Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Which is fair enough, I suppose, and I'm not knocking the need to attract tourists and bring revenue into the country. (Although when did a leisure pursuit become a natural resource? Surely natural resources are things like forests, oil, copper, arable land, and suchlike? Seeing as golf tends to impact heavily on wild habitats, as they're manicured into social clubs for the bourgeoisie, while being surrounded by large fences to keep out the proles, one could question the use of the word "natural", but then again, it is Martin Cullen we're talking about here, once described by a Waterford-based friend of mine as "Ireland's greatest waffler".) But it's a shame that Mr Cullen's clear enthusiasm for this aspect of his Ministry doesn't communicate elsewhere. For on the same day, in the same paper, it was reported here that:"Cullen ... insisted the Government, through his Department, were committed to ensuring the tournament's future. Credit where it's due, much of the behind-the-scenes dealings in finding a sponsor were conducted by the Minister, who made contact with 3's board of directors in Hong Kong when he was in China for the Olympic Games. The loose ends were tied up yesterday at a meeting in Dublin between the European Tour's Richard Hills and James Finnegan with 3's Robert Finnegan ... Of 3's involvement, Cullen - a member of Waterford Golf Club - said: "They are going to be very committed to it. It is a big commitment from them. They are not half-hearted. It is a big title sponsor. It is a big step." Part of Cullen's philosophy in putting so much time into securing a sponsor was that the tournament is a strong marketing tool in attracting tourists."I felt it was the right thing to do. We don't have that many natural resources, and golf is one of them."
"The Arts Council is still stuck in a ridiculous limbo, with more than half of its places having lain vacant for four months, and no sign of the appointment of a chairperson or six other members this side of Christmas. The department and Minister for Arts, Martin Cullen, dragged their heels initially in making appointments that were well signalled in advance, and now seem caught in the ever-escalating crises besetting the State, from the tottering banking system to the current pork pie. Piggy in the middle, indeed. Imminent crises in arts organisations are less visible, but a Budget cut that threatens to destabilise funding and a barely quorate Arts Council that has long-fingered funding decisions have made the entire arts sector apprehensive about creative work next year. But the attitude among many is that, while bad news is coming, arts organisations will make the most of it and try to find creative ways to deal with recession."
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
There are few experiences in life as pleasant as a nocturnal walk on a moonlit beach in winter (pleasant in a quiet and contemplative way, as opposed to an ale-fuelled, red-lit, damn-I’ll-be-sore-tomorrow way). It’s also very hard to write about; even as I type these words a pushy and unruly mob of clichés are pounding at the flimsy wooden door of this article, yelling “Use me! I’m soooo poetic!” You know the sort of adjectives that inevitably muscle their way into any rhapsodizing about the Moon (especially by a sensitive, blushing soul such as myself): ghostly, mysterious, cold, eerie, silvery, pallid, bone-white, or that old Gothic favourite, gibbous. This is immensely frustrating, because even with their assistance my language simply isn’t capable of communicating just how beautiful the experience is, unless, of course, I was to get all Finnegans Wake on its ass and start combining words into arresting new juxtapositions, but I lack both the linguistic skill and the verbal range to do that. So I’ll take the advice of a greater authority than myself: “…what barbarian would go bawling into the night to welcome the moon? We tread softly; look and think with caution; as if to be in keeping with this stealthy and motionless lustre.”
Anyway: there I was, wandering along the (ghostly) moonlit beach, pondering (and trying to keep an eye on the red bicycle light attached to the dog’s collar, which bobbed erratically in and out of sight as he bounded through the darkness). There is something of eternity in such an experience; at any time in history, any human being, just like me, could have wandered along such a moonlit beach and heard and seen precisely what I did (minus the bicycle light, obviously...). As I watched my dog gambol away into the distance, he was visible only for a few minutes, then an indistinct smudge on the charcoal sand, then gone; I'd be calling him for five minutes at a time, only to discover that he was right beside me, padding along in the shadow of the dunes. Listening to the noise of the surf and the wind, I started thinking about Sappho, who may be (and I’m guessing here) the first poet to write about the beauty of the moon (or at least the earliest that’s still survived). Sappho is such an elusive, opaque figure (we know next to nothing about her) that her presence can be felt most strongly on a bright moonlit night, when landscape is at its most spectral and uncertain, like a chill dream. (I strongly recommend the books by Reynolds, Carson, and Balmer listed below for more information about this most well-known yet unknown of poets). Here are several translations of Fragment 34, a scrap of a poem in which she sings of how the stars retreat when the moon shines at full brightness. Pick out your favourite (mine is Carson's) and, if you're sufficiently capable, take them as a template and make your own translation!
(I'd just like to comment that the following section was an appalling pain in the face to format - when I put the text in block quotes spaces were removed and added arbitrarily, and lines were jumbled together or spread out at random. I don't think Blogger is designed for poetry! So I've put it in as normal text, which is irritating because it ignores where the poets have words or lines starting in the middle rather than at the edge of the page, and thus my apologies to all. With most it's not a major problem, but in Carson's poem the two last lines should start under the "e" in "whenever" I recommend writing it out by hand on a blank sheet of paper, or (better yet) buying her book!).
