Tuesday, 29 April 2014

This Blog Is Now Closed

I'm eternally grateful to everyone who's read the blog over the last year or so. It's been great fun and I've learned a lot about writing and the blogging community. If your interested in my writing then please check out my other blog: Daydream Fantastica.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find something of worth in the archives here.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Tao Lin's Taipei

I'd never read anything by Tao Lin so in preparation for reading his newest book, Taipei, I read many of his online pieces - all serving as a good entry point for Lin if you're in need of one. Among them: a short story told in the style of an instruction manual on giving a book reading on mushrooms; a self profile which works as a straight faced parody of an article on Jonathan Franzen; a personal essay on "living online"; and a recalling, in cold detail by detail style, of "trespassing" an NY bookstore. I had mixed feelings on these pieces, but I'll agree that they all serve the point that Lin is a "voice of his generation", although before you fill with rage, understand that such a title has nothing to do with quality.

He earns the title only because these pieces are all short, self-knowingly quirky, and have a sense of gimmicky spontaneity that links them with your average vine or shared internet story. Very "of the times". They're all obnoxious too. And come from someone who hails from 4chan and Thought Catalog, which work towards telling us that Lin is "one of us" and that his work doesn't just stand against the more accessible artists right now but comes from a place more or less below them - an apparent requirement for a voice of a generation.

If your looking for the style of these shorter pieces in novel form then - I'm told - Lin's earlier novels are where it's at. On the other hand Taipei is a straightforward narrative, no gimmickry involved. The story, although this is never hinted at in the book, is mostly based on Lin's life. It's unclear how much is exaggerated - obviously some is - but it doesn't take much time on the internet, on Lin's Wikipedia page even, to see that lead character Paul is Lin in disguise. Things are kicked off when Paul is dumped by long-ish term girlfriend Michelle, and in quick succession starts a relationship with another girl, Erin.

Taipei isn't complex: its half a romance, a journal/travelogue capturing a new relationship over a sort-of long period of time (long for a twenty-something lets-just-see-where-this-goes relationship) and half a drug story. It's not really about addiction, although that certainly exists between the cracks of this story, but the constant drug consumption here makes it more about drugs than anything else. The drugs here are treated as a perfectly normal facet of life, as if to be traveling with a group of recently-met young people of similar age and not all have your pockets brimming with pills would be weird.

The story might be straightforward but it has little structure. It's a long pondering, underpinned only by Paul's book readings and tours, and his yearly trips to his parents in the title city, where his mother - who he appears more connected to than anyone else - worries about his drug use and wants him to stay to gather writerly experiences in the vein of Ernest Hemingway - the sort of mother who probably only read Hemingway to get closer to her son's profession.

Paul doesn't know what to do with such love though, he exists in a different, newer world back in New York; where the cast of almost all twenty-somethings say they stay in a lot but all seem to wind up at a lot of the same parties, and for who the act of actually "doing something" - whether the party or trip or whatever it was was good or not - is good in itself. Where the whole point of an experience is to have it, making it now a memory, and a future story, and a facebook update. Paul exists in this sort of void - Taipei being a sort of cynical exploration of the New York youth culture explored in Girls and Frances Ha - and Lin uses Paul's story, told as unbiasedly event-to-event as possible, to jump off into tangent thoughts and explore the void.

You could call Taipei a satire: Lin's prose style can be read as purely sarcastic. He puts speech marks around common phrases, as if to say a phrase we all say is to buy into some sort of universal copyright. He puts brackets next to the names of characters alerting you of their age, just like a magazine article or newspaper. And the prose themselves come across like a 4chan Hemingway: a no-bullshit directness, further coloured by an Easton-Ellis style fetishization of brand names and consumer tags. It becomes painfully tiring after a while, with the only breathers from this style being Lin's pondering thoughts, all of them interesting, and all of them making it seem worth it to brave such a cold, calculated narrative. But that's the whole point really: that the writing here is meant to represent, and criticize, a human way of thinking by making it seem much more mundane and lifeless than most usual writing. I couldn't possibly say it makes for good reading, but it's commendable that Lin keeps up this style for the whole story.

The thought of Lin's that's stuck with me the most is about childhood - a theme returned to again and again in Taipei - and the idea that education, school and then college/university provide a structure for one's life, a forward momentum like that of moving up levels in a video game, that can be traced back to our births, and which is lost in adulthood in which our lives become a formless mass; the successes and failures given less frame of reference. It's a beautiful thought really, the sort of philosophical pondering that David Foster Wallace would rumble up, and not what you'd expect from an Easton-Ellis acolyte. That's because when he's not hiding behind a wall of smart self-degradation, Lin does have a more human side. Taipei is for the new lovers: a solipsistic rom-com. It's romantic in the way that Lou Reed's Perfect Day is romantic: because it sounds lovely but we all know it's really about taking heroin, which I guess isn't that romantic at all, but that's why it is, you see: because secretly we all just want to love the things that we believe no-one else loves, and we want to admire those parts of ourselves too, and not our good parts. Which is why this book - soon to become a classic document of "relatable" angst and having not found oneself, has nothing remotely relatable in it.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


- Happy April fools everyone. Just a short post today, being I'm currently being bombarded by English Lit essays and Media coursework deadlines, both proof of some sort of hellish underworld.

- A friend of mine, providing the only good April fool of the day, constructed some Oreo biscuits with glue inside of them. I witnessed only one casualty of what we were later told could have been a fatally wounding trap, but even that one was enough to verify the importance of such a strange holiday.

- Another friend celebrates his birthday today (so HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him!) and of course spent the entire day trying to explain to people that his birthday wasn't an April fools.

- The rest of the month was pretty usual, with school and the batshit crazy "you need to be doing 90s hours of revision per subject" teachers all acting sadistically happy to pile on the stress.

- This was also the month I finally got back to the gym. I keep meaning to write something about my gym experience here, such as the weird "turf war" that goes on between the three gyms in my town; although that's just another thing to go on the to-do list.

- And last, just look at these real Coca Cola ads that have been turning up all over New York (most courtesy of HTMLGiant):

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dubliners by James Joyce

I've never left my hometown long enough to feel homesick, or more precisely: I've never left long enough to know if I would feel homesick, or if my brain would simply pretend the town froze in its spot the second I left; like a closed art gallery that only burst back into life when I made visits back. I doubt I'll hate my hometown when I'm gone, but, as I say, that's a perspective I don't have yet.

Although Dubliners gives me the impression that James Joyce always had it in for his hometown. He wrote most of the 15 stories while out of town, and each one seems to supply different reasons why not to visit Ireland, or if you do, why you should keep a long distance from the locals. Most of the stories involve death, bored blue collar workers, troubled marriages, overworked females who here are victims of pre-feminism, and drunken wrecks of husbands. If you read around then you'll find the main feature of Dubliners, its main selling point actually, is its lack of hyperbole: a very no bullshit, tell-it-how-it-is style - although that's now a 100 year lie of literature unless Joyce would have us believe his hometown was Hell itself.

I didn't get much out of this one: mainly because for a collection of stories that have only a county linking them, it isn't really about that county at all: I don't remember one place description. I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert on Ireland beyond what watching The Guard over and over has given me, so Dubliners helped paint a mostly blank canvas black: I imagine the Dublin here as in a constant gloom of murky skies and rainfall (my mind's own pathetic fallacy, not Joyce's), with big roaming fields isolating one house from the next, separating each family into its own private entity, and only the church and occasional concerts bringing people together; and which is night time for the majority of the day (because things get so bleak you wouldn't want the daylight to see them anyway).

