Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Absence and Toons

Apologies for another prolonged absence. All manner of stuff going on, hardly any of which fell into conveniently bloggable increments or tropes. But just now, Joseph Barbera dead at 93. Wow, what he lived through, and saw, and made. "Was Scrappy-Doo the Echt Shark-Jumping id-hound?", I hear you ask. And, as Danny Baker often asks, what happened in the Flintstones to the sabre-toothed cat Fred dumps outside, and is then dumped by in the title sequence? "One day Fred will finally win the fight/When he puts that cat out for the night". Baker reckons the cat was in the pilot, but then got greedy, made his agent renegotiate the contract for the rest of the series, and was then cut entirely, but they'd already filmed the title sequence and recorded the music.

Vital News, Affecting All Bipedal Lifeforms

And a verily merrily Grimble to all our reader.

2007? That's a Sci-Fi year.

Monday, October 30, 2006

First Compressions

Via the excellent Alex Ross of the The New Yorker, some excellent thoughts (none of them mine) on compression in modern beat combo music. Everything Louder Than Everything Else is very good, but The Death Of Dynamic Range is just brilliant. Much to over-mull here, but howsabout them waveforms? Exactly the kind of clearly illuminated and illustrated expertise I promise shall never darken the towels of this blog. You have my word on that.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The God Deluge-In

Those InterWebs are awash with reviews and reviews of reviews of Dawkins' The God Delusion. I have nothing to add to the melee other than slack-jawed praise for Stephen Tomkins of Ship Of Fools. Now THIS is how to review someone you don't agree with. That all such commentary should be as fair-minded.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Am snivelling with Man-Flu, which can only be a partial excuse for being, once again, last to the feast. Here I am, puffing and chewing and huffing over Leavitt's Freakonomics. I have precisely nothing original to add to the general hooplah, other than "Yes, IntarWebs, I too found it an enjoyable and interesting read". (Be unafraid, gentle reader, that slamming sound you just heard was the presses being stopped and the front page being held.) I particularly like the chapter on baby names, the observations thereon (Jewish/Old Testament monickers get popular with gentile baby-namers, but never the other way round) and the predictions for the future. Observation, Theory, Testable Prediction, that's science, homes!

I can't remember who linked to it (my apologies, IntarWebs), but out-check this Baby Name Graphinator (that may not be the proper term, possibly). It visualises, no, wait, surely we're doing the visualising. It, uh, represents the relative and absolute popularity of American baby names. I particularly like how, as you type successive letters of a name, it shows all the names that stilly apply. Pitifully simple and straightforward to those whose mind works that way, but mine doesn't, and I coo and ooh at it as if it were a kitten in a wellington boot.

There's piles of fun to be had tracing names as they wax and wane, but the oddest case of all is "Adolph". It's enormously popular in the 1880's, still a biggun' up until a precipitous drop around 1910 (and isn't it great to be actually looking at a plunging graph line that does actually literally look like a craggy precipice?). The rate of decrease stays pretty steady right through up to the 1930's but then stays stable throughout the 1940's and 50's before dwindling in the 60's to die out in the early 70's. EHHH?

I'm struggling to picture an expectant couple, or one newly blessed with issue, in the late 40's or 50's, possibly returned from fighting in Europe, saying to each other "Honey, you remember how back before the war we weren't going to call our children Adolph? Well, I've been thinking..."

Life among the celebrities

Slightly shocked and awed to find that the mighty PZ Meyers (he of the fairly compulsory Pharyngula blog) was in Bromley, my Place O'Toil. I posted briefly at his place, but have to mutter aloud to myself further on this matter.

Bromley is many things to many men. It was H.G Well's childhood home before the railway came through (twice) and suburbanised the place to hell. It is no coincidence that so many of Well's plots involve the lavish destruction of suburbs and all that they contain and entail. And let's not forget, no, do let's, no, don't - let's not forget that Wells was a game designer, what with Floor Games and Little Wars.

Anyhoo, back to Bromley's place in The Great Scheme Of Things. I loved this great piece in the Guardian about the famous-amongst-themselves Bromley Contingent, which raised the pressing question: had there been anything better to do in Bromley, would we have had Punk Rock? I remain apathagnostic (see what I did there?) on the matter. Writers I Normally Trust tell me it was all terribly important and things were awfully awful and needed shaking up, but there does seem to be an air of "You Had To Be There" about it all, and surely for the really good stuff you didn't have to be there, you just have to listen to it. This seems to be true about the effectively-unknown-at-the-time Velvet Underground (as the old saw goes, hardly anyone ever saw them, but everyone who did immediately formed their own band). The first few Velvets albums are just boffo. You don't have to have any personal stake or sentimental attachment to the epoch, they just stand up on their own two feet and compel replaying.