Stars above their faces in awe are hiding,
While the Moon, with beauty the world adorning,
At the full, with silvery beams delightful,
Shines from Olympus.
(Percy Osborn, 1909)
Stars around the luminous moon – how soon they
hide away their glitter of diamond light, when
she floats over, and at the full, refulgent,
glamours the landscape …
(John Frederick Nims, 1990)
(Both from The Sappho Companion, by Margaret Reynolds, Vintage 2001)
The stars around the lovely moon
hide their brightness when it is full
and shines the clearest over all
(Josephine Balmer, from her book of translations, Sappho: Poems and Fragments, Bloodaxe, 1992)
stars around the beautiful moon
hide back their luminous form
whenever all full she shines
on the earth
(Anne Carson, from her book of translations, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Virago, 2002)
The gleaming stars all about the shining moon
Hide their bright faces, when full-orbed and splendid
In the sky she floats, flooding the shadowed earth
with clear silver light.
(Edwin Marion Cox, 1925. The rest of his translations, if you're so inclined, are here)
Planets, that around the beauteous moon
Attendant wait, cast into shade
Their ineffectual lustre, soon
As she, in full-orbed majesty arrayed,
Her silver radiance pours
Upon this world of ours.
(John Hermann Merivale)
The stars around the lovely moon
Their radiant visage hide as soon
As she, full-orbed, appears to sight,
Flooding the earth with her silvery light.
The stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space.
(Edwin Arnold, 1869)
Stars that shine around the refulgent full moon
Pale, and hide their glory of lesser lustre
When she pours her silvery plenilunar
Light on the orbed earth.
(JA Symonds, 1883)
(All of the above are taken from Henry Thornton Wharton's collection of Sappho fragments from 1895, including translations by the above writers and others, which can be found here.)
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
"Many labourers, especially in the West of England, use potatoes instead of bread to a very great extent. And I find from the same evidence, that it is the custom to allot to labourers "a potato ground" in part payment of their wages. This has a tendency to bring English labourers down to the state of the Irish, whose mode of living, as to food, is but one remove from that of the pig, and of the ill-fed pig too..."Leaving out the slovenly and beastly habits engendered amongst the labouring classes by constantly lifting their principal food at once out of the earth to their mouths, by eating without the necessity of implements other than the hands and the teeth, and by dispensing with everything requiring skill in the preparation of the food, and requiring cleanliness in its consumption or preservation; leaving these out of the question ... we shall find, that, in mere quantity of food, that is to say, nourishment, bread is the preferable diet..."Suppose a bushel of potatoes to be cooked every day in order to supply the place of the bread, then we have nine hundred boilings of the pot, unless cold potatoes be eaten at some of the meals; and in that case, the diet must be cheering indeed! For it must be a considerable time before English people can be brought to eat potatoes in the Irish style; that is to say, scratch them out of the earth with their paws, toss them into a pot without washing, and when boiled turn them out on a dirty board, and then sit round that board, peel the skin and dirt from one at a time and eat the inside. Mr. Curwen was delighted with "Irish hospitality" because the people there receive no parish relief; upon which I can only say, that I wish him the exclusive benefit of such happiness..."I trust that we shall soon hear no more of those savings which the labourer makes from the use of potatoes; I hope we shall, in the words of DR DRENNAN, "leave Ireland to her lazy root," if she choose still to adhere to it. It is the root also of slovenliness, filth, misery, and slavery; its cultivation has increased in England with the increase of the paupers..."This was written in 1821. Now (1823) we have had the experience of 1822, when for the first time the world saw a considerable amount of a people plunged into famine, at a moment when the government of a nation declared food to be abundant! Yes, the year 1822 saw Ireland in that state; saw the people of whole parishes receiving the extreme unction preparatory to yielding up their breath for want of food; and this while large exports of meat and flour were taking place in that country. But horrible as this was, disgraceful as it was to the name of Ireland, it was attended with this good effect; it brought out, from many Members of Parliament (in their places), and from the public in general, the acknowledgement, that the misery and degradation of the Irish were chiefly owing to the use of the potato as the almost sole food of the people."
Friday, December 5, 2008
(Author's note: There’s very little information on Frederick May available on the internet, and acknowledgement is due to David Wright's invaluable article here.)