So the best you could end up hoping to pry from these stories is some sort of end message hidden at the back. If you read any modern short stories you'll see their DNA here. All 15 are the sort of stories where you go through a short mundane tale then come to the ending, which is just another short mundane line like any other, and you sit there feeling cold and blank thinking the story was about nothing but what it was about, and you turn the page and start the next story without giving it much thought (or just put the book down and give up completely), but then later you notice something in the story, like how its symmetrical or ironic or something, and you smile to yourself for a second or two and from then on think back to that story as being a lot better than you originally thought. It makes me think I would have preferred to just read some summary line on the internet about what the stories were about than actually read them myself.

The best stories in Dubliners are in the middle of the book, which are short and to the point. My favorite story was Counterparts about an average Joey Briefcase who can't stand his work, and when he snaps gets some street cred from the boys down the office for talking back to the boss; only to go home to his family and get drunk beating his son. I don't remember any finer details, not even his snooty remark to his boss, just the mundane ironic-ness of the ending: of getting respect in the adult world only to loose it where it will one day matter a lot more.

Joyce's biggest weakness is in dialogue, which is why I didn't even manage to finish Ivy Day in the Committee Room, made up almost entirely of dialogue, which, like all of Joyce's dialogue, manages the impressive paradox of being very flat and simplistic yet somehow struggling to get the point across, and in this case would benefit from a little knowledge of turn-of-the-century Irish politics which I felt no obligation to read up on.

As you can probably tell: I didn't like Dubliners that much, but I read on through with the promise of The Dead, the final and longest story, which most consider the best. Reading up on things again, most people say it's really the last few paragraphs you want. So I read on through the first thirty-or-so pages of "padding", all of it as lifeless as the rest of the book, until I got to those final paragraphs, which jump off from the story - Joyce's most romantic moment - and off into a pondering on death or life or... something, I hardly remember it. It's just as lifeless as the rest. It has a nicely put line on death, but that's all. Instead the only bit of Joyce's prose that stuck in my mind, from the man who will be constant presence if you were to go onto Google now and type in "greatest prose stylists of all time?", was a small piece about a woman, inside the story A Mother. It's not grand or important, just joyful:
"He was old enough to suspect one reason for her politeness but young enough in spirit to turn the moment to account. The warmth, fragrance and colour of her body appealed to his senses. He was pleasantly conscious that the bosom which he saw rise and fall slowly beneath him rose and fell at that moment for him, that the laughter and fragrance and wilful glances were his tribute. When he could stay no longer he took leave of her regretfully."
Something about this paragraph... it's the only writing in all of Dubliners that has the passion of someone reminiscing about their birthplace while miles away from it, and it isn't even about the damn place.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Pharrell Williams: Which GIRL Is It, Anyway?

This is either a sign of me simply not being hip to things or just my terrible disinterest, but it surprised me greatly to find Pharrell Williams, as of right now, is 40 years old - and not in his early twenties. It has nothing to do with his looks: he's one of those weird thespians who's features don't give much away, but his recent behaviour. He's spent his new found fame wearing novelty hats, acting in misogynistic videos and making Meryl Streep dance at the Oscars: it's no knock to what is a very classy persona, only a shift on the charts from new-kid-on-the-block to mid-life crisis territory. 

For the sake of comparison, compare to an artist eyeing similar territory, like say Bruno Mars, and you will start to see the problem. Bruno is 28 years old, possibly seemingly a little younger through boyish good looks, but if reports by friends who saw him live are to be believed, possesses a sort of intensity that, while hard to pin to an age, probably wouldn't be associated with a young man, and not a modern pop star young man. I spent a while ignoring Bruno, seeing him barking up that 70s sex funk tree that so many want to plant their seeds into right now, and figuring him not up to the task. But Bruno, from what I can tell, is the real thing: he sings a line like "Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise/And it shows, yeah, yeah, yeah" with his voice, a voice so sharp I imagine it could cut through the sexual tension in even the most hushed conversation, and somehow makes you forget such a line is even about sex, probably because his voice is always pointing to sex anyway: he is definitely the real deal. 

I didn't really think Pharrell needed to be the real thing, although that was until I listened to G I R L, which is 10 tracks of (mostly) 70s inspired disco funk. It's got a chrome finish: the sort of glossy dance pop Pharrell has involved himself in so much of recently, but it's undeniably the sort of music for getting out when you've managed to get the girl back to the apartment (only to realize you forgot to download any Marvin Gaye).

The fact that Pharrell can adapt into whatever style and not have anyone take much notice does highlight an image problem the man seems to have weaved for himself: just where do you being with him? His work with The Neptunes? N.E.R.D? Or maybe his collaborations? The success of his recent ones with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke possibly the reason for this new solo outing - this afterall being his first since his debut in 2006. I find his collaboration with Robin Thicke worthy of note: for those that don't remember, it's these two who made that vile pro-rape song last year. Also worthy of note though: it was poor poor Robin who took all the blame for that one, although it's not hard to see why, just watch the video (the late night, tits and all version): Thicke looks like the cool jock type who's dragged Pharrell, his nerdy best friend, to the cool kids sex party and he (Pharrell) has just ran with it. We all silently agreed that any sex Pharrell got that night was as a lucky victim of circumstance. 

Only G I R L makes the case that Pharrell really is a misogynistic ladykiller, firing out lines that don't even hide behind metaphor, only without that Bruno Mars intensity, which is why I still found myself making excuses for him like I'm sure many will. Take a line like "Your waves, they wash all over me" which would seem cheap from some artists, a placid if it came from good old Bruno, but from Pharrell's mouth it's more like when a five year old unknowingly says a sexual innuendo then has no idea why his parents are laughing. 

Instead everything's pretty unspectacular chill disco; from a guy who's just won a Grammy for it, the production is uninspired. The least chill track is Happy, the track I imagine most will buy the album for, which doesn't really fit with the other tracks at all; understandable, being it was recorded over a year ago for Despicable Me 2, made by the least groovy company in the world. The best production is in Lost Queen which has a tribal chant played to the background of Pharrell's most bubbly sweet lyrics, his best, and the only that might actually be used to charm a girl: "What planet are you from, girl?/And are there others like you there?" and "Though my planet's full of warfare/you make it feel like a dream". 

There are actual girls on here too; although Miley and Jojo are strangely uncredited, and Alicia Keys, who is credited, is no less forgettable than either. It was only Spotify that reminded me Justin Timberlake even appears on the damn thing. The only guest Pharrell actually knows what to with is Daft Punk, who lend their robot voices to add a longing sense of tragedy to Gust of Wind. It's a mixed bag of an album: half forgettable slush and the other half questionable groove with occasional highlights.

The album didn't leave me much in the end: it's breezy on first listen and not so much after that. Who is the GIRL Pharrell is looking for? Wanting? It's not Marilyn Monroe or even Joan of Arc as the man informs us himself on the first/best track; I doubt it's lover girl, the Bruno Mars type, since there isn't a love song on here; and yet I doubt Pharrell wants a girl down-and-dirty either, not with the asexual of these numbers: no, which GIRL Pharrell is looking for, G I R L certainly doesn't tell us. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Celebrating One Year of Blogging

Exactly one year ago I wrote my first real post on this site: a "history of Nirvana" type post, only a day after a "Welcome" post that now looks as confused at what it was going for as I was at the time. I wrote that early stuff because I knew I wanted to write, just didn't know what about, or exactly how.

I thought about packing it all in multiple times, but looking back I've found it worthwhile. That welcome post did say I wanted to be a better writer and review culture (Note: site originally called "Culture Vulture" and very boringly coloured) and I've had a lot of fun accomplishing both.

