I think it's a pretty comprehensive selection, with something for all tastes. Today's favourite is the magical promo for Sigur Ros's Glosoli from 2005's taak... album:
Saturday, 31 October 2009
I think it's a pretty comprehensive selection, with something for all tastes. Today's favourite is the magical promo for Sigur Ros's Glosoli from 2005's taak... album:
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
I first saw his work on the Whistle Test when he collaborated with the mighty Fall, a relationship that was to prove fruitful to both parties. The song is The Lay of the Land, and, as my old Gran used to say, you'll catch your death going out like that:
The Fall and the Michael Clark Company collaboration reached its critical highpoint when they worked together on the ballet I Am Curious Orange which was partly based on the Swedish films I Am Curious Yellow (1967)and I Am Curious Blue (1968), and which in turn proved inspirational to the young Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Clark's most commercial appearance, and my favourite (which I guess says a lot) was in this Scritti Politti video for their 1985 hit Woodbeez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin). Somehow Clarke and Scritti's mastermind Green Gartside were made for each other:
Clark went on to work constantly over the years with Scottish Ballet, amongst others, while still working with his own company. As someone who is not a great attendee of ballet or dance the last performance I remember enjoying was when Clark played the part of Caliban in Peter Greenaway's magical film Prospero's Books (1991). But the BBC2 programme showed Clark at work on his latest production, in which he has interpreted songs by David Bowie, something he has apparently been working on for years, aware, as we all should be, that life is just that little bit better if you let Bowie into it.
Dame Dave has always made sure that the performance aspect of his work was as important as the music itself, and his work with the Canadian dance company La La La Human Steps, who were doing work that was similar to that of Michael Clark's company, is only one example of this . The following video is taken from Bowie's much maligned late 80's period (I think it's in the period after The Glass Spider Tour but before Tin Machine for those who care about such things) but it shows that even when he is not perceived to be at the top of his game he is still way ahead of most other musicians in terms of putting on a show that challenges:
But back to Michael Clark. The New work also takes inspiration from the other two members of a particularly unholy trinity, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. It sounds fascinating, but unfortunately was performed in Edinburgh earlier this year, and it passed me by, although it is in London's Barbican until Nov 7th if you're in the area. The centre piece of the performance is his interpretation of Heroes, which will have the video playing behind the dancers on stage, and that alone would have been enough to pull me in. But it just so happens I have said video right here:
Monday, 19 October 2009
And I really believe that no other genre asks those questions in a more interesting way than horror when it is at its best. From Nosferatu (1922), to the better Hammer horrors right through to the classic films of the seventies and eighties which terrified me, such as The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978) and The Fly (1986), and beyond,great horror makes us face our demons in every sense. How successful the film is has nothing to do with how 'hard' it is in terms of visceral content. A good example would be the original Wicker Man (1973) (please, for your own sanity, have nothing to do with the abysmal 2006 remake).
Playing on man's fears of an ungodly world and ancient pagan beliefs, The Wicker Man is not just one of the best horror films ever made, but simply one of the best films. It is genuinely unsettling in a way that a film such as Eli Roth's recent Hostel (2005), which also places 'innocents' in an unfamiliar culture against their will, could never manage despite the buckets of blood. The horror of The Wicker Man unfolds mostly in broad daylight, and that simple decision is key to its success. It's one thing to be afraid of the dark, but it's really terrifying to feel you are not safe when the sun is up. If you haven't seen The Wicker Man then here's the trailer, but I urge you to see the whole thing, particularly if you have ever been exposed to organized religion at any point. It'll disturb thoughts and fears you had thought long buried:
Another reason The Wicker Man stands out as unusual is that Scotland does not have a great tradition of horror movie making, with Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (2002) being a notable exception, and this is perhaps odd as it has a great Gothic tradition in fiction. Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, George MacDonald have all written classic Gothic novels which changed, to a greater and lesser degree, the way fiction was written. Modern examples include John Burnside's The Devil's Footprints, James Robertson's The Testament of Gideon Mack and Louise Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die.
The best of the lot, and the only one who has been well served by cinema, is Robert Louis Stevenson. The greatest number of versions of a Stevenson tale are the numerous adaptations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, from the classic 1931 version starring Fredrich March to the bizarre Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). One of the lesser known films, at least to me, is the 1945 adaptation of the Stevenson short story The Body Snatcher which stars Bela Lugosi in his most memorable role after Dracula, and perhaps his best. It certainly shows the man could act. This is particularly poignant when you consider the film also features that other iconic horror actor Boris Karloff who is underused, but perhaps with good reason when you see what he does with his time on screen. For fans of early classic horror, or of Stevenson, then this is a real joy, and it captures the fear and atmosphere of post 'Burke and Hare' Edinburgh perfectly. You can even forgive some of the accents.