There were only three people present when Frederick May was lowered into his grave in 1985, one for every decade since he had written any music. May hadn't enjoyed an easy life. An embittered alcoholic afflicted by a dreadful hearing disorder and a victim of his nerves, he came across as an often truculent and difficult man, suffering the indignity of having his inheritance spoon-fed to him by a solicitor, as if he were a child, to prevent him frittering it away on strong liquor. His lonely death in a psychiatric hospital in Portrane was a melancholy end to a career which began with so much promise decades previously, in the 1930s. A talented student of music from Dublin, he travelled to London to study with Vaughan Williams before winning a scholarship to continue his studies in Vienna with the great Alban Berg (who, tragically, died of blood poisoning on Christmas Eve of 1935, before May could meet him) and Egon Wellesz. On his return from that troubled city, at a time when Europe was in a state of heightened dread and anticipation over the ambitions of Der Führer, he wrote his 'String Quartet in C Minor', a radically advanced piece for an Irish composer which was described by James Plunkett in his liner notes as "superb music; fluent, authoritative, and immediate" and by Brian Boydell as "[May's] finest work".
I found this LP, like so many in my collection, in a jumble sale on a spot of waste ground outside Wexford, mixed in with the usual dreck that one unearths at such affairs. I had never heard of Frederick May, but I was intrigued to discover an Irish composer of undoubted ability and intelligence whose work was utterly unknown to me. I didn't realise at the time that this was one of the only recordings, not just of this particular piece, but of any composition at all by this unjustly neglected composer (it is, thankfully, available on CD now, on the Naxos label). Not that May was a prolific writer; his hearing problems, combined with his increasing frustration and alcoholism, not least inspired by an ambivalent (to put it mildly) attitude to his country of origin, means that his collected works could probably fit in a single box set. However, it does seem a shame that, regardless of his personal foibles, one of the few Irish pioneers of what he called "art music" (to distinguish it from the traditional forms of music in which Ireland excels) is so little known, and entirely unrepresented in publication outside of sheet music. But, in a country where art, sport and tourism are covered by the same ministry, as if they were of equal standing (and no prizes for guessing which one matters more to most Fianna Failers), and where the connection hasn't been officially made between the arts, heritage, and the Irish language (all portioned out in separate ministries), it's not overly surprising that a man who tried to bridge the gap between Ireland and Europe as regards music ("It is doubtful if any nation with such a wonderful storehouse of traditional music has made such a negligible contribution to art music as we have, and it is high time we set about redressing the balance") should have been overlooked in this fashion, especially in Ireland of the rare ould times. Whether the neglect led to the personality, or vice versa, is another question, but one has to hope, in our more enlightened times, that a generous soul would commission a recording of his complete works for posterity. After all, if they're erecting statues of Joe Dolan (a figure of utter insignificance as regards culture) surely someone could fund a retrospective of Fred May's major works? (I must point out that I'm uncomfortable with May's differentiation between "traditional" and "art" music, which suggests that the former is somehow not "art", but it's a problem of labelling rather than anything else.)
But what of the music itself? To be honest, it's not entirely my cup of tea, as I like my classical music considerably more abrasive and experimental, but it's fine work nonetheless, with many beautiful passages. Part of the problem for me with this music is that I'm simply not familiar enough with May and his contemporaries (such as Vaughan Williams) to be able to comment authoritatively on its strengths and weaknesses - after listening to this I put on a Pierre Boulez CD and immediately felt on more recognisable terrain - but let's allow Raymond Deane to do the talking here: "[T]he Frederick May [String Quartet], while in some ways it's fairly traditional, in other ways represents an amazingly individual approach to the kind of things that were in the air at his time, the mid-1930s - the twelve-note system and so on - and blending that with tonality. It's an amazing piece." (New Music News, September 2002; full interview here.) Or James Plunkett, from the LP's liner notes: "[In this piece] there are darker elements present to torment a natural innocence and lyricism, which he constantly struggles to contain. If he surmounts them, it is not by exorcism but by acceptance - the conscious act of resignation. The Quartet in C Minor, completed ... at a time when the first hints of the affliction of deafness were beginning to threaten him, exemplifies this struggle and gains enormously in power ... because of it." That says it all, really, except that I'm delighted to have it in my collection and hope that further jumble-sale investigation will uncover more of his legacy.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
"Film critics (1) tend to be (2) a tad stuffy (3) about adaptations of video games. It is, they like to say (4), no wonder the movies are so dreadful when they are derived from such trivial diversions (5). Surely, directors would be better off making films out of Greek tragedies (6) or Byzantine icons (7). You (8) know how these rants (9) go." Donald Clarke, reviewing Max Payne in The Ticket section of The Irish Times last week.
1) "Film critics" Is Donald Clarke not a film critic? Come to think of it, isn't anyone who emerges blinking from a cinema and says "that was good/bad/the greatest experience of my life/worse than a foamy weekend with Kevin Myers/a profoundly moving examination of interpersonal relationships disguised as a tale about gun-toting local TDs taking on a irradiated 50-foot-high Willie O'Dea moustache" or whatever, essentially a film critic? Surely, giving any form of opinion on anything at all means that you're engaging in some form of criticism (even if you're the guy from The Fast Show who thinks everything is "brill-yaaaaaaaant!")? This is not, however, what Mr. Clarke is implying here.