Some dreadful Channel 4 talking-head-fest about influential bands and the unexpectedly entertaining Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark made the excellent point that every ten years or so there is a general bewailing about how rock is dying on its corporate arse and live music has lost all its magic, and then someone will re-record the first Velvet Underground album and be acclaimed as the Saviour of the Muse (which obviously allows the accompanying chronicling music journo's to go through the apostolic process of discovery, doubt, witnessing and testamentation). Strokes? White Stripes? I'm looking at you etc.

Perhaps the final word on this strangely cataleptic/catalytic Kentish town is Billy Jenkins' brilliantly unhinged opus "Still...Sounds Like Bromley". Whatever altitude my praise for it attains, it sufficeth not.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cobwebs, dusting, spluttering

Away for the longest time, what with work and offline occurrences and what not. I could claim that I was readying for the roll-out of an extraordinary bongoludo 2.0, but it would be a tiny flaming lie.

Hope all well with you and all of your doings, normal intermittent and patchy service will be resumed anon.

Howsabout them Nintendos? Remember when they used to make these? Not me, nor my feet.

And the first thing I've read on Salon in years, a whacking great interviewathon with Richard Dawkins. That is all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

That Pipettes Pip The Feeling Feeling

Stop Press: the race for my pop heart is wide open again: just saw this.

And here's the Russ Meyer Valley Of The Dolls clip of which it is the splendid ripoff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Feeling The Feeling Walk The Talk

I did my best, really I did, but my best clearly isn't good enough, not even hardly, nowhere near. I know I just swore fealty to The Pipettes (who despite all the music critics saying they're very good, really are very, very good), but The Feeling, oh man, The Feeling. It's like being a teenager again. You know those psych experiments where they wired up the pleasure centre of a rat's brain to a switch and the poor rodenty fucker just Morsed the switch constantly? That's me spamming iTunes for the The Feeling single "Fill My Little World". I'm unsure what else I could possibly demand of a pop group other than the immediate eradication of poverty and Sunny Delight. Giddy-making. These are clear signs of accelerated aging, aren't they? Cardigan time yet?

*looks down at own M&S cashmere-clad wrists.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Mamas, and Brand New Bagquisition

OK, obviously, The Pipettes have conquered me utterly and forever, but am equally smitten with the wondrous Onya Bag, which I fear each and every one of my friends and family is about to receive as birthday/Crimble prezzo. Simply splendid, and no doubt the first slither down the slippery slope to outright green-loonery. I shall devote my trouser turn-ups to composting humous. Or at least admit that it's happening, and pretend it's deliberate.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Existential Disclaimers

A lot of the confusion about what games are/could be/should be comes from treating games as their plots or backstory. This turns them into texts, which means the world and his wife can swarm over them with their cool, cruel text-deconstructin' irons. This, in my book, tends to be theory about theory. In his actual and excellent book A Theory Of Fun, Raph Koster pointed out that games just aren't their plots. The brouhaha about killing pedestrians in Carmaggedon was lost on the kids playing it, who realised it was actually Pacman, not a homicidal highway hecatomb - the game was the gameplay, not the backstory.

I posted on Clive Thompson's Collision Detection in response to his article on True Crime: New York City. Oh lord, here I am, quoting myself. Does that qualify me as a sock puppet? Can I attempt astroturfing now?

I have a quibble with how much we can read into such games - not so much what the paying (hopefully) punters will make of them, that's their affair and rationalising every potential player response is like Casaubon's Key To All Mythologies - endless as a scheme for joining the stars. I'm more concerned with how the developers are arriving at these particular gameplay settings and solutions. Developers are asking themselves purely practical questions: What's going to work? Which Existential Disclaimer Narrative is going to let us put the player in gameplay-worthy situations? What current genres can we dresss the gameplay up as?

I don't dispute that games are some sort of barometer for social themes, memes, trends, what have you, but I'm dubious that they directly reflect anything other than developer/publisher pragmatism. Simply put, it's easier for developers to furnish the player with a convincing homicidal monster than a plausible girlfriend.

Quotable Superstars like Molyneux and Miyamoto aside, developers and publishers just have to get the damn things made, on time, on budget. I'd suggest that the dictates of production incline gameplay towards a simplistic worldview. Being risk-averse doesn't necessarily reflect social conservatism. It's just so much easier to submerge the player and (more importantly) the hidden menu system of the gamplay in the simplistic moral world of the lone avenger than one where the protagonist has to negotiate, socialise, weigh motivations, navigate ambiguity or ambivalence. Menus can't stand ambivalence - they require valence, great big discrete binary blobs of it
Not entirely sure what I was trying to corral together here, but I'm sure there'll be more of it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Is this thing on? Oh, it IS on...