Below is the trailer, which cheats a little in that it promotes the role of Karloff above his station, but it gives you a flavour of a very fine film:
Friday, 16 October 2009
However the real travesty is that, according to the man himself, no theatre company is willing to do a production of Fleck, something I find unbelievable. Fleck is a re-imagining of Goethe's Faust and contains Gray's trademark wit and anger. Why would a major work by one of Scotland's few internationally recognised and critically acclaimed modern writers be ignored in such a manner? I would have thought for the name alone some company would be willing to take a chance. It may not be considered ground breaking, but having seen large sections of the play performed by Gray and Rodge Glass I know that it is an entertaining, thoughtful and political piece that is the right side of uproarious. Surely someone will rescue this play from the bookshelves and give it its rightful place on the stage. Both Alasdair Gray and theatre goers deserve it.
Monday, 12 October 2009
With articles written by authors from inside and outside Scotland this journal wears the nationality of the literature lightly, and contextualises writers as individual as Irvine Welsh, Fionn Macolla and Sorley MacLean by examining the work itself rather than feeling the need to justify why they should be discussed in the first place. A refreshing change.
The journal can be found at spinningscotland and makes for interesting reading.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
The reasons for this situation will know doubt be financial, but after watching Peter McDougall's Down Among the Big Boys (1993) and the Michael Caton Jones directed Brond (1987), I realised that this was not an excuse during previous recessions. Both of these films were filmed and are set during times of poverty in Glasgow that were far greater than that in which the city, or country, currently finds itself. That also applies to the early 80's set Looking after Jo Jo (1998) and the sadly forgotten Jute City (1991), which, unusually, was set outside of the central belt in Dundee, something that occurs all too rarely. It boasts a great cast, although the standout for me is John Sessions which makes me wonder why did he not do more straight acting? They're helped by a fantastic script by David Kane who went on to write and direct the films This Year's Love (1999) and Born Romantic (2000) as well as perhaps the most recent Scottish 'drama' Sea of Souls (2004-07).
Actually, the difference between Jute City and Sea of Souls is telling. The first is a complex three part drama that keeps you guessing until the end. By the time Kane was making Sea of Souls the fashion in TV drama, at least in this country, was to make programmes which had different stories in each episode, a la Taggart (about which more soon). This was so viewers could miss out on an episode or two and not be lost. It was assumed that the watching public wouldn't commit to three weeks or more of plot. This is palpable nonsense as can be seen with the success of various TV dramas in the US. Programmes such as LOST, Deadwood and The Sopranos demanded loyalty and concentration from their viewers, and received it. Of course this was partly due to the popularity of the box-set and DVR systems, but these programmes were successful as they were screened, and you couldn't take a toilet break without fear of losing the plot, never mind an episode. It appeared that makers of British TV, not for the first or, no doubt, last time, underestimated their audience.
Surely this attitude should have changed. But if so where are the British True Bloods or Generation Kills? Hopefully the success of the Tutti Frutti (see A slight bruising of the crotch) DVD box set will convince those who decide such things that investing in new TV drama is worthwhile even to those who are more concerned with the balance sheet. It would be fantastic to have series written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, David MacKenzie or, in a perfect world, Bill Forsyth. If TV is healthy enough in the US for Spielberg (Band of Brothers), Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire) and Soderbergh (Unscripted) to be involved surely, at a time when it is increasingly difficult to get feature films made, broadcasters could use the talent that is on their doorstep to make groundbreaking TV drama? When the BBC is under constant scrutiny and attack one way to answer critics is to make programmes that unquestionably justify the licence fee (see Malcolm Tucker, Art Historian). Or they could make another series of Hole in the Wall.