You see, "film critics" is being used here in a pejorative sense, in the same way that the Plain People of Ireland will use the phrase "media", "liberal", "environmentalist" or "feminist"; it is referring to an imaginary group which the disapproving speaker is not a part of (even when he is, as is the case here, similar to when Eoghan Harris or John Waters castigate the "media" in a newspaper column or on th'telly (why doesn't Clarke write "we film critics"? Or "certain film critics" if he's deliberately excluding himself?)). The description is of course deliberately vague, but is pretty easy to decode: what he means by "film critics" is essentially "snooty, joyless, boring elitists who sneer down from their ivory tower at anyone who dares to watch films that aren't ten-hour-long black-and-white epics about Norwegians living in swamps and having existential crises". It is an excellent defensive tactic when you (meaning the hypothetical Irish Everyman reading the paper) come up against someone whose values seriously question yours: slap on a label which identifies them as different and therefore excludes them from “just reg’lar folk” like yourself, and then you can cheerfully disregard everything they say from that point on (“ah, but you’re one of them liberals/eco-warriors/feminists/lefties/critics/Druids, aren’t you?”). Some friends of mine have a tendency to say to me, when talking about a film or whatever, that "of course, it probably won't meet your high standards..." in a tone which suggests that having standards is something similar to scabies, to which I reply that, well, yes, I do believe that the majority of contemporary mass culture is basically worthless, not because I go out of my way to pick fault, but because no matter how I try, I cannot bring myself to enjoy the bland, pandering, unimaginative drivel which passes for entertainment these days. And while the purpose of a good critic is firstly (and most importantly) to praise the worthwhile, it also falls to him to excoriate the innumerable talentless, empty hucksters who spew out vapid garbage, and to point out that standards of excellence should be applied to all forms of communication.
A personal digression: a few years ago I was living in England and only crossed the channel back to the ould sod on rare occasions, and on one such I stayed with an old friend of mine in Dublin before heading west to visit my family. After dinner and a few drinks she went to bed while I stayed up watching TV as I couldn't sleep. At about 12.30 her flatmate, who I'd never met before but who I knew from others was a Drunken Oaf, came stumbling in. He asked me what I was doing in England, and I said that I was working, but that I wrote a bit of film criticism on the side. He instantly responded: "Film critic? So you think your opinion's better than mine, eh?" Being naturally polite and diplomatic, I pointed out that this was not the case, that I was only interested in expanding my knowledge, that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, no one opinion is "better" than another, and so forth. But he kept banging on and on insistently, no matter how I tried to argue the point, about how I must think myself superior, how dare I rate my opinion above his, blah blah blah, until (after half an hour of this horseshit) I told him quite bluntly that we were wasting our time with this conversation and that I wanted to get some sleep, at which he became all offended and left me alone.
It was the most blatant example of another attitude I have repeatedly come up against while living in Ireland: that if you profess to have standards which differ from those of the masses, especially if they question the quality of popular taste, you are only doing it out of intellectual snobbery, because you want to mark yourself as superior to the hoi-polloi, and that, when all alone, you toss your copy of Persona or Last Year in Marienbad on the fire and snuggle up with Podge and Rodge’s Christmas Special (or some such horror). Now this holier-than-thou attitude does exist in Ireland (the Catholic Church practically invented it), especially as we as a people are obsessively elitist and cliquish in most aspects of life, but it's never one that I've shared. I've spent the last twenty-five years of my life trying to hone my critical faculties in order to better appreciate great art (in any form), and it would bring joy to my blackened little heart if more people shared my enthusiasm for same, if only because it would mean that there would be somebody to talk to (aside from my partner, whose passion for art matches mine) about the things I care about. But I have found that the majority of people that I have met in Ireland simply don't care about such matters, which is fair enough - it's not compulsory - but they will react with outright hostility (usually hidden behind a mask of insouciant mockery, the dismissal I spoke about above) towards anyone who dares to even suggest that perhaps, for example, Killinaskully might not be quite as hilarious as they make it out to be, or that No Country For Old Men might be a heap of pretentious twaddle, a B-movie masquerading as high art. Of course, the main benefactors from a public perception which decries criticism are those who slurry out shoddy, lazy, mindless junk (Epic Movie, anyone?), because the lower the bar is set the more successful they're likely to be.
Now I’m sure Mr. Clarke, judging by his reviews, knows the difference between a good film and a bad one (and in fairness he does give Max Payne (one can accurately rate that film based on its title alone) a good thrashing), but all to often he seems to make his judgements based on the trendiness of the subjects under discussion rather than their objective merits, looking fearfully over his shoulder and thinking “If I’m too critical too often, especially about stuff that’s popular, I’ll probably get fired,” and writing his reviews accordingly. Which is understandable – I’m sure he has a mortgage and such – but I occasionally find myself wondering if he (in his heart of hearts) really thought Dark Knight (to give one example) was actually worth five stars, or if he was terrified that the hip young things who love it would march on Dublin and tear him limb from limb. Who knows?