It wouldn't feel right not to thank the people below, who along with the long list of blogs down the right of this site who inspired me to start blogging in the first place, has made blogging a great experience:
Groggy Dundee - the first person to comment on this site, defusing my conspiracy theories that this whole "blogging" thing was a made up way for Google to fuck with me 
Cherokee - the first person to subscribe to this site and someone who's been very supportive of my writing since 
and to the others who have commented and gave kind words: Ryan McNeil, Dan O and the writer of Lights Camera Reaction (who I didn't catch the name of) and many more
as well as a special thanks to the many imdb posters who had no problem giving me painfully honest feedback and helped improve my writing this past year  
In a year I managed to hit publish on 62 posts, a streamlined guide below:
It's a horrific cliche of anyone creating something that they would say their latest is their best, although I couldn't be more proud of this piece about On The Road which also ends up being about the American Dream and the pure energetic life of reading 
Some other pieces I'm proud of: this small post on my biggest writing inspiration Lester Bangs; and a review of a collection of his works; this recollection/pondering on Michael Jackson; movie reviews of Frances Ha and The Perks of Being a Wallflower; music reviews of Nirvana's In Utero and Lorde's Pure Heroine; a piece I write about my high school prom; and a piece on David Foster Wallace, a recent inspiration/obsession for me 
I also want to link to two pieces I wrote early on-on the site. Both were music essays, both trying to mimic what Lester Bangs had done, or what at the time I thought he had done, and both not that well written. I would write them differently now, but I still feel close to both, as if both were somehow important to me being a writer: one on Radiohead and another on The Beach Boys
For the sake of of fairness here's what I believe are the absolute worst I've ever published and why I think they suck so bad: first is this post on The Sopranos, written right off the bat of reading Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace, which should be easy to tell from my poor imitation; then there's me trying to make sure I get a review of an Eminem album out on the day of it's release, providing a personal view of why re-writing is important 
The year could best be described as a fun struggle. The earliest writing on this site, quite a bit of it up until Christmas actually, makes me feel a little embarrassed, especially since it's digitally attached to all the writing I'm most pleased with, but I'm glad to have wrote it anyway.

One reason for blogging was to get my writing seen by a wider audience that might give me some feedback, although I wasn't expecting anything like what I got from some posters on imdb. I decided to abuse my place as a somewhat-frequent poster on the message boards and posted my review of Kanye West's Yeezus, to which one poster actually went through my review line-by-line, giving an exact critique of what was good and bad. I wish I had wrote down his (online) name, but to whoever was wonderful enough to do that, a big thank you. And just a few weeks ago I posted a terribly written review of The Wolf of Wall Street, which the imdb posters were happy to rip apart and tell me exactly where I'd went wrong, leading to a much improved post. I've been thinking a lot about writing and finding one's voice lately and even if I don't feel like I've fully formed my own yet, I feel like I'm a lot closer to than I was last year.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

American Dream Under Sweltering Heat: Kerouac's On The Road

While reading On The Road I would sometimes stand up and walk around while reading; doing circles around my living room table and repetitions up and down the stairs, as if simply sitting down wouldn't be able to harness the life force of the words on the page. I guess I walked around for the same reason Dean Moriarty continually has to take his top off while driving: because there's something more primal in doing it, getting closer to the earth, closer to the road, in my case closer to Kerouac.

I read the book after enjoying the film, watched last year as I tried to watch everything on Netflix before the month free trial ran out. Its a brilliant film actually, one of the most unfairly mangled of recent years; and it made me feel so terribly depressed inside. Same as Dazed and Confused: the first time I ever watched D&C was during a summer holiday when I was around 13, 14, one of the best films I'd ever seen at that point (and still is), and after watching I felt almost suicidal. The film is about a group of American high schoolers, simply living through the last day of school, and ending as the gang ride off onto the open road. I remember lying in bed after, awake until the early hours of the morning, thinking of the endless possibilities that that open road represented. Thinking about the whole movie's glowingly nostalgic view of its director's own high school days in the 70s, then feeling trapped in my hometown, wanting the life on screen. Watching On The Road gave me the same feeling: it made me want to be a writer, want to be in America traveling around meeting people, the mad ones, the ones who never say a dull thing; to drink and dance and fuck and write. Its inspiring to the point of mania. It made me want these things so much it makes me not want anything at all: Kurt Cobain put it perfectly when he sang "love you so much it makes me sick".

That's what On The Road is really about (I'd say I didn't want to spoil it but like any road trip worth having: the journey's more important than the destination), about using up that energy everyone senses on the horizon of a night without sleep, the energy that must have hung around the beats, and using it all up to the point of burnout. Things are told from the perspective of Sal (Kerouac in disguise), a Nick Carraway-esque figure of not quite blankness, but enough transparency to allow you to imagine yourself making most of the same decisions; Sal's default work-towards in life being getting his book written and settling down with wife and kids, all of which is dropped whenever Dean rides into town. Dean too wants to be a writer and poet, wants to observe the world like Sal and friend Carlo Marx (real life: Allen Ginsberg), tragic in that he can't, not for lack of talent, but because he isn't like Sal and Carlo, both standing on the edges of parties, happy and content but well aware of everyone else's happy and content-ness more than their own, unlike Dean who is the party, lost in a sea of long wishful desire and the excess of its fulfillment.
The book isn't without fault: the "intro" in my edition of the book describes Kerouac's struggles to write the book, and later to publish it. Based off of Kerouac's real life trips in the late 40s, the multiple turn-downs for publishing lead to multiple re-writes, apparently leading Kerouac to streamline the book by combining multiple of his trips together, although even then the book sometimes feels like an overload of the Sal-Paradise-settles-down Dean-comes-calling Sal-and-Dean-head-off-into-sunset formula. Some sections read like a tedious list of place names. Through every trip we get the city-by-city breakdown, when, as the name suggests, it's neither the geography or (as mentioned before) the destination that's important here - the destination of the final trip ending up being the book's point of tragedy - but the road that we're interested in. There's nothing there but the people and the cars, youthful human nature trapped inside a traveling box, leading to the best moments of the book, the smaller, more personal moments; for example:

Sal and Dean and the rest of the gang (which usually means one of Dean's lovers, a random friend, and possible hitchhikers) are traveling when they pick up a hitchhiker who says he can pay his way by getting money off of his aunt who lives out the direction they're going near a gas station. Eventually they reach their destination, no aunt to be found, the kid, who leaves quickly with no thought to paying, only having known a gas station existed somewhere out here. Later they pick up another, who gives the exact same story of an aunt out somewhere in the direction they're going who holds their payment for the ride. At first a repeated moment like this seemed like a strangely obvious laziness on Kerouac's part, although right after Dean starts yelling, joyfully (paraphrasing) "ha, hear that, we've all got aunts, get in kid" yelling with such delight for the mundane craziness of the road. Kerouac clearly had big ambitions, he wanted parts of his story to be about the search for Dean's long lost father or the story of Ed Dunkel who abandons his wife to join Dean on his travels, although these end up the weakest parts of the story. The best are the kids running alongside the car outside of Mexico, the kids Sal knows would run beside the car into other countries if they went slow enough; and Sal's short lived, and very boozy, job as a night watchmen at a camp for merchant sailors; and of course the boys stop off at "Old Bull Lee" (William S Burroughs)'s place. These are the moments that last, the moments that feel alive enough for Kerouac's own terming of his writing as "spontaneous prose".