Here I am, absently weeing on my shoes in what I assumed was an undisturbable backwater of the Inter Nets, hurling the occasional hoot of praise or blame at my Betters, and I'm shocked to find that they upon occasion hoot back.

Andrew Collins I bothered directly via his fine www.wherediditallgoright.com and was nice enough to answer my query upon my own pallid organ, Lost Garden's DanC shied a cheery horseshoe back at me, and now Steven Poole dropped by and was remarkably generous, considering how rude I'd been about (some of) his work. Twit them, and they will come, I tells ya.

This really is rather an august guest list for what remains a furtive, odiferous and obscure scratch pad. A tip o'the hat to 'em all.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Three Colours Tautology

The recent and continuing heatwave reminded me of the similarly kiln-like climate of a few years back. Oppressed by the immense bigness of Hot, a chum and I had sought shelter and refreshment by the South Bank, and were keenly diminishing a several of frosty beverages, exchanging pleasantries while the starch in our collars wilted like somnolent orchids. Swirling the dregs in his latest tankard for a moment or two, he confessed to me that he had the beginnings and makings and shapings of a feuilleton but was sadly baffled and stymied in his attempts to birth it. He had noted examples of references to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in some surprisingly mainstream Pop Culture movies.

Alas, he had itemised but two examples of his theory, failing the necessary and sufficient Rule Of Three. It wasn’t enough to have spotted that chess is also played with Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and that an odd song about farm livestock mooing, clucking, lowing and so on is also sung in Freddy Got Fingered (an opus I fear life may precisely 87 minutes too short to see), he didn’t have Three, the Magic Number. Eheu, lacking the vital trifecta, my chum been forced into idleness, mentally crossed his heels on his desk and crumpling his drafts into aerodynamic pupae to shy at the bin.

I commiserated with him and his tantalisation, whiffling aloud that surely there was a similar boondoggle concerning Genres Of Film That Are Also Colours, And Furthermore Original Packaging Colours At That, Smoke On Your Pipe And Stick That In, Paisan. Intrigued and not a little picqued, he bad me explain my rash claim, nodding curtly to a passing servitor to refresh our whets. Characteristically vague, vain and hasty, my trope was that the terms Noir and Giallo are both colours (if in different languages) and movie genres. What’s more, they relate to the bindings of the original source novels. I can't recall where I first read that Noir relates to the original bindings given to hardboiled detective fiction by French publishers before contrastingly lit black and white movie adaptations were made of them, but Roger Ebert sportingly confirms it.

However, I too lacked my Necessary Third, and we both had to stumble on as best we could. The moment I recalled this contretemps I (and no doubt you) thought “Hang on, what about Blue Movies?” (apparently some of which may be found amidst the InterNets, gentle reader). I’m satisfied to my own satisfaction (tauto-ahoy!) that I can march behind this newly stitched banner of Black, Yellow and Blue, but does it have the gilt edge that only the extended claim can garner? Did Blue movies ever come in blue wrappers, were they ever bound in blue tape? From whence came the name? Is it to do with Blue Laws?

Friday, June 16, 2006


Alas, the usual hop-skip-jump, to clear my otherwise crystalline mind of clutter. I just finished and greatly admired Chuck Palahniuk's collection of straight reportage Stranger Than Fiction. Much to enjoy therein, particularly his ability to convey constellations of moral outrage without recourse to adjectives or adverbs or actual narration. I guess that'll be style, then.

Ah, Style, my man in the moon. Raymond Chandler called it the best investment a writer can make, and he spoke as a former oil man. Flicking through Stranger Than Fiction, even at its most Subject-Verb-Object Peter-loves-Jane stripped down, the prose seemed very quickly fingerable as Palahniuk, although I can't guess why. The clauses are so short and terse, there doesn't seem time for them to develop a characteristic rhythm. And why should it seem distinct from any other example of what might be unkindly deemed post-Hemingwayese?