2) "tend to be" Why not "are"? I personally would have said "Discerning film critics are, unsurprisingly", but that's just elitist old me. I think that "tend to be" is used because it's a little more relative, in that it suggests that, rather than being a point of principle, it's simply an affectation, put on in order to seem superior. Again, although I'm tweezing bits out to examine individually, the overall tone of the paragraph also suggests this interpretation.
3) "a tad stuffy" I love this phrasing! Let us go back to our snooty, joyless, boring elitist, sneering down from his ivory tower; isn't this description just so apt for him? It is being used here with our hypothetical Irish Everyman in mind; like any self-respecting son of the soil, he imagines himself to be good "craic", a bit of laugh, unpretentious, easygoing, et cetera, and the last word he would ever use to describe himself or his chums is "stuffy", which brings to mind crusty old professors, librarians, and accountants. This is one implication of the phrase; the other, of course, is that it suggests that our "film critics" dislike adaptations of vidjo games not because of any well-thought-out argument, or as the result of an intellectual process (in which case stronger, more judgemental phrases like "dismissive" or even "contemptuous" could be used), but because they are simply too dry and fusty to be "down" with "the kids", being the sort of desiccated old prunes who wouldn't know fun if it jammed a funnel into their mouths and poured a litre of Blue WKD down it.
4) "It is, they like to say" Again: why not just "they say"? Or, better still, "they argue"? But, as pointed out in previous points, this phrasing is strengthening the idea that these "film critics" have adopted their attitude as an affectation to prove their superiority rather than as an intelligently thought-out argument (which, Heaven forfend, would suggest that a defender of such entertainments would have to argue back, using such examples as Silent Hill, Resident Evil, or Mortal Kombat).
5) "trivial diversions" This is the nub of the matter, isn't it? And all this talk about stuffiness and tending to say can't get away from the central fact that, unfortunately for Mr. Clarke, video games are entirely trivial. They are essentially a way for (I would guess primarily male) teenagers and college students to pass their time in fantasy-based problem-solving shoot-'em-ups rather than doing anything useful with it. They may have a level of sophistication and intelligence far removed from the Space Invaders of my youth, but any adverts that I have seen (I don't, and never have, played video games) suggest that behind it all is still the childish fantasy of some big guy with a big gun blowing stuff up. A stronger, and more persuasive, argument that our stuffy old film critic could make is that the entire point of a video game is its interactivity; the player controls the central character and therefore "creates" the narrative as he goes along (within the confines of the game's overall structure), and such interactivity cannot be translated to a cinema screen (and is suffocatingly boring for anyone not playing; I lived with a video-game fan for a while and can tell you that watching someone else play (which seemed to consist of wandering around a lot of virtual corridors for hours searching for clues to the next level) is about as exciting as watching security camera footage in an empty office block at 3am). This could be seen as the reason why so many video game adaptations, deprived of this one-on-one interaction, have to rely solely on their hackneyed plots and come across as bad science fiction or horror. Case in point: last night I watched a bit of Resident Evil: Extinction, which, aside from its obvious deficiencies in plot and acting, and its ludicrously improbable and unpleasant fight scenes, came across as a blatant rip-off of Day of the Dead and the Mad Max movies (and, in an entirely unrelated digression, where do they get all that petrol in their post-apocalyptic future? Do Shell and BP hire the Walking Dead to pilot their tankers?) And no matter how much that gamers go on that the source material for these movies is really deep and intelligent (y’know), in order to appreciate its nuances (if any) I have to buy a gaming console, learn to use it, and then spend hours of my life actually playing the bloody thing (which, with my hand-to-eye coordination, means I’ll still be at it in 2010). To be honest, I’d rather use the time to read a book.
6) “Greek tragedies” I’m sorry, Mr. Clarke, but this is pure philistinism. Obviously, referring to Greek tragedy brings us back to the image of the stuffy, joyless, boring elitist, harrumphing his disapproval at these youthful inanities before burying his head in his Sophocles (no doubt while dust softly covers him like a snowfall). But firstly, how many films have actually been made of Greek tragedies? Are filmmakers lining up to make The Orestia or Oedipus Rex? And what’s wrong with Greek tragedies anyway? “They’re, like, so boring!” shouts the Voice of Youth. Well, they’ve only been around for a couple of thousand years and profoundly influenced the whole of Western culture, providing inspiration for generations of artists, writers, and anyone who cares even in the slightest about art or literature, but I guess we should toss them overboard because they just aren’t hip any more. They are, after all, seriously lacking such crucial elements as giant weapons, babes, car chases, and zombies, I suppose … But don’t video games, with their over-muscled heroes (and heroines) battling their way through hostile environments on life-saving quests have their roots in Greek myth? Isn’t the average quest game just a debased pop version of, say, Theseus battling the Minotaur or the Twelve Labours of Hercules? It’s food for thought (in fact, I’m sure someone’s done a thesis on the matter somewhere). Mr. Clarke is simply using them to bolster his dismissal of those stuffy old film critics; I personally feel his sentence would read better as thus: “Surely, directors would be better off making films out of challenging and stimulating subject matter, which reflects the real world and personal issues therein, rather than a bunch of adolescent fantasy shoot-’em-ups.” But that’s just me (again).