The film obviously had to miss things out, but does a good job streamlining all of Sal and Dean's trips, and why it has gained the reputation it has is beyond me. The film uses a rapidly quick cutting style, that style long hated by film snobs, to get across Kerouac's speedy words, while Sam Riley proves again he's underused for no explainable reason, here with a deep, husky voice and un-judging stare. It misses many of the moments I mentioned before along with a number of sub-plots, but it hits its emotional marks with a swiftness that Kerouac's book lacks in the heavier moments. Sal's final time with Marylou, one of Dean's mistresses, in San Francisco, is in the book a long, drawn-out, murky affair, showing days go by as a relationship that both members knew - but didn't want to admit - had little substance slowly wither away, while in the movie its one last screw and goodbye, an acceptance that love doesn't always need to be in the equation. Or on the boys last trip, to Mexico, where Sal/Riley's single tear expresses what Kerouac didn't seem to want to write, an acceptance that Dean, if not a bad guy, is bad for those around him: he is an addictive poison of a lifestyle. Although it's the ending the movie gets most right; the cliché that going back and reading the book after enjoying the movie will only enhance the movie on further viewings is in reverse here. The ending (and the only real spoilers of this post):

The ending takes place not long after Sal's return from the Mexico trip. In the book Dean returns to him, for the first time seeming a burden on Sal's life, who shows little interest in jetting off into the sunset now his life has matured into something more permanent. Both the book and movie are tragedies, both revolving around a final meeting: Sal, about to get into a car to a concert with friends and girlfriend, is approached by a scraggy looking Dean on the sidewalk. The two talk, then Sal gets in the car and leaves, an obvious symbol of his choice of his new life over the old one. I won't say Kerouac's ending isn't good stuff, but in the book Dean arrives in town a few weeks earlier, talking to Sal and Co. the whole time, his appearance on the street just another turn up; which drags things out too much, taking away the gravity of a moment that feels like it should be the one to slice down the whole American Dream; Kerouac seemingly finding it impossible not to tear it down after bigging it up so much. In the film Dean hasn't been there for weeks, instead he has been unseen since the Mexico trip. His appearance from the darkness of the night, on some lonely sidewalk, so much more tragic. After, Sal is shown at his writing desk, going over everything we've just watched, the character's identity here somewhat blurred with Kerouac's as the writer of the book, ending with that lone image of Dean Moriarty standing there in the night, the one we saw as the car pulled away. That book gets it right in its final line, also used in the film, thinking back to Dean Moriarty, but it doesn't get the urgency of that final meeting right. This last moment of one kid's adolescence as he turns his back on the kid who gave him it in the first place, leaving him there to wallow alone in his own fun, once so beautiful and divine, like the very energy of the human race maximized to its zenith, now turned black and soulless and burnt under its own sweltering temperatures.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

A habit of mine, gained from growing up an avid video game fan, has been to ignore the word "controversy", which I did with the controversy revolving around The Wolf of Wall Street. For those somehow unaware: many worriers, or possibly even well-informed members of society, came out of Wolf horrified, believing that without properly sign posting the fast life the movie so enthusiastically rampages on screen as "bad" or "immoral" it is clearly corrupting our youth.

As I've said, I ignored this argument before watching the movie, and even through its first half, until a scene where dancers and strippers and even a marching band are paraded through the offices of corrupt wall street company Stratton Oakmont. A friend I was watching with, who had seen the movie before and advertised to me and others as "one of the best film's I've ever seen", and who very clearly falls into the "mainstream" demographic the worriers are probably most worried about, turned to me and said "wouldn't it be great to work there" (to which I didn't answer).

To anyone who doesn't already know the plot (and I do realize I'm running this review a little late): the story, based on real events, follows what works out around a decade in the life of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio - once again showing he's best at playing bastards), following Belfort's life from his arrival at Wall Street as a fresh faced, married and apparently only modestly ambitious assistant to Matthew McConaughey; going through his illegal activities as the boss of Stratton Oakmont - who scammed their customers out of millions in the 90s - which lead to his excessive lifestyle, and an ending which links to the real life Belfort who's currently working as a motivational speaker (not to mention living off the millions he got for selling his memoirs to Scorsese and Co.). 

I won't deny Scorsese makes the fast life look good, and very fast too: his camera swooping in and around the crowds at Oakmont, making sure never to stop. It's Scorsese's longest picture yet, three hours in total, and it's a rolling 180 minutes. I couldn't really give it more praise than saying it's as slick and passionate as anything Scorsese's ever done. The casting is brilliant, mainly because as we're supposed to be unsure if these characters are everymen giving into human lust or bastards doing what they've always wanted, the casting is mostly people it's always hard to lock down. Take Jonah Hill, who's spent the last few years splitting time between oscar-nominated drama and all out comedy, or Jon Favreau, who's spent more time recently directing than acting, or Jean Dujardin who's still making the transition over from French cinema. The cast is as colourful as everything else in this movie. 

Obviously Wolf isn't the first film to show the fast life, and neither is it the first Scorsese film to run into controversy: Goodfellas (which Wolf most closely resembles), Casino, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull etc all ruffed people up the wrong way too, although that was almost entirely for these film's excessive use of the red stuff (at least at the time of making) and very little to do with the morales involved. Wolf isn't nearly as violent as any of these films, it's vulgarities almost entirely sex and drugs, and it's not the first time a Scorsese film has shown its main man getting himself out of trouble. So the big question is obviously, what makes Wolf so much worse that anything else Scorsese's ever made? 

The answer is pretty clear when you compare Wolf to Goodfellas. Both start half way through things, showing Hill/Belfort on top of their respective worlds, although both with a hint (a knocking sound from the car boot, a near-helicopter crash) to how it's all going to come crashing down. After this both take us back to the start, with both sharing many stylistic flourishes: the heavy use of narration, elongated freeze frames, and DiCaprio/Liotta turning to the screen to address the audience. Yet it's the differences that are important here: after the openings both movies take us back to the start, for Goodfellas this all the way back to Henry Hill as a kid, idolizing the gangsters in his neighborhood, even taking the belt for the life of debauchery he's about to have. In Wolf we're only taken back to Belfort's arrival on Wall Street. He arrives very literally a blue collar everyman. He's shy on his first day on the job, isn't well experienced with drugs, and seems a well intentioned man trying to provide for his wife, who screams at him how he's changed, and is quickly forgotten about when the supermodel blondes start showing up. The interest in Henry Hill, even though advertised to us as a true story, has always been slightly fantastical, his neighborhood and upbringing and the time period things were set all playing a part in the life he lived, whereas Belfort's life is a life born purely of choice, which the film says we all could have had given the right time and place. That's what's got everyone so riled up, and it's why my friend had stars in his eyes for Belfort's story: because what might possibly be Scorsese's most despicable character starts off as his most ordinary everyman.

Saturday, 1 March 2014


- I haven't posted here in the last few weeks: I was hit by a wave of depression mid-month, which I've recovered from now, although which depleted my enthusiasm entirely. The only writing I did in that time was a review for The Wolf of Wall Street, the best movie I saw all month, which the ever-brutally honest imdb posters were happy to tear apart. I somehow managed to forget everything I ever learned about writing while working on the review, hence why its no longer on the site. It was terrible, but it got me thinking about writing and voice and all, hopefully coming up with some answers for myself; so I consider my time off worthwhile. I'll get back to regular posting in the next few days.

- About a week ago I saw a friend of mine called James, one of my best friends from high school, who I hadn't seen since his birthday in November. I got dropped off at his house in the next town over, and slept at his with another friend. He set up a disco light in his front room and we danced for about two hours, me awkwardly, before his mum came home, in which we retreated to his room to spend the night watching funny videos and sipping Bulmers. We only had one each, me not even finishing mine, before all accepting that we wouldn't get drunk if we drank them all anyway.

- School remains a giant ball of stress. We're studying The Great Gatsby in English: I couldn't really tell you what I thought of it as all the excerpts we've read out in class have been much more romantic and fluid than anything I remember from my very dry reading of the book last summer. The movie came on TV (perfect timing) and it was an experience to say the least. The direction crazy and distracted, but undoubtedly passionate about the source material. I didn't really enjoy it although I'm glad someone made it.

- Speaking of romantic prose, I read Jack Kerouac's On The Road. It's overlong in places and place-name filled descriptions of cross country travel become tedious but it's inspiring stuff. Its classic status doesn't confuse me like some do. I would stand up and walk around the house while reading, as if sitting down would do some physical dis-service to Dean Moriarty, who's a character made up of pure energy. I'll still champion the very unpopular opinion that the film is better though.