Without answering that, in a similar but probably unrelated vein, Clive James starts his esay ‘The All Of Orwell’ thus:

“Who wrote this? ‘Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ But you guessed straight away; George Orwell. The subject stated up front, the sudden acceleration from the scope-widening parenthesis into the piercing argument that follows, the way the obvious opposition between ‘lies’ and ‘truthful’ leads into the shockingly abrupt coupling of ‘murder’ and ‘respectable’, the elegant, reverse-written coda clinched with a dirt-common epithet, the whole easy-seeming pose and compact drive of it, a world view compressed to the size of a motto from a fortune cookie, demanding to be read out and sayable in a single breath - it’s the Orwell style."
James' gloss seems sort of undeniable. I like that passage particularly because it's one of those bits of Orwell one can disagree with, and thus feel all big and clever and thinky. That saw about Political Language has endured in several guises and I still find it hard to get worked up about it in any guise. Suspecting the worst of non-literary language is one of the easier rides for literary people. I remember the otherwise estimable Steven Poole schilling for his book Unspeak on the radio, pointing out that “ethnic cleansing” sounds like it's a good thing but actually it isn't. Heavens, does Her Majesty know? I'm never clear who's supposed to be or have been gulled by such euphemism. Isn't this just rhetoric, and hasn't it been going on forever? Maybe I'm just narked that I found Poole's Trigger Happy impressively unreadable. Every time I see it on a shelf I quiz the owner and every man Jack and Jill of them admit its Vestal inviolability. Them Edge colums weren't no picnic neither, but the fiction reviews in The Guardian and the Crooked Timber posts are often boffo.

Military idiom (WMD, Peace-Keeping, Surgical Strike, Smart Munitions, Less Than Lethal weaponry etc) in particular seems to keep coming in for a shoeing from writers as if its euphemism was a deliberate almost neuro-linguistic programming-ese attempt at moral fraud. But how much sinister intent is there? Who was the original intended audience? Isn't professional slang always divorced from the moral universe - it's there to make usuful trade distinctions, not justify God's way to man.

I was going to tie these limp threads to games somehow, and game design terminology, but as usual my muse has pulled up, puffing, groaning and clutching at the stitch in her ribs. Just can't get the staff these days.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

RIP, The Ligster

RIP, Gyorgy Ligeti.

The excellent Alex Ross of The New Yorker and his own www.therestisnoise.com has this to say, and back in 2001 wrote this appreciation of the Big Yyn.

Lest Ligeti be thought some dismal gloom-monging melodyphobe (although heaven only knows - now - how much he'd seen to be gloomy about), check out his amazing Concert Romanesc, abundance of energy, humour and delight composer's own.

A propos of absolutely nothing, Sir Harrison Birtwhistle's comments at the Ivor Novello awards:
"Why is your music so effing loud? You must all be brain-dead. Maybe you are. I didn’t know so many clichés existed until the last half-hour. Have fun. Goodbye."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Naked Tooth

I am British, and consequently have British Teeth. In the company of my pearl-fanged American friends I answer to “Snaggletooth”, but amongst mine own here in Britain I pass unnoticed in bazaar and highway and meadow alike. My teeth are themselves reminiscent of the Stone Age tumuli of Stonehenge, albeit boasting a less impressive crop of lichen. They are at least a recognizable gang, not all of equal standing, but at least standing together. Some of my friends have teeth resembling the skyline of Easter Island. Moody, magnificent and seldom, their teeth are aloof Kings of gum, much grander in their way than my rowdy Parliament of incisors and molars, jostling for attention. And if they stand aloof, they do at least stand. Other of my friends part their lips to reveal transverse and oblique tusks, much like the bars of a broken old farm gate, or the half boarded-up entrance to the Old Haunted Gold Mine.

It’s unfair. Teeth are THE indicators of health. Our movie stars may have hair like hay, eyes like a surrounded chameleon and the posture of a question mark, but their teeth shine with integrity, wisdom and heroism. This is rubbish. I have heroic teeth. Every chip is an abysmal fall survived, every notch an enemy coolly despatched. I have world-weary, been-there done-that teeth. A mouthful of Bogarts, bidding Bergmanesque farewells, and reminders of our mutual possession of Paris. I am literally hardbitten, and there’s the proof in the shape of my teeth.

Of course, my sister is a dentist. Worse still, an orthodontist. My panicky tight-lipped embraces upon see her again lend new urgency to the old saw about the British keeping a stiff upper lip (and it's the teeth of that saw which my own gums so eloquently mime). She has nice teeth. Teeth you’d trust. But then you have to trust the teeth of those to whom you entrust your teeth.

My dental tendency is towards independence and away from tyranny. My teeth celebrate independence. I have nothing against the dull perfect conformist grins of my IKEA-mouthed counterparts. But their milky teeth betray no wisdom. Theirs are mouths without struggle. Their fat veal-calf teeth are crammed into their mouths are and forbidden to exercise or roam the earth. My teeth have clearly been places. My teeth have seen and done things beyond other teeth’s ken. On several occasions, my teeth only just made it back to my mouth.