(You must forgive me for another personal digression, but a few years back I was working as a waiter in a Dublin restaurant and serving a middle-aged Oaf and his wife. She was very pleasant, but he was a bearded, red-faced loudmouth who insisted on subjecting me to his witless banter. Like so many middle-aged Irish customers, he had an obsessive need to know where I was from (I don’t know why; I certainly didn’t care where he was from), so I told him that I hailed from the much-maligned and underrated city of Limerick. The moment he heard this, his face broke into a grin and he said “Bet you’re lookin’ forward to tomorrow, eh?” “Why?” I asked him. “Ah, c’mon!” he replied, clearly taken aback, as if I’d taken out an electric razor and started shaving onto his dinner plate. “You can’t tell me you don’t know about tomorrow!” “I’m sorry, but I don’t,” I confirmed, ever so politely. My ignorance seemed to turn his world upside-down. Eventually, after several repetitions of surprise, as if he thought I was feigning ignorance as a joke and if he kept asking me often enough I’d admit that I knew what was happening “tomorrow”, the Oaf relented and told me that Limerick were in some hurling final. “Oh, really? I don’t follow sport,” I told him. This provided more explosions of disbelief, as he simply couldn’t grasp that I had no knowledge of the upcoming event. “But you’re from Limerick!” he exclaimed, no doubt holding on to reason as his world crumbled from under him. “Are you from another planet?” I tried to explain that I never read the sports section of the paper, never listen to sport on the radio, and, to be honest, if someone had told me about the match ten minutes previously, I’d have forgotten it nine minutes previously (the fact that I come from Limerick doesn’t mean I give a toss about their sporting exploits in any field). Finally he sneered: “I suppose you’d prefer to read poetry or something!” Of course, if I wasn’t a waiter and therefore at risk of being fired for rudeness, I’d have called him an ignorant tosser, and explained (while pounding his head off the table) that I’d much rather explore the rich and beautiful world of poetry than watch a bunch of guys with sticks knock a ball around a field. (Also, he was considerably larger than me, another reason to bottle up my rage.) But the jokey way he delivered his coup de grace, hiding the real contempt he felt for anyone who’d rather read poetry than watch sport, was clear to see. The same attitude, bizarrely for a critic, seems to be at work in the above article. It probably wasn’t Mr. Clarke’s intention, but I can easily picture somebody in a pub, after hearing me give out about films like The Fast and the Furious (or whatever) snarling out the line about Greek tragedies.)
7) “Byzantine icons” Huh? How do you make a film out of an icon, even if you wanted to? Is Mr. Clarke alluding to Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, a lengthy Russian epic about a medieval icon painter? Is he really suggesting that filmmakers should be taking their inspiration from Cannibal Death Warriors IV (Extreme Babe Version) and producing films based on that rather than working towards life-affirming masterpieces based on the experiences of a great artist? If this is the case, then I am compelled to call him an unholy arse. (There’s no holding back with this writer!)
8) “You” Obviously, Irish Everyman; and not a film critic, or anyone stuffy.
9) “rants” This is chosen rather than, say, “arguments” because ranting suggests that it’s simply an unreasoned diatribe by someone whose not fully in control of themselves rather than an intelligent point being made by someone who has actually considered the matter. After all, in the thesaurus “rant” is listed in the section “empty talk”, along with claptrap, guff, and prattle.
So, if you’ve made it this far, let’s take the points above and rewrite that paragraph!
“Discerning film critics are, unsurprisingly, dismissive of adaptations of video games. It is, they say, no wonder the movies are so dreadful when they are derived from such trivial diversions, especially seeing as the interactive nature of such games cannot be translated to the cinema screen. Surely, directors would be better off making films out of challenging and stimulating subject matter, which reflects the real world and personal issues therein, rather than a bunch of adolescent fantasy shoot-’em-ups. Or at least this is their argument.”
Now isn’t that a little better (if a little clunky)?
But there’s more, just a little more (I promise). At the end of The Ticket section there’s another little bout of critic-bashing, this time from Brian Boyd.
“It is de rigueur for music critics to sneer at Dido (and it's usually the sign of a bad one), a shibboleth that displays a fundamental ignorance of the power of melodic pop music. No, Dido isn't Iggy Pop and The Stooges or The Manic Street Preachers.”