- On internet reading: anything on Nirvana is good to me, and this out-of-nowhere post from someone who booked the band not long before Cobain's suicide is at least a different perspective on a well documented event. I started reading a lot of Tao Lin this month, maybe in preparation for reading Tapei, and after a ruff start I managed to get into his style. The best of his I've found so far was this: on doing a reading on mushrooms. Plus I spent the last week or so trying to discuss Alex Turner's Brits speech with anyone who would listen. I didn't actually watch the Brits myself, just heard about them through snippets, friend's facebook updates, and through hilariously bad journalism like NME's take on the speech, which makes me want for some more Jim Morrison-type rockstars, if that isn't a bit of a selfish wish. Plus this great piece on women and poetry/art in general.

- I'll dedicate this post to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was on my (and I imagine every other film fan's) mind all this month. Magnolia didn't need to be a sadder movie than it already was. The coverage freaked me out too: I've now read detailed reports of Hoffman's last few days, and got the overview of the last months of his life in general. It was nice to see postings of his graduation picture and him in his student dorms in the 80s, but to see news sites post pictures of the cash machine he'd use on the day of his death, to buy money for heroin, to me felt too far. People say modern celebrities are treated like gods because of modern gossip culture, but when something like this happens the opposite is true: they are demythologized and torn apart. A great actor that will be sorely missed nonetheless.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Every writer who makes a film or book or anything about high school, one of the few periods of life that land on practically every writer's "write about what you know" range, faces the question of which side of high school they're going to show, knowing there's so many they couldn't do the realistic thing and show them all at once. There's time capsules like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, there's of-the-moment vulgarities like Project X, and there's those that show high school, and life in general, through a single lens: from a loner's diary to a sexy romp through the golden years: from Donnie Darko to American Pie. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which looks back to it's early 90s setting with a passionate nostalgia, we're taken through the loner high school experience seen through romantic eyes; and we accept the impossible sentiment we see on screen because we accept that everyone goes through high school differently and this could have been someone's high school, same as it could have even been yours.

The loner kid we follow in Perks is called Charlie. He's recently been let out of an institution (from a mental disorder brought on by a traumatic childhood event and more recently a best friend's suicide) and into his first year of high school. It's easy to like Charlie because he does all the things we wish we had been doing while we were uncool: making mix tapes for friends that include his favorite song, which is the final song from a Smith's compilation disk, and giving copies of The Beatles' Something (on vinyl no less!) to girls he likes, although never crossing the line into romantically cool in the process.

Charlie quickly falls in with eccentric and happily uncool step-siblings Sam and Patrick (played by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) while at a school football game and in that beautiful way you drift from place to place not even knowing how when your young, ends up stoned on the floor of a house party filled with the uncool sub-culture of kids he soon becomes a member of; a bittersweet success in that all these people he can now call friends are in their last year of high school while he, remember, has just started his first.

Although Charlie never says being a writer is what he wants to do with his life, he writes letters throughout the film, which are what made up the book version of Perks. Like all writers he can see what others can't (after all he's a "wallflower") yet he's cursed in that he never loses himself to anything, and Logan Lerman who plays Charlie perfectly acts out the physicality of someone never truly lost in the moment. Instead he's an observer, as Jack Kerouac once wrote "I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me" and so does Charlie shamble after Sam and Patrick and the wonderful band of misfits they're part of.

Stephen Chbosky wrote the original novel, and has done sketchy-at-best work in TV and film since, and here becomes one of the rare authors to adapt their own work with positive results, showing a passion for his own material which has been very illogically lacking in previous self-adapted works like The Cider House Rules. It's hard to tell if it's Chbosky natural direction or if it's a side product of re-working your own work 10 years after originally writing it, but Perks has a scene-by-scene fluency that makes the year in the life of a high school outcast a breezy watch.

It's movies like this, which pull on our nostalgia for things that didn't even happen to us, that can't simply be labeled either funny or dramatic, because it's movies like this that try to hand us truth even though they're unrealistic, and like real life things are funny and dramatic and sometimes weird and awkward and surprising in good and terrible ways, and unlike real life they somehow end up feeling perfect, so I guess the best word I could attribute to Perks is "sweet" which is something no one describes even their best high school years as.

Friday, 7 February 2014


(I don't really know if this was meant to be a journal entry or 'in memory' type post: I wanted to write something about the day Michael Jackson died and here it is) 

The morning Michael Jackson died, or at least the morning after when we all heard about it, I woke up and re-enacted the same routine I'm (depressingly) still doing now. I'm too tired while wetting my face and eating cereal to notice anything, in this case the news; meaning I left the house thinking it was just a normal day.

I walked to a friends house. We'll call him Raj because I don't speak to him anymore to ask permission and probably wouldn't have bothered anyway. He was Indian but born here. He was a sporty type, which clashed with me who doesn't even like sporty video games, and he grew up in a strict family, or at least one that must have filled him with pressure: his sister was a trainee doctor (probably a real one by now) and his dad a maths teacher. A good example: in Raj's living room was a cut out of his only bad school report from years before which his dad had cut out and sadistically glued to the wall and left there for everyone to see, probably still there now, which I found sickly funny.

I sat in their cosy little living room every morning waiting for Raj to be ready, never figuring to just arrive later. He came down that morning and said "I guess you heard that Michael Jackson died" I told him no and after some seconds he summed everything up with "it feels weird, doesn't it" which it did.

Raj's dad was teaching at our school and gave us a lift. He never taught me although I heard the horror stories from friends. In the car Human Nature played on the radio, which I'd never heard before. I should say that I had never given much thought to Jacko, hadn't really tried to get into his music, although I knew who he was. Raj's dad said Raj was a big MJ fan, which I had never figured, mainly because I'd never managed to pin-point which demographic, be it age or gender or country of origin, was supposed to be into Michael Jackson. The media said everyone loved him but up til then it never crossed my mind that anyone really loved him.

I remember the details of the day to a weird degree: it was soggy grey and raining outside, as if the weather itself was feeling sad for our lost hero; and my first lesson was something called "Learn 2 Learn" one of many lessons my school made up. In it we sat in the sofas in the corner of the room and discussed Jacko.

Most of us just made fun of him. He was a pedophile, and that whole thing about not being charged is really murky, and simply ignored by most people. He went from black to white and had that weird nose. He dangled his kid off a balcony. I suppose if I grew up in the 80s I would have seen him do the moonwalk for the first time and release the world's best selling album and marry Elvis' daughter. I suppose it all seemed like some crazy performance art; someone in the center of the disco lights firing himself upwards to the place of mythic celeb-god. But I didn't grow up in the 80s, I had the 00s, better written as the noughties, instead. I didn't know he had got married or ever even had a reported relationship; from the videos I thought he must have been gay. I never suspected his success anything more than other 80s pop stars who occasionally got their turn on the music channels. To be honest I only knew him as the butt of the joke. Some knew Jackson as some sort of megastar genius, but I knew him from a Russel Brand routine and a South Park episode.

One of my friends in the class, who was in the sofa conversation, was Jack, still the only Scotsman I ever met. He was a funny man and had a real confidence to him, like giving presentations and talking to girls, and I'm still not sure if that's what most Scotts are like or if that was just him. I never saw him more annoyed than on the sofa, he called Michael his "hero" and shouted at us everytime an insult came out. Based on his defense I'm guessing he read the Michael Jackson Wikipedia page damn thoroughly. He explained the abusive father, the falling over and broken nose, the pills which changed the skin (y'know, because we all thought that was surgery) and about how Michael Jackson was just some genius who we didn't understand and needed to stop making fun of! We didn't though.

Fun fact about my school: instead of a bell that just rings to signify break or home time or whatever (like those disgusting "normal" schools we obviously don't want to be associated with) our school instead plays Aretha Franklin's Respect through the school at a horrible volume. It's like the Ludovico technique in that I feel only inner violence and anguish if I hear the song outside of school. We went down and asked some teachers if we could get a Michael Jackson song to play today instead, starting up a "rumour" that something by the Jackson 5 was gonna get played, probably Blame It On The Boogie, although they never played it.