My teeth parrot the whites and blacks of the piano keyboard, like the interlaced fingers of a mixed-race couple holding hands. My happy gappy smile reminds pianists to worry their instruments in practice, ensuring better concerts. My teeth would be a metaphor for the prettier, less conscience-wracked songwriters, if only they could see past the blinding glare of their own oral crenelations.

My teeth do their job, no more or less conscienciously nor complainingly than any other part of my frame. I occasionally tease them with an antique toothbrush or fret them with floss but apart from the few occasions when they play the innocent conductor for a roving lightning bolt of agony, they are contented guests in my head, helpful at mealtimes and a foe to all pen ends. Scrupulously egalitarian and prudent, my teeth hoard everything between them, only surrendering their shards of candy and slivers of fruit with graceful reluctance, like a wife shopping her kindly bankrobber husband. My teeth, Oh my teeth gone by, I love you so.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Absolutely no comment

The brilliant Lost Garden has this to say. Harrumph.

Games, Movies, Ebert, Kermode, Uncle Tom Cobbley

Some debates drain all sense and energy from those not in their very midstmost midst. Now that enough time has elapsed (i.e. I finally remembered I'd started but not even half-finished this vain wrathful excuse for a post), let us, you and I, gentle reader, arm in arm, glare like scandalised, seed-denied Ostriches at the Tasmanian Devil-esque furore that surrounded that Roger Ebert piece, that Mark Kermode piece in the Observer, and indeed this and e'en this. Modesty forbids that I pull the intemperate responses apart in any detail. Suffice it for the moment to say that Ebert appears immediately correct, and ever-righter whereas at first glance, the Kermode piece appears to have been written in haste, an impression that does not dispel upon further acquaintance. The title doesn't help, but that was presumably a Sub-Editor's contribution. Still, while a less considered piece than either of Ebert's, it's equally clearly True, and Right and The Case. Anyone who disagrees is a Poo-Pants, possibly a Poo-Pants Pie. I can see that the unforced eloquence of my rhetoric has won you over, and no further denunciations need be rehearsed here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'd turn your speakers down somewhat...

...but it's still utterly worth discovering what happens when a man covered in microphones walks into a room full of loudspeakers.

Apologies for thinness-on-ground, have been off excavating enormous underground Lairrr.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blogge, it is yclept.

As should have been marvellously clear by now, Geoffrey Chaucer has a blog. Nice to see the feller's still going strong.

All manner of shenanigans going on, so postage Intermittent to Not. It's the change in the weather.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I'll take the Llama, Bob...

Them Internets is agog and abuzz (with some justification) at the awesome Big Dog Meckanickal Mule. I like the saddlebags, but I love, deeply love, the gaitered legs. For some reason I'm thinking of Nineteenth Century waiters, or the great Max Wall, who as any fule kno, inspired Python's Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. The ever-excellent Defense Tech has a great comment, comparing the Big Dog unfavourably with, good friend to you and me, the humble Llama. After a brief comparison of payload relative to bodyweight, the commentatore concludes:
I'll take the llama because:
  1. It doesn't require gas or batteries.
  2. Service life of 15 years+.
  3. No maintenance or spare parts required!
  4. It's self aware.
You gots to admit, number 4 is a helluva Tech Spec selling point. Dang, I'd put it on the Front of the box. And then I recall a plausible yet slightly unconvincing story of the Israeli military using Llamas for Special Forces missions, which included the magic phrase "found to easily out-perform donkeys", which is of course my name among the Hopi Indians. Anyway, the point of this charivari is the mental click I got when "Llama" was mentioned. For then did I realise that the Big Dog is at last half or perhaps twice a Llama after all, for it is indubitably Doctor Dolittle's Pushmi-pullyu.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Life's Lessons...

The estimable Raph Koster (who wrote the only readable book on game design) has compiled an extensive teleo-log of what we know about the world from games. Per ejemplo:
  • You can be the best in the world at your job.
  • But so can everyone else.
  • And you will all do it exactly the same way.
So far, so office-email. But Koster, rather sweetly, nudges further:
I realize this list may seem like a cutesy joke. But it isn’t. Go back, and re-read it. It’s actually a lament.
Amen. It's not entirely true that people who talk about games for a living insist that games are the full equal of other artforms, while people who actually make them know they're not. But it would suit this blogs purposes for that predicament to obtain, so I shall assume it is indeed the case in all further correspondence.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Re-re-re-reading Pauline Kael's essay Raising Kane, which still seems the best single essay I've read on anything. It's odd, I can't remember particularly liking any other Kael I've read, indeed I can't remember any other Kael, despite huffing and puffing through I Lost It At The Movies and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which isn't a good sign. But Raising Kane is driving me back to 'em, it's that good.