Them bleedin’ critics, eh? And their bleedin’ shibboleths! This little comment also sent me into a frenzy of rage, largely because of its sweepingly patronising tone (“there’s no emoticon for what I’m feeling!” as Comic Book Guy once said). So you’re a bad critic if you sneer at Dido, eh? Why? Because, as Boyd states, she’s sold 22 million albums? Or that one in three Irish households (God help us) own one of her albums? So what? The Spice Girls’ first album sold over 23 million copies, and it’s musically worthless tosh. Hell, Los Del Rio’s ‘Macarena’, possibly the most insanely irritating slab of sing-a-long stupidity ever recorded, sold 11 million! But not only that: if you dislike Dido, it’s nothing to do with the fact that her music's as dull and functional as unvarnished pine, the tiresome puling of a startlingly uninteresting woman, but because you’ve “a fundamental ignorance of the power of melodic pop music”. Yeah, that must be it; I can’t appreciate Dido because I burned out my eardrums (and brain cells) at Napalm Death concerts! Well, I’d like to point out that, in addition to a wide selection of experimental noise, electronica, free jazz, and raucous rawk 'n' roll (including Iggy Pop (and The Stooges) (but not the Manics, who are pompous drones)), I also have the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Laura Nyro, Duke Ellington, Beth Orton, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, a whole lot of Motown, Nanci Griffith, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller, Astrid Gilberto, and loads more “melodic” music, quite a bit of which is “pop”. And I once spent a whole summer listening to Dido’s first album when I worked in a restaurant whose manager played it incessantly, and by the end I thought I’d stick my whole head in the deep fryer if I heard “and I-yi / want to thank you / for giving me the best daaay / of my li-iy-ife” once more. (By contrast, I never got tired of listening to Stevie Wonder...) So I think I know just a wee bit about the power of "melodic pop music"; I also know the musical difference between "mellow" and "lifeless".
Gosh, sometimes it just ain’t worth openin’ the paper… Anyway, here's something a little bit "melodic" for y'all...
Friday, November 14, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
1) In Gotham, nobody notices when a school bus in a convoy reverses through the wall of a bank, and then rejoins the convoy.
2) It's possible to wire up a hospital (and two ferries) for demolition without anyone noticing.
3) It's possible to drive a pencil into a tabletop (try this at home, folks!) with such force that it will stand upright. You can then kill somebody with it.
4) It's possible to jump (and throw people) through plate glass without injuring them (although, in fairness, this is standard in action movies).
6) Batman can fly, and see through walls.
9) Batman leaves blueprints of his secret equipment on file in his office building.
10) Extremely dangerous prisoners are left unhandcuffed, with only one guard on duty, who (of course) responds to said prisoner’s provocations and allows them to escape.
11) Senior policemen will fake their own deaths to catch crooks.
12) DAs will pretend to be vigilantes to catch crooks.
13) Mobsters giving testimony in open court are not searched for weapons.
14) Criminal gangs can waltz into, and out of, the penthouses of the wealthy unmolested.
15) When transporting highly sensitive prisoners, the police won't bother with decoys, or routes with options for diversion if one way becomes blocked.
16) A threat of imminent death on a prison ship won't provoke a riot.
20) You can leave a hospital after receiving massive facial burns within a day or two, without any risk of infection.
21) It's better to cover up the truth if it's politically expedient to do so.
22) You can balance someone who's tied to a chair on a ten-foot-high pile of money.
23) A criminal gang won't be bothered if their leader burns a ten-foot-high pile of money.
24) A character called the Joker doesn’t have to tell any jokes, or be funny.
25) A police van being shot at (with a bloody bazooka!) by a large truck in a different lane, with a barrier between them and it, won't simply jam on the brakes and reverse at speed (ever tried reversing an articulated lorry in a tight space, really fast?)
I'm sure there's more intriguing facts about Gotham that have slipped my mind, but that's enough for now.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Ms. Rylan is a singer/songwriter, sound artist, and noise musician who usually operates under the nom-de-plume of Can't and also builds her own synthesisers (including the brilliantly named Battery Powered Noise Generator; boy, I wanna get me one of those!). You can view her website here (oddly enough, there's no mention of this album there that I can find). Based on a musical interpretation of Chaos Theory (although I find her liner notes a bit glib and uninformative; it would be more salient to get details on how the pieces were actually composed, or generated) it consists of four roughly ten-minute-long tracks:
So what are you waiting for? Get thee to her website and do your bit to support the arts (and beat the recession blues) by purchasing some noise! Hell, buy a synthesiser and annoy your neighbours (their house will probably be repossessed anyway, or yours will, so either way it's not a long-term problem, and it'll take their mind off of their financial woes...)
Sunday, October 19, 2008
A note on the above, which follows the comment on taxation, states in part: "In the famine of 1847, produced by the failure of the potato crop, ten millions sterling [author's italics] was given from the British treasury to relieve the distress in Ireland, with scarcely any prospect of repayment; while Scotland, albeit afflicted by a similar calamity, got nothing."Perhaps no two nations ever exhibited a more striking contrast in national qualities than the inhabitants of Great Britain and those of the genuine Hibernian race in the south and west of Ireland. Unlike their countrymen in Ulster, who are laborious, active, and steady as their progenitors of the Norman or Anglo-Saxon blood, their character is the very reverse of that of the British, and much more closely resembles that of the French, though with some important distinctions from them also.Brave, both individually and collectively; kind, charitable, light-hearted, and grateful, they possess many virtues which, in private life, must command esteem or win affection. But they appear to be almost entirely destitute of those more commanding qualities which are necessary to success in the world, and which, for good or for evil, stamp a great destiny on nations.
