like someone from Eastenders and his eyes meet with Ralph’s.

He looked at her and wondered what she’d be like when she was his age. In another twenty years. He’d always wanted to meet a woman who played chess. There was Natasha, Russian – of course! – but she was mad, had nearly killed him, besides he’d hated Moscow. He projected a life with Rosie and deemed her probably to be the one if time and fate had been different. He laughed at her.
‘Are you laughing at me?’
‘No, no, no. I’m laughing at me.’
‘Oh. That’s all right then.’
‘I’ve read about you.’
‘I’ve read about you too.’
‘I mean I’ve read good stuff about you. About how you’re gifted and all.’
‘Oh that,’ she said, slightly embarrassed, slightly chuffed. ‘Yes, they say I am. It’s unfair really.’
‘On who?’
‘Both of us.’
Then, as naturally as a cup of tea and a cigarette in the morning, she asked him for a game of chess.
‘What?’ Almost a snarl this time.
She takes a little dark grey plastic box out of her pocket: a pocket chess computer.
Ralph’s obviously impressed. ‘9000 series.’
She looked up, suddenly, pleased that Ralph recognised a good pocket chess computer when he saw one.
‘Yes.’

Lindsey lay on her back on the grass on the slope of the park and didn’t say a word. ‘What’s wrong, Lindsey?’, asked Clare, when the silence between the four of them had lasted longer than it should. ‘Nothing’, she replied, nonchalantly. Half a mile away, Ralph, dressed all in black, including a black coat, was sweating like a pig, occasionally muttering ‘fuck’ to himself, and more than occasionally wondering to himself what the fuck he was doing in this coat and this park looking for a girl who might be called Lindsey or might be called Louise. He couldn’t remember.

He’d never had a head for names – except chess ones. Ralph remembered his pocket and took a crumpled bit of paper from the back of his black Levi’s. The paper was wet. Ralph muttered ‘Lindsey’ as he looked at the bit of paper, put the paper back in his pocket, and stopped. He turned to Johnny, dressed in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. Johnny continued walking. Johnny annoyed Ralph immensely. He had the look of someone permanently happy, like nothing ever bothered him. He looked like an idiot. He wasn’t, far from it, but his always smiling made him look a bit simple. Ralph laughed inwardly at the time in a restaurant when Johnny was handed the Braille menu. In fact, he was tempted to remind Johnny of the time, but thought twice about it. Last time Ralph had reminded Johnny, they’d got into a fight. It was too hot for a fight today. Today was going to be E-A-S-Y.

(I don't know, this was going to be some Lolita-like novel with the two main characters on the run, playing chess on the way, sort of Lolita meets Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The Lolita and chess link is no accident; Nabokov was a big chess player, but his interest in young girls highly suspect. Anyway, the novel never went further than what you've just read.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Funeral

Funerals are exactly like they're portrayed in movies. It was a windy, but fine, atmospheric day. The trees blew loudly and the party gathered in the distance next to the grave. Dressed in black, they were like silhouettes or shadows. The pallbearers walked solemnly with the coffin on their shoulders. We threw a handful of earth into the hole without knowing why. I said to the priest afterwards "Thank you, it was a very moving service", like I'd read it from a script, but it was true. I wasn't sure what to call him. Priest? Vicar? George? It turns out he's a Canon, an honorary title, and a sweet old man as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sleeping Lips

He wakes before her and looks at her face. A small brown face with large, voluptuous lips. Maybe because of the sunlight filtering into the room, or his mood, or probably just because of those sleeping lips, he kisses her on them, just for a second, just a peck. Her lips feel big and juicy. His heart beats fast, before and after. After the kiss he jumps up and runs into the kitchen.

Then she wakes. At first her voice is normal, maybe just a touch sharp and cold. ‘Why did you do that?’

But he already knows he’s made a big mistake. There’s no going back now. He thinks of saying, ‘Because I love you’, but what actually comes out is: ‘I wanted to piss you off’. He didn’t mean to say that, but that’s what came out.

When he walks back to her into the bedroom she throws everything she can find within grabbing distance at him: books, compact discs, a pillow, an ashtray.

And after shouting at him, belittling him, demeaning him, even calling him a rapist, she stops talking to him altogether. It was an act of betrayal.

In one of the armchairs he’d found in a skip she sits in the Buddha position all day and all night. She doesn’t even appear to blink, and stares straight ahead at nothing. Even when he apologies, pleads, begs and finally shouts at her does she not even twitch. Not even when all he can possibly say is ‘I love you.’ It’s too late.

He manages to sleep at about 2am. When he awakes some six hours later she is almost packed and ready to leave him for good.

He begs, apologies and pleads some more in a febrile, desperate manner. He stands in front of the door naked and says he can’t let her go. She can’t even look at him, let alone talk to him. And then she gives him just one quick look. A cold look of such hate and passivity that he moves out of the way and she walks out of the door.

He remembers a scene from the film The Fifth Element, which he had seen recently with his friend Lee. Things hadn’t worked out with Lee either. Brighton was a dump, and it got both of them down. He finds it hard living with anyone: best friends and lovers especially. He doesn’t mind strangers too much. But like travelling with someone you care about, living with them day after day in a box proves to be too much.

Bruce Willis kisses the sleeping Fifth Element and she pulls a gun on him.

She says some words in her ancient language which Ian Holm later translates as meaning ‘not without permission’.

He dresses quickly and runs out of the flat towards Brighton train station. He sees her at the station asking the guard about trains to London. Then he sees her about to buy a coffee and a muffin at a stall. He goes over to tell her another food stall is doing a special offer: coffee and muffin for 99p, but she takes no notice.

He watches her with her two heavy suitcases as she walks into the distance along the platform. Somewhat out of character, he screeches out at the top of his voice, ‘I love you!’, and she turns and looks at him briefly one last time before she boards the train for London.

(Brighton, 1997)