I keep on being impressed by Kael's ability to keep stepping back and back from Citizen Kane while keeping everything in focus. There's no point trying to sum up the whole essay, I might as well type the whole thing out. It's a bit like Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls in that it gives you not so much a new perspective on movies as a whole new behind the scenes at the sausage factory dimension, all the more shocking because it's stuff you really ought to have known, or worked out yourself, even if you've already dimly figgered that there's just no way that movies are made by individuals called Directors - unless they're Russ Meyer.

One of the many joys of Raising Kane is the insight it provides on where the movie came from - what now seems like a paleontology of 1930's cinema, after it calcified from a living culture to a petrified film studies topic. She calls Citizen Kane:
perhaps the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened. It may seem even fresher. A great deal in the movie that was conventional and almost banal in 1941 is so far in the past as to have been forgotten and become new.
Kael's terrific on the individual talents involved in that era: Hecht, Mankiewicz, Perelman, Preston Sturges, Dorothy Parker, Moss Hart, et al - the vicious circles of 1920's broadway playwrights and journalists who moved West to play at Hollywood Hacks. I'm particularly charmed that not only did they write screenplays revolving entirely about East Coast journalists (especially Editors, now an endangered species, restricted to the breeding pair of Spiderman's J. Jonah Jameson and Harry Hacket in The Paper), they also re-wrote their own Broadway plays as "original" screenplays, and, even better re-wrote each other's old plays.

(Pause for brief shout for Ian Hamilton's brilliant Writers in Hollywood, 1915-1951 (Heinemann, London, 1990/Harper, NY, 1990), which has the best opening quote EVAH)

Anyhow, here's Kael on how Hollywood resisted the tough skepticism of the East Coast writers:
Ben Hecht said he shuddered at the touches von Sternberg introduced into Underworld: "My head villain, Bull Weed, after robbing a bank, emerged with a suitcase full of money and paused in the crowded street to notice a blind beggar and give him a coin before making his getaway". That's exactly the sort of thing that quantities of people react to emotionally as "deep" and as "art", and that many film enthusiasts treasure - the inflated sentimental with a mystical drip.
Inflated sentiment with a mystical drip? Yowsah! Another yelp of recognition and glee from yours drooly. This immediately velcroed itself to the gland in my brain still pulsing and smarting from the discussion of what is or isn't art, linking arms with Martin Amis' War Against Cliche. Here's to art and sentiment. They're not strictly opposed terms, but one extends wayyy beyond the reach of the other. Sentiment is no bad thing, but inflated sentiment (mystical drip optional, see your dealer for details) is Corn, arguably Hard-Core Corn.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Line, Walked

Continuing this organ’s long and honoured tradition of spinning out tedious personal occurrence into startling new insights that transform your entire schema, let me tell you that I saw and was utterly conquered by Walk The Line. I was simply incapable of enjoying it more, couldn't be done, my body just can't handle any more pleasure, at least in celluloid form.

I’m usually no fan of pop biopics, not least because of the constant clinking, clanking backing track of Industrious Calculation, as the writer, director, actors, musical directors and attorneys of the estates of the actual stars in question all conspire to spin you a tale while satisfying their agendae. Walk The Line managed to…hmm…how you say...it managed to proceed while neither deviating to one extreme nor…no, sorry. Anyhow, the film teems with pluriform delights. The central performances (Phoenix, Witherspoon, me) were entirely un-astonishing – at no point did I not think they actually, factually really were Black and Carter (i.e. disbelief not so much suspended as levitated right off the floor and out the door); the storyline’s brilliant simultaneous cake-devourage-and-retention (covering all the necessary Big Hits moments AND satisfying each character’s classical story arc without completely traducing the actual individuals or events involved).

But chief amongst my reasons for agogitude (and yes, agogididawooing go) was the gratitude I felt for the music. The film’s practically a musical, it’s so dense with performances: T-Bone Burnett (onetime Coward Brother of Elvis Costello, lest we forget, or care) outstrips any praise available to me for his efforts therein. Phoenix actually is Johnny Cash, remember, so he gets no praise for sounding exactly like him. But Burnett is owed particular props and praise for making it all sound new and fresh and revolutionary, and it’s SO hard to hear music of that vintage for the first time. It’s the same problem with Elvis or Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker or Wagner, they cast such long shadows, it’s as if they sound like everyone else, rather than everyone else sounding like them.

And if you were seeking any other reason to love Walk The Line, its DoP was Phedon Papamichel, son of Phedon Papamichel.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Clive, Plugged...