Ever vehement, often impassioned, they yet want the regulated ardour which sustains great undertakings. Indolent and excitable, they seek gratification rather in taking vengeance on their enemies than in improving themselves. They are too short-sighted to see what is necessary to durable success - too volatile and inconsiderate to make the sacrifices necessary to attain it.Ever since their conquest early in the twelfth century by Henry II, they have never ceased to nourish a feeling of hatred for the Saxons, which has frequently burst forth in frightful acts of violence; but they have never seen that it was only by adopting the arts and imitating the industry of the stranger, that they would be enabled to contend with him. Though possessing more than double the population, and quadruple the physical resources, of the northern neighbours of England, they were conquered with ease by eleven hundred English men-at-arms and two thousand archers, who followed the Plantagenet standard; while eighty thousand English soldiers have been repeatedly hurled back from the comparatively desolate and ill-peopled realm of Scotland.They were for long after retained in subjection by so small a force, that even in the time of Elizabeth it only amounted to one thousand, and on emergencies to two thousand men. So true in every age has been the character given of them by Agricola: "I have often heard from [Agricola] that by a single legion and a few auxilaries Ireland might be conquered and retained in subjection." (Tacitus, Agricola, c. 24)They have proved themselves as incapable of rivalling the British in peace as they were of resisting them in war. They have neither imitated their husbandry nor adopted their manufactures. Their noble natural harbours are desolate, their maginificent fisheries untouched, their rich mineral fields unexplored. Nay, so far has their animosity gone, that, like the American Indians, they repel or shun the approach of civilisation. If an English manufacturer, bringing bread to thousands, settles in their country, they burn down his factory; if a Scotch farmer appears, capable of quadrupling the produce of the soil, they shoot him through the head.To maintain an idle and barbarous independence is their idea of freedom; to repel the first advances of industry their principle of patriotism. They have gained their object. Capital shuns their fertile and peopled shores; and the overflowing wealth of England seeks rather the risk of South American insolvency, or North American repudiation, than the certainty of Irish violence.Equal, perhaps superior, to the English in genius, they have seldom directed it to any useful purpose; this want of steadiness in pursuit, this absence of a practical turn, has been their perpetual bane. Constantly complaining of evils, they have never suggested any efficient remedy for them; ever exclaiming against misgovernment, they have never given the remotest indication of a capacity to govern themselves. With the exception of numerous brave recruits which they have ever furnished for our armies, they have scarcely at any time contributed anything to the general support of the empire. Though treated with extraordinary, perhaps unmerited, indulgence in taxation, their national resources are hardly drawn forth; and the most fertile part of the British dominions is disgraced by two millions of paupers, in a land which might with ease maintain three times its present number.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
An article contained therein filled me with a sense of outrage and disgust, as it describes what I feel to be an affront to human decency. There’s a club for the super-rich in London called Movida, whose claim to fame is that it serves the world’s priciest drink, a concoction that costs £35,000. Yes, that's 35 with three zeroes following it! It has edible gold leaf included in its recipe and comes with an 11-carat diamond ring thrown in (presumably the waiters are trained in the Heimlich manoeuvre in case one of the more intellectually challenged celebs in residence swallows this particular item). The first thought that popped into my head was that this drink costs more than I, in common with two-thirds of the Irish population, earns in a year, and the second which quickly followed was whether the gold leaf is actually digested into your system, or does it emerge from the other end intact? I suppose if you’re rich enough to afford one of these drinks you probably aren’t the sort who’ll be evacuating onto a clean plate the next day and picking through your own excrement with a tweezers and a diamond cutter’s lens, shining a torch to pick out those tell-tale glimmers. That’s what your entourage is there for! It’s could be a 21st century form of panhandling; after a trip to Movida, the personal staff of the rich are kept on standby in the morning, waiting for the gold rush to start… As Douglas Adams once put it, such a tipple seems to exist for the singular purpose of allowing rich idiots to impress other rich idiots, but there is something pretty despicable about squandering so much money on a cocktail when there are people grinding their way through lives of misery and hardship over debts a fraction of that drink’s cost. At the best of times I always find it risible, contemptible even, to hear rich people (like Bono) gassing on about making poverty history, but it’s an absolute certainty that as long as people are wealthy enough, and callous enough, to waste their fortunes on a luxury such as this while others can barely afford to put food on their tables, poverty will always be with us, and indeed will flourish like a poisonous weed.
(There was also an advert warning of the perils of STDs - a picture of a naked woman’s back with a label stitched onto it bearing the legend 'chlamydia' - which I found strangely erotic. Does this make me a pervert? It’s not a whole lot different from a tattoo, to be honest! It could be a whole new form of advertising; having actual messages sewn onto your skin which you can display as you strut around the beach (or wherever you feel the compulsion to strut…))