In the meantime here are a couple of clips from two of the programmes mentioned above. The first is a brief clip from Down Among the Big Boys which features Gary Lewis, and, blink and you'll miss him, a young Glaswegian hobbit:
The following is from Brond. As well as 'introducing' John Hannah to the world Brond had a fantastic cast including James Cosmo, Russell Hunter and the statuesque Stratford Johns. Brond is a really interesting drama, and would be well worth repeating (although Channel 4 tend not to do repeats from their early glory days). There are overtones of James Hogg's novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), and it unusually, and successfully, sets a supernatural thriller in a modern urban landscape. The following is not the most dramatic clip, but it is the only one I can find. If you are lucky enough to have a copy of the series then I hope you share it around:
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
My worst dilemma arose with Woody Allen. He was (is?) such a hero of mine that I went through a period in my life where I would watch at least two films of his every week, and could recite ever word from Sleeper, Play it Again Sam, Annie Hall, Manhattan and Love and Death. I loved the man and his work unashamedly and without equal. Then came the scandal and sensation over his relationship with Soon Yi Previn. Now this is not an easy situation to understand, particularly if you don't wish it to be. Allen was never married to Soon Yi's mother, Mia Farrow, although they were a high profile couple for around 12 years, and they actually lived separately in different apartments in New York. Soon Yi was adopted by Farrow and her then husband Andre Previn. There was never a legal relationship between Allen and Soon Yi, and they are still together 18 years later with children of their own. So arguments can, were, and are, made to the effect that while this is a messy and unusual situation, there is nothing Woody has to answer for. Then you take into account the assessment of Ronan, ne Satchel, Farrow who is Mia and Woody's son. He says: "He's my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression. I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with my father and be morally consistent.... I lived with all these adopted children, so they are my family. To say Soon-Yi was not my sister is an insult to all adopted children." It is a powerful argument that should provoke second thoughts in even the staunchest Woody Allen supporter. Of course questions of morality, like artistic value, are actually individual even when they appear to be otherwise, and in the end how we come to view Woody's, or Roman's, films will change from person to person. All I know is that although I still watch Woody Allen movies, some of the magic has disappeared.
I also wonder if the perceived worth of the art, and therfore the artist, has a bearing on how we view the 'crimes' of the artist? Apparent objective moral probity often seems fairly random. Jerry Lee Lewis is still the butt of jokes concerning his relationship with his 13 (or 15 depending on who you believe) year old cousin Myra Gale Brown, while Elvis Aaron Presley, who at the very least was dating the 14 year old Priscilla, escapes most people's opprobrium. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is to ask 'How would the world have treated Gary Glitter if he had been in The Beatles rather than fronting The Glitter Band?' I would hope such things don't matter, but the example of Roman Polanski, and those who have vocally supported him, suggests they do.
The artist is trying to convince the world that their ideas, ideals and beliefs are the ones that others should share. I'm sure that many would protest that the work itself is the argument, but how convincing can that argument be if the life is not consistent or convincing? The important thing is to make up our own minds, and not have them made for us.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
The Pixies were more than ably supported by Sons and Daughters, and I want to ask why it is that Glasvegas are lauded yet Sons and Daughters are rarely seen or heard? Both deal in west coast influenced rock, both California and East Kilbride, but there is a sense of humour and style in the latter that is clearly absent from the former. Maybe it's a case of familiarity breeding contempt but my heart has begun to sink whenever I hear James Allen's honking vocals (in both senses of the word), and I would go for Sons and Daughters every time.
Thursday, 1 October 2009
The first is of the man born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, as Anthony James Donegan but better known as Lonnie Donegan. This is a cover of Woody Guthrie's Gamblin' Man, but he makes makes the song his own by shaking it to within an inch of its life:
Donegan has been cited as an important early influence on The Beatles, amongst many others, and the ferocity and verve of his music hinted at the energy that would fuel rock n'roll.
From the sixties here's a clip of the one and only Donovan. Perhaps the only man to come out of Maryhill declaring love and peace, at least until Alan Rough played for Partick Thistle. There was none more sixties than Donovan, and he was an influence not only on the hippy movement, but on the second summer of love in 1988. Sean Ryder was so impressed that he sampled Donovan's music, appropriated his lyrics, and married his daughter Oriole.
Donovan is oft derided as a hippy who spent his time trying to get high on smoking banana skins. In reality he is a fascinating musician whose music endures.
And so to Alex Harvey and his Sensational Band. The following clip is one of my favourites. It's from a 1973 Old Grey Whistle Test performance, and it is their cover of Jacques Brel's Next:
Alex Harvey's story is a fascinating one, from his childhood in Govan in the 1930's and 40's, to being cast as Scotland's answer to Tommy Steele, to fronting one of the most individual and interesting bands of any time. The above clip shows Harvey's ability to mix touching vulnerability with the threat of impending violence. For those interested you should check out John Neil Munro's biography The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Harvey fronted a fantastic band, but he was the one who made them great. I cannot think of a more charismatic front man. Sensational.