Shit your pants and run a mile, for Clive James has relaunched his web efforts!

Looks like he's smothered the always-too-good-for-this-world www.welcomestranger.com wot is now handsomely supplanted by the admirably does-what-it-says-on-the-tin www.clivejames.com

There's probably no bigger fool for Clive James than I. Like many, I first saw him being slightly awkward on TV (probably BBC2's Olde Schule "Did You See?"), then read his "Unreliable Memoirs", then "Falling Towards England" and "May Week Was In June" and then "The Metropolitan Critic" and then "The Dreaming Swimmer" and then "Other Passports" and now I'm dizzy and need to breathe out of a bag. Mmmm brown paper.

Yes, I know he's often too much, too far, too near, but check the damn site! Lookit the Videos! Martin Amis! On a sofa! Did they sit him on a board, like with kids at the barber's? Otherwise, they'd find him months later, along with coins and the walnut half and the old remote control.

I blame James for the fact that I still read more criticism than fiction. But dammit, he did write "The Book Of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" and "Bring Me The Sweat Of Gabriella Sabatini". They alone demand a knighthood. And isn't it amazing how many H's "Knighthood" has? Back to the bag for me! MmmmmmmMMmmmmmm...

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Brief History of ReviewSpeak

I've been meaning to tie this in to a discussion of review journalism, thence Games journalism, let alone teh NGJ, but it's too good not to wave about on its own. This is Jonathan Raban in his wonderful For Love and Money:
As with cartoons, there's a congenital streak of cruelty in the form of the review: it's easier to tell good stories about bad books than it is about good ones, easy to seize on small deformities and make much of them, easy to fall back on the big, red nose and the tombstone teeth as the handiest method of conveying personality. The reviewer, especially if he's new to the job and trying to make his name, finds a style of pert mockery ready and waiting for him like an off-the-peg suit...
The beast Raban then quotes at length a Clive James review, which I'd seen somewhere before and thoroughly enjoyed. No need to quote it at any length here, you should get the flavour from Raban's dissection.
...The style is boisterously smartyboots in tone and fake-Augustan in its grammar. The surest way to sound as if your vast learning is tempered by sturdy common sense is to go in for showy latinisms; a mastery of sarcastic inversion, circumlocution and the ironic negative is the official mark of a superior intelligence at work...the tricks, or tics, of style keep on nudging the reader to remember that the reviewer is a sight more clever than the the man he's reviewing. He's also one of the boys...the dialect is as recognizable as Mummerset; at once donnish high-falutin' and come-off-it-mate low slang, it is the received standard English of the smart English book review
Now I'm a big fan of James, who works hard to entertain even as he's putting over his most tenderly held beliefs. I likewise applaud the pun-bedecked ilk of Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie, and also the previous generation of music/culture writers that inspired and frankly edited them: Dannies Kelly and Baker, Mark Ellen and the other NME/EMAP uberhacks. I like it when they write with the witty. Their example has spurred me to my least excusable excesses, this organ foremost. But Raban's scalping of that (or rather my attempted) faux-faux-Pompous tone has thrust a silent steely stiletto of doubt into my bosom. It's not like I conciously adopted a classic style, but what is it about that Baroque, facetious and fake-affected style that attracts? And does it attract writers more than readers, being more fun to write than read?

Also, where did it come from? Is there a straight line to be drawn from the pantomime wryness of Dickens, through the polite drawl of Twain, the more-in-sorrow-than-anger Mencken, the madcap sagacity of S.J. Perelman, the Mandarin diction of Cyril Connolly, through NME-Q-TheWord music journalism to the rather sorry current state of games journalism and this blog, buckshot with in-jokes, and popkultureferencen? I made that last word up.

Speaking of Mummerset, I wonder if West Country English is creeping towards the vogueish, entirely due to the unmediated diction of Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant? It's generally held to be a laughable yokel accent, but then that used to be said of Geordie, which is compulsory for Bright Young Thing TV presenters these days.

Stap me vitals, that aforementioned Andrew Collins has a blog. And it's really good. I may just give this up. I once entertained worryingly-less-than-vague ambitions to write a book about Coffee, or indeed all those strange crops that only grow at certain altitudes in certain places and have gone from luxury to staple (i.e. tea as well). All wind was lost from my sails however when I beheld a coffee book with so magnificent a title, I realised all hope was lost and I might as well take my spats and toothbrush elsewhere. The title? See here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Beauty, Sorrow, nice cup of tea...

TimeSink Alert!