That was the day really, it made me feel indifferent. I remember it well though, just like old people who always say they know where they were when JFK got shot, and MJ dying is still the only event I've lived through when I've felt connected to the whole world. I watched the London Olympics Opening Ceremony while everyone else on Earth watched with me but I only felt connected to Britain, who were all looking in at themselves, but when MJ died we weren't all looking at Jackson, probably because no-one knew where to look.

I felt most connected a few days later, or whenever it was, when Jackson's funeral was televised. According to the news billions watched it. The crowd was bigger than I've ever seen turn out for any artist in concert, and the celebrity list was probably the biggest ever assembled. The man himself, in the coffin in the middle, hung over the whole thing. He felt bigger than the stadium where it was all taking place, burning brighter than all of the millions of lights constantly flashing from the crowds. It felt like royalty dying. His kids were there, Blanket - the most parodied of them - is the only one I knew the name of, and they were all dressed up like the kids of a recently deceased military general who had just died in the heart of battle. Jackson had been such a big star there wasn't even any pressure hanging over his kids, no expectation they would follow in his footsteps, because you couldn't really compare someone to Michael Jackson when he wasn't even human anymore; I mean sure he was in the flesh, but in the media and all, even long before he died, he had ceased to be a human and just became an idea, a giant invisible force that everyone knew about, just floating up there in the ether. The sunglasses he wore so frequently never made sense to me: most celebrities hide themselves behind shades but Jackson had nothing left to hide, he'd showed it all.

Then the comedians moved in and had a riot, not that they waited til after the funeral: most comedians got straight to it. Most dead celebrities have a waiting period til they're back on the menu but not Jacko, because as I said, he wasn't flesh and bone, not even in that coffin, he sacrificed that long before, and I guess the tragic narrative so many paint around him (the lack of any movie really is surprising) was him spending his post-success years trying to get the flesh and bone back.

I still haven't gotten through much of MJ's discography. I listened through Thriller which has some great stuff on it (the opening track) some piss poor stuff on it (back to Human Nature) although in the end is hard to listen to as a normal album being it's mostly a collection of such huge hits that most of it's sounds are just part of the status quo. It's close to sounding like an album long cliché. It has the same too-far-to-touch-up-close feeling as it's maker.

The last time I really saw Jacko was on the Christmas day just past. It was night time and everyone was a bit tipsy. Jackson's This Is It show was on TV, which was a gig from his final, uncompleted tour, although I admit we could have been watching a behind-the-scenes documentary since I don't know what's in the film version. My uncle went into a rant about celebrities and how they don't give enough money to charity, and how Jacko himself made all those songs about inequality and helping Africa but he didn't give his actual money away. He even gave us some statistics about how much it would take to stop disease/hunger in third world countries and how if Jackson really cared he'd have just given all of his money away, literally the whole pot, and solved the world's problems in one fine swoop. I do know this argument doesn't make complete sense, even if I haven't got any facts and figures, probably because I'm guessing Jackson did give a lot of money away and not just do songs, and probably did care quite a bit.

I noticed something then though, while my uncle was on his rant and my dad was telling him he was wrong and neither was standing down. I was just looking at the screen and watching Jackson dance during rehearsals. I looked on the screen and realized Jackson was as much alive there - on stage on our living room screen - as he was when he was actually alive. We all made a big deal about him dying but he was dead long before that, he had given himself out to everyone. The same way he didn't really die at all either. All the myth, the crazy myth he spun around himself: the Neverland theme park and bubbles the monkey and his celebrity brothers and sisters; no-one can tell me they feel further away from Jackson now that he's dead. Watching This Is It on Christmas, he was alive in the same way he always was: trapped on the stage and in the persona.

When Elvis died a famous rock critic said we'd never agree on anything like we agreed on Elvis. Jackson was still a kid at the time, if building up successes, and that particular rock critic died before Thriller released, never knowing there was one last person to prove him wrong. Before, I said that the day Jackson died I couldn't figure out who Michael Jackson was for, although I realize now he was for everyone, and always will be.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

R.I.P Philip Seymour Hoffman

I'm guessing the first time most people took notice of Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least if they were around and old enough at the time, was in Boogie Nights. That movie has such a cosy mentality to, of some guys hanging out making a semi-serious movie about porn. I like to imagine all the actors in Boogie Nights were friends before shooting started and they all went down to John C. Reilly's house and pulled straws to see who would get to play each character, and when Phil Hoffman got Scotty, "the gay one", they all had a good laugh about it and patted him on the back, and P.T.Anderson told him he'd get a bigger part in his next movie, and Hoffman decided to be a good sport and play the role with the fiery liveliness, not to mention heartbreaking reality, that you can go back and see on screen.

Hoffman was a working actor; he lacked a movie star quality but had a particularity to his performances, and a certain like-ability that made you relate to him (the nerdier, more sexually repressed character usually the better) that has lead to a hell of a filmography. He worked with a lot of modern greats: the Coens, Spike Lee, Todd Solondz, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Lumet, and many more, with each name attached to some great movies, although Hoffman will always be Paul Thomas Anderson's boy (and in The Master - possibly Hoffman's last great performance - his big podgy man) who seemed happy to give him every sort of role available: the hard ass boss in Punch Drunk-Love, the good intentioned dweeb in Magnolia, even the scene-stealing gambler in Hard Eight. His movies didn't make him much of a star, but earned him a big fan following.

Regular readers to this blog will understand my excitement when I found out that someone had put Lester Bangs into a movie. Hoffman plays him in Crowe's Almost Famous, and I believe Hoffman's main abilities as an actor are most clear in smaller supporting roles like this one. Hoffman/Bangs doesn't get much screen time, he's not the main attraction of the movie, but he hangs over the movie, always in the back of your mind even when he's not on screen. Most would have played Bangs up to the cool reputation he's gained (gained, it should be noted, after his death) and others would have played him as a cliche of the Yoda style mentor figure, while Hoffman played him just right, he didn't care if you didn't like him, but he made you like him anyway through a vulnerable confidence that he has in all of his movies. It's a small role, but like all of Hoffman's many small roles he did something big with it.

His list of roles is impressive, including on stage where he built quite a repertoire. More than enough to have him remembered as one of the greats. Looking at his last few movies still waiting to be released, none seem to hold any grand final statement, although leaving behind a film by Anton Corbijn is better than most get, and one can only imagine (in a hopeful sense) his part in the upcoming Hunger Games movies will open him up to a younger fan base who'll eventually get around to his best work. 

Hoffman died today aged 46, the authorities having apparently found him dead in his apartment with a needle still in his arm, a sad end that can be linked tragically to reports last year that he had entered rehab for Heroin addiction, not that this makes his death any less of a shock. Hoffman's death is different from that of a young star's death, which creates a big what if? around the star, while we already knew the what of Hoffman, he showed us it in Capote (which bagged him his only oscar win), in the grandiosity of Lancaster Dodd, in the smaller but no less memorable roles like that found in The Talented Mr. Ripley. He gave us such greatness, and now no more.

Then again there's a side of me that doesn't want to morn Hoffman. I felt devastated at the news of his passing, although I haven't allowed it to turn into sadness. I never saw Hoffman in interview, so I can't comment on his personality, or more precisely the side of his personality he felt most comfortable showing to the media, although I do know he was a family man - a girlfriend and three kids - and his death through drugs does seem to cut through any personality people saw in him or any of his career milestones. I have no doubt most will be happy to remember Hoffman unequivocally, although I'll choose to stick him on the list of great artists better remembered only through their work. 