Via the ever-splendid bldgblog comes the awesomestsome (is too a word) www.geophot.com - the site of one Berhard Edmaier who takes possibly the most beautiful photographs I've ever seen. I know we're hard-wired to see faces in random patterns, and anthropomorphize anything that we're not actually ingesting at the time, but isn't it odd how landscapes have a sort of moral force, especially terrain seen from above?

[pause for browsing therein]

[deep breath]

This reminds me of/isn't quite the same thing as a meme on Clive Thompson's excellent blog collisiondetection concerning "solastalgia", meaning something like sorrow at one's own destroyed environment. This hopefully-not-increasingly-useful neologism was coined by Glenn Albrecht, a professor at the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Newcastle. He defines it as "the homesickness you feel when you're still at home" (swallows hard, glances away, acquires look of lantern jawed resolve)...

OK, they're not the same thing, but thanks to Stanley Kubrick, they're merging in my mind together, to the strains of Ligeti. The Big K (as he urged me to call him, both before and after his death) deserves at least some back-handed credit (if not actual bigging up or the recipience of props) for pressing some fabulous real actual proper composers (wigs, quills, everything) into service in his soundtracks. Kubs got a big leg-up from Ligeti, especially in The Shining but then the Ligster got actual popular exposure, and introduced the world at large to genuine orchestral terror.

The Strauss waltz in 2001 makes everyone smile, but it's the Ligeti that presses people back in their seat. 2001 in particular strikes me as the hardest Hard Art Movie to ever play a multiplex and gain admission to the popculture pantheon. By Hard I don't mean difficult to "get", more "harshly affective". I remember watching it as a kiddie and being reduced to snuffles by the SORROW of deep space, reasoning that maybe there is life out there, they just can't handle the woe of travelling to see us.

I'm now 33, and have had neither occasion nor cause to change my views on this matter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I may not know much about what I like, but...

OK, show's over, nunca mas, moratorium hereby declared on ANY discussion of whether games are art/Art/an art form/artistic/artist-ish or what or not. One look at this patient, polite and agonisingly painful retread has convinced me that the whole affair is a hobbyhorse critically short of leg. Run, run while you can. But go read Robert Hughes' frankly amazing The Shock Of The New. Now be off with you, before I call it "Magisterial".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

98% Perspiration...

The Guardian GamesBlog has a thingy about developers and inspiration. It was a fair question, but my High Horse was tethered but a single vault away, and foamin' ensued:

"Certainly, most developers don’t read particularly widely (although possibly no less so than their target audience), but I think you’re conflating “inspiration” with “reference”. Also, I’m unsure why you’d expect a game to be “inspired” in the first place.

Odd as it sounds, it’s developers who need to press players’ buttons. Developers have to show or describe or even better imply all their gameplay rules all at once, as quickly as possible. Game designers have to submerge the gameplay’s inherent “either/or/if x then y” menu system within the gameworld such that it's clear to the player which components can be used as weapons, or power-ups or tools or interacted with, and to what end. All at once. Right now. The design also has to manage the player’s expectations of what is and won’t be possible or consistent. Players demand to feel immersed instantly in the gameworld via every element of its sensory environment. And, alas, the abovementioned pantheon of movie/manga/sci-fi/swords’n’sorcery clichés just do too good a job as cultural desktop shortcuts linking to a whole raft of implied actions and relationships.

Very, very few developers have the leisure or luxury of reinventing these wheels – they need to come up with something fast that’ll work. They’d give their spleens to be blue-sky estate agents like Molyneux, Miyamoto, or Wright, but they don’t get to pick and choose their projects. Their publishers make them make movie tie-ins or sequels (or both) because that’s what punters keep demonstrating they want to buy. Games hardly ever come about because developers get to find a new way of saying or seeing things. Even if they’re inspired to devise some brilliant new (unfamiliar, untried) ways of so doing, they’re taking a risk, in a notoriously and justifiably risk-averse industry. And developers usually have enough technical and financial contingencies to worry about without fixing what most players don’t consider to be broke.

Obviously, we’d all much rather see original game-worlds but although it ennobles games journalism to imply otherwise, games just aren’t an expressive medium, nor do players really expect it to be. Games are always going to dressed in borrowed clothes: from the overall kinetic-aesthetic feel of a world right down to the detail of individual character designs, set dressing, personal props, vehicles, score, foley, what have you, because while copying details is hard to get right, it's a lower-risk solution, and you probably have enough technical and gameplay contingencies to worry about. But you have to get the details right. Hence, copious reference texts of the stuff that’s been proved to work in previous games and other media."

Oooh, get me and my mind thoughts.

Testing, testing

The first day of a new age dawns. All over the world, lightbulbs dim for a moment, then glow even brighter...

And here's a link to somewhere else.

All very exciting, and no mistake.