Consider David Foster Wallace

It's hard to write a post trying to sum up a man who from what I can tell wanted to be everything. The contradictions are everywhere: it was Wallace himself who, during interviews, linked his generally accepted masterpiece Infinite Jest to the weight of the impending millennium, yet in a piece written not long after writing this "great American novel" he asked his readers to imagine what it would be like to be one of the best in the world at something, and with the same modesty and self-guessing he summoned through all his career he wrote "I have tried to imagine; it's hard". He was a self confessed SNOOT (or an academic-level member of the "grammar police" as you or I'd label it) yet supplanted his hip image with slang language and iconoclast views. He frequently documented his social awkwardness and anxieties yet willfully put himself forward for many of the crowd-speaking activities that the socially awkward readers who related to him would be so scared to do, like teaching lit courses in college. He cut through the bullshit and gave it straight (gaining what has became a huge following) and was a beacon of a very 90s type of anti-capitalism, yet he seemed very interested in adding to his own myth, in the end leaving behind an unfinished third novel for publication after the demons of his depression eventually caused him to take his own life in 2008. Wallace is a paradox in theory although makes perfect sense on the page; his desire to be the the show-off, the boy wonder, the cool kid, the joker, the relatable nerd and the mythical genius - in many cases all at once - is what makes him reflect the 21st century in a way that few other modern writers do.

Not that I know of everything that Wallace tried his hand at being, just what's in the second-released of three collections of his essay work: Consider The Lobster. There's no general theme connecting Wallace's journalism/essay work which is why Lobster has such a plethora: a report on the 1998 porn awards; the little reported reactions to 9/11 from Wallace's home in the South; a look into the morales of eating Lobster through the lens of the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival; the transcript of a college lecture he did on the easy-to-miss humour in Kafka's work and many many others. The pieces differ so much I'd be greatly surprised if anyone was avidly interested in reading all of them for the subject matter alone, when instead, even for the pieces that might interest you, it's Wallace who you read for. While reading Lobster I kept thinking of a quote, by someone important enough to be quoted on the back of a book, on the back of a Lester Bangs collection I own that called the 70s rock critic "one of life's greatest gurus" which I guess would seem strange to someone who had never read anything by the man, known almost entirely for record reviews and Lou Reed interviews. Although if you read Bangs you'll know exactly what the quote means: he used rock journalism, which I guess doesn't give writers much room to spread their legs, to talk about everything he could, from religion to feminism to sexual desire. He commented on a whole culture while riffing on Blondie. I don't know exactly what Wallace thought of Bangs, although he (Wallace) considered Bangs enough of an influence to dedicate his little read, co-written book Signifying Rappers to him. Wallace's writing is just as far reaching: he's another great life guru. During the essay Authority and American Usage Wallace reviews  Bryan A. Garner's A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, although the "review" is just a book-end for Wallace to talk about language use in general. He praises Garner's book, and Garner's prose in particular for their lack of personality, allowing the reader to take his uses of grammar and phrasing on face value, unconnected to Garner's ethnicity, gender or age, yet the irony here is obvious as Wallace can't even write a simple book review without injecting himself all over the page: he talks about being a kid and learning the songs his mum (an English teacher - explaining a few things) would come up with to make her son remember correct grammar. Then talks about the prosecution he and every other grammar-loving kid would get when showing off this knowledge in the classroom. It's these little injections of personality, and of Wallace's highly opinionated self that comes through on almost every page, that made reading a review of a book I have no interest in so readable.
A frequent comparison Wallace got was to Thomas Pynchon, an obvious comparison in their similar post-modern fictions, but also similar in their prose in which both turned the kaleidoscope of a million inter-connecting thoughts going through their heads into beautiful fluency. They both crafted sentences with a simplicity to them, a gentle flow of language that most writers - dealing with half the weight of ideas these guys had - could only dream of. Yet there is another paradox to be found here: mainly that for the simple pleasure that Wallace's prose are, his writing is certainly intimidating. Not just the length either, his writing is a sea of brackets and italics and parenthesis adding explanations that seem put there by an obsessive need to explain everything. An average one of his paragraphs will have a few footnotes (oh how Davey loved his footnotes) and once in a while a footnote will be so long it spills over into the next page and fills the page after, itself with it's own cordoned off section of footnotes. It's obviously impressive stuff, actually there's such an air of intellectualism to some of Wallace's pieces that it feels like an actual triumph (hence a sort of obligation) finishing them. This style is what makes Wallace so unique, although it sometimes (if only rarely) doesn't work, as in Host, the final essay in Lobster and the only I couldn't bring myself to finish. Wallace's usual bottom of the page footnotes are here replaced by boxes which are fitted around the text, an unintentional visual metaphor for how lost you get within an article about talk show host John Ziegler, where any sense of a message Wallace is trying to get across gets lost in the mess of information. These endless box notes feel like Wallace showing off, but not in his usual modest parade of excellence, which - although it undeniably throws some off - is simply something I think most like to read, if only because so much of what is "great writing" usually gets its reputation from supposedly smart people who explain why it's great, while Wallace's intellectualism quite literally smacks you in the face with the knowledge of it's own greatness, while in Host Wallace tips overboard with his endless explanations and descriptions; that kaleidoscope of ideas never getting smoothed out like it does in his better pieces.

Much has been made of Wallace's arguing style, the weighty description of the subject matter and the frequent diversions covering the surface so you no longer notice an argument is even being made (and just as much has been made of the apparently bad influence this has had on the many bloggers who take to doing bad Wallace imitations). A good example of his essay technique can be found in Up, Simba where Wallace followed John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Like usual he opens by telling us how unqualified he is for the job (in the same way he opens so many footnotes with (paraphrasing here) "although you're probably not interested I'm going to explain anyway" or "the editor will probably take this out anyway") and starts by giving us the story of how he got the job in the first place. It's Rolling Stone who hired him for the campaign and he turns up in the Bangs-style leather he thought all people working for RS were supposed to wear. Wallace knew full well he was no political journalist so instead he fills up what is one of the longest essays in Lobster with more information about how a presidential campaign actually works - the backstage rooms, the tour buses, the atmosphere between parties, the chatter between the techies etc - and shies away from going full-detail into the nitty-gritty of the politics. Wallace does report on some of these politics, though, and having written it all just as it happened means the article, which doesn't section off exactly when one time zone in the story has became another, reads like a live journal from a press event. In the end though it's not the end message or even the sudden bursts of personality but Wallace's clear mission to paint for the reader the full picture of whatever he's reporting on. In Big Red Son, about the porn awards, Wallace doesn't pass judgement on the stars or the producers - or even the millions watching at home - yet neither does he have a major argument to get across (although his musings on the modern state of porn and it's place in society/place right next to Hollywood are insightful and sometimes hilarious, like usual) but instead he simply describes, in details most writers don't bother to go into, the porn awards, including the way the award shows work, the people he met there and even the recent history of the awards. It seems like Wallace's mission, more than anything, at least in his non-fiction work, was to give readers the whole picture of something; the truth behind it. There is undoubtedly much more detailed analysis of John McCain's presidential campaign, and the man's politics in general, than you'll find in Up, Simba, yet I know I wouldn't be interested in reading them. Although Up, Simba is interesting, and seeing the inner workings of the campaign and the reactions of those actually close to it make it much more than an essay on John McCain or the 2000 presidential campaign, instead they make it relevant to politics in general, even for those, maybe even especially for those, not interested in politics in the first place.

I loved reading Consider The Lobster, and would recommend it to anyone whether the list of essays particularly interests them or not, although it's hard to separate the subjects being dealt with from the man himself, which is why I'm still not sure if this post was about the book or about Wallace himself and all that is to be found of him in Lobster. Some will say this is Wallace's flaw, that he wanted to be known as a great writer so he made his writing so that he would be. Which is true, although that's just adding to the Wallace myth, isn't it? When he was really just a normal guy, an impressive writer sure, and someone you need to read, but so frequently linked to his generation as a voice or figurehead, when he was actually just like everyone else of his generation, he just never quite wanted to be.

Saturday, 1 February 2014


- I had a topsy-turvy January. It certainly felt long, in both good and bad ways. School was a drag, so much that my week back, which was filled with exams, was the highlight. My results were pretty good but as is traditional with my school there was no celebrating as all my teachers tried hard to make sure all of that exam pressure carried over into our day-to-day lives (and I suppose I'll thank them for it later and etc).

- The rest of school I'll simply mark down as busy. We're studying The Kite Runner now in English, which is basically just me and no-one else putting my hand when the teacher asks (and they've asked a surprising amount of times now) if anyone doesn't like the book or the passage we've just read. I do hope this course entails writing a review of the books we're reading so I can outline exactly why The Kite Runner is over-written, manipulative bullshit. Having to read out The History Boys is fun, even though I'm reading for Lockwood who is one of the most un-memorable characters in the whole play, thank god I'm not involved in any awkward sex scenes though.

- I was having a happy time for the first half of the month before I was hit by nasty bout of depression that had me lying in bed for hours in the middle of the day and practically giving up on the gym. I think I'm fine now, though, which probably has something to do with me falling madly in love with a girl (although it should be noted I fall in love waay too easy) and spending the last week kicking around with her and trying to make her laugh.

- After firing my original driving structure (who seemed to take his almost constant state of agonizing stress out on my admittedly poor driving skills) all my friends have been recommending me their instructors. Right now I've got a choice between "pedo Daz" and "rip-off Dave", great.

- I spent the month crossing off blindspots. I stayed up until 3 in the morning watching Seven Samurai - which deserves it's reputation - and combined with Frances Ha, which I've already wrote about loving, I'm now in a very black and white mood. which I'm never usually in. I also read my first David Foster Wallace, with Consider The Lobster, of which I've nearly finished a post about, and was so impressionable to Wallace's style, which I thought was great, I even wrote an extremely over-written post on The Sopranos, which I finally finished at the beginning of the month, as a form of poor imitation. I also read William S Burroughs' Junkie, which I took as a grand apology for Naked Lunch.

- In my media course we're currently doing a music video unit, with me and a friend making one for a indie band down in Sheffield. Which is why Media is basically now just one big musical discussion class where we argue about if rock n roll is dead and our teacher gets all nostalgic and answers questions about why he quit a job working in TV and meeting celebrities to teach us. I chose to analyze Weezer's video for Buddy Holly, which is why I finally got around to listening to Pinkerton, apparently the jewel within the Weezer shrine. Apart from the first and last track I don't actually recall any highlights, although it's one of those albums that works better as a whole, just taking in the general sound. It sounds like a cheery band stripped bare (probably because that's exactly what it is) and my favorite of the month.

- I said last month I wanted these posts to collect all my favorite writing of the month, which in retrospective was a stupid claim considering how much I read in a month (who knew) and how much I forget to actually save it somewhere, so here's some good internet reading I did this month: I don't know what to think of Bret Easton having not read his fiction and only knowing him from an angry twitter account, but I read an old piece he did on the current state of celebrity that I thought was great; understandably I've been reading a lot about DFW, and how could I not read this conversation that linked him to Lester Bangs; I didn't watch the Grammys, although my friend kept sending me links to videos everytime a member of Daft Punk was on screen for longer than a second, and as always the best coverage is from Sasha Frere-Jones; HTMLGiant continued to be my favorite site with great pieces all around: Lily Hoang wrote a beautiful post on our reactions to grief, if you've ever wondered what Macaulay Culkin was up to then A D Jameson found out for you, with interesting results, while Seth Oelbaum did a series on "boys who kill" which caused such ruckus on the site the first part has already been removed, it was interesting none-the-less, and Janey Smith started up a series where she posts pictures of her facebook friends, with the first post interlaced with a Guardian article about friendship; and although I hate to report on things I don't like (I mean really) the fact the most sentimental, amateurish crap I read all month was on The New Yorker of all places, and about my sacred cow Nirvana too, made it seem worthy of note.

- It looks to be a more relaxed February, I can only hope the sun returns to Britain soon. To whoever reading, have a good one.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Frances Ha

It makes sense that Frances Ha takes place in New York, one of the most romanticized cities on Earth, since it's about being in your twenties, the most romanticized time anyone gets to live through, which is probably why I think it's important to note I'm neither a twenty-something or have ever been one. Even then I'm going to guess that Frances Halladay wouldn't call her life romantic, and that neither would anybody living the same life. Everyone sticks poster's of French New Wave films on the walls and no-one knows how to cook. They all call themselves "artists" and write fan scripts for Gremlins 3. It's beautiful really; they can't say "artist" completely straight and they know full well the value of Gremlins 3, they know full well your twenties is just an excuse to live the twenties cliches and not have to apologize for it.

Frances is a professional dancer, although still worries about the rent (obviously). Ha kicks off when she 1) breaks up with her boyfriend after declining to move in with him and renew the lease on her apartment with her best friend/roommate, only to find out that 2) her best friend/roommate is moving in with her new fiance, making 3) she's been dropped from the Christmas performance at her dance troupe even worse. She manages to land on her feet, getting an apartment with two men society would brand "Hipsters" with one played by Adam Driver who also stars in the TV series Girls, a similar look at modern young people culture. It's the sort of apartment where at one point Frances sits with one of the guys (the other one - played by Michael Zegen) watching a subtitled French New Wave film in the dark. They watch it expressionless, and don't even speak except for Frances' "we need cookies". I feel awkward putting on a mainstream action movie when there's others around and spend more time looking out for signs of their disappointment with my film taste, but the twenty-somethings in Ha don't care, they care about some things, and that they do it passionately, the stuff that doesn't matter but we all secretly wish mattered. It's great and they don't even notice it.

Frances herself, played by Greta Gerwig who also co-writes, is sweet and charming and very quickly puts you into a hypnotic spell, even if she hasn't yet figured out she isn't the most important person in the world (which, please note, is very different from thinking you are the most important person in the world). In one scene Frances sits through a diner scene with a group of (mostly older) "normal people": she speaks for too long, telling them things they can't possibly be interested to hear. She talks about herself and even does some "oh look at me being all normal" jokes, including one about a diner guests new born baby, and outs herself as one of those people who tells you the names of everybody in her stories despite you neither knowing them or caring. Then remains oblivious to the fact that it's only her enthusiasm and general politeness that is filling the dead air in the room. In the scene after, lots of drink in her, she describes that "one moment" the magical one she longs for in a relationship, and she describes it as the mystical movie moment is certainly is. The camera doesn't cut away from her while she speaks, the other people's reactions unimportant to us and to Frances. It's telling of her character, only looking at herself, but only in a nice un-damaging way, one longing for happiness.

Baumbach (Director) says he wanted the film to look like a debut although on that account he's failed, no debut I've ever seen has the swift confidence of Ha, 86 minutes that fly over. It's filmed in black and white, but not the sort of grainy colorless-ness you'd associate with being young and broke and with a cheap camera but a beautiful black and white, right out of the French films twenty-somethings feel obliged to watch. That's because as much as Ha is a realistic film in many respects, it's a fantasy for everyone not living this lifestyle. Frances is very happy being herself. She takes unwanted chairs into the street and writes ironic notes for the finder. She goes to Paris on a whim for no apparent reason, similar to the on-a-whim holiday Ben Stiller almost goes on in Greenberg (Baumbach's last film) before realizing he isn't Frances' age anymore and has the responsibilities she doesn't have yet. In Steve McQueen's Shame Brandon runs across the NY streets with a static sideways tracking camera and nothing but the sounds of the streets with him; in Ha Frances runs through the same streets dashing and twirling through the people, the camera from a diagonal angle, somewhat imperfect, while bouncy dance pop plays in the background. This isn't the complete u-turn from Hollywood convention that the New Wave was, there's a want to entertain in Frances Ha that sticks out like a big red throbbing heart among the black and white.