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Dave Redman "Cacophonaut" (Manchester)

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The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD]
The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dominic West
Price: 56.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Televisual Milestone, 6 Sep 2012
It has been said of Shakespeare that the entire breadth of human experience can be found condensed in his work: so it is too with David Simon's magnum opus, a television show that, more than any other, serves to inaugurate the medium as a vessel for enduring, canonical art. Its creator has spoken of it as a study of institutions and the role they play in shaping the course of life, comparing them to the gods of the Ancient Greeks as they appear in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides, and the parallel fits, but a dissection of an organisation requires also less lofty material than broad strokes and vague statements like these. If this were all there were to The Wire, we might rightly dismiss it; its real relevance and power come from the necessity, when discussing an institution, for also involving ourselves in the lives of those moulded by that institution. It is here that The Wire finds its worth.

These are no mere characters, but actual people with actual lives felt so strongly that one has a sense of them continuing even when they are not on screen. In this sense it is almost a fictional documentary, peopled by a cast that exist independently of their fictional faces, and in a way they do. Everyman is not the Simon's Baltimore is cultivated a microcosm of all human activity and endeavour, a tiny mirror that contains the reflected image of the world itself.

Steve Albini has said that all great art is made with a measure of disregard for its audience. It is a truism television writers would do well to heed when they bow too readily to demographics, and it is the mandate The Wire is following when it flagrantly kills the darlings of its audience, snuffing out characters at times with almost merciless indifference to how it might be received. It is this mandate that has the show run in its entirety without a musical score to tell the audience how they should respond, leaving them to judge the values and decisions of the characters as they would if they knew them personally. It is real to the point that the adjectives "authentic" and "convincing" become trite: nobody would tell a Baltimore native that his accent and idiom were "convincing" and "authentic". How could they be otherwise?

It is also a work of the subtlest didacticism. A story with a message is useless if the audience is fat-handedly urged to agree at all times, as in a parable. There is no "moral" in The Wire. The reality of the narrative simply points naturally toward certain values: the fallacy of the drug war, the predatory shape of capitalism and the absurdity in ascribing criminality and blame to vast swaths of people who simply took the only options available to them. The criminals here are as likable and human as the cops, and there are villains in both camps. Its message, at the last, is the same as that of Steinbeck when he said "knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love". The Wire teaches that if we can know and love fictional criminals, perhaps we ought apportion less hate for real ones. In this way it touches the sublime.

Poems (Everyman's Library Classics)
Poems (Everyman's Library Classics)
by W. B. Yeats
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.49

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the Best Poetry Collection I Have Ever Owned, 4 Mar 2011
Hyperbolic perhaps, but above all the books on my shelves, this one has proved its value with the most consistency. I never tire of taking it down, and once I do it wont leave my bedside for months. Here is collected Yeats' entire published output, or damn close, and not only that, the second half of the book is given over to exegetic, detailed notes on each poem, which includes everything from explanations of allusions to interesting analyses, autobiography and socio-cultural context. The typeface is wonderfully clear, and the solidity of the hardback binding makes it even more perfect. Alongside my Allen Ginsberg 'life's-work' collection, this is possibly the best book of poetry I have ever bought.

Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
by Leonard Koren
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.95

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Empty yet Pretty, like a Fabergé Egg, 18 Jan 2011
Having discovered this interesting aesthetic, I first did some internet research and then ordered a book. Having read the book, I find myself wondering if the author did the same internet research I did. I close its sparse pages feeling no more enlightened than I did when I started, and the actual content is utterly minimal: clear, large type and plenty of page-size photographs of "natural" objects like leaves and wood-grain which, while thematically superfluous, do serve to fill up the space not occupied by what little text there is.

I had hoped for an edifying explanation of a concept I was assured was elusively complex while being deceptively simple. Perhaps I am myself too simple to understand, but I find it more likely that the rambling, equivocal essay contained within the slim yet admittedly pretty binding betrays an author who no more understands the concept than I do, and as such he is worthless to me as a guide to it. I would give it away, were it not such a nice-looking thing to furnish a shelf with.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2013 11:37 PM GMT

Harry Brown [DVD] [2009]
Harry Brown [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Michael Caine
Price: 3.70

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Daily Mail vs. Yobs on Celluloid, 18 Jan 2011
This review is from: Harry Brown [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
The best "revenge" films eventually depict the act as morally draining and self-destructive. In Straw Dogs, Dustin Hoffman's David Sumner slowly degrades into an emotional black hole at the hands of the abusive locals, finally reaching in desperation a kind of breaking point, whereupon he calmly inflicts upon his tormentors a violence that would cause the film to be banned for two decades. This has an obviously destructive psychological effect on him and he emerges from the ordeal a different, more damaged person.

Contrastingly, by the close of Harry Brown, the titular vigilante is seen casually walking the new, safer estate and the audience are informed that crime has dropped in the area. We see children on swings. Everything is rosy. Such an ending betrays the film as an exploitative didactic with the usual polarised moral compass, good versus bad, in order that it might appeal to the more tabloid orientated individual.

For a film that presents itself as realistic social commentary, such naivety is boring and slightly irritating. Of the "villains", the only character with any depth is the poor lad who gets sexually assaulted by his stepfather and seems to enjoy life as a "yob" not one bit, and yet Brown visits upon him the most venomous and brutal vengeance in the film. The moral subtext would have us see this as commendable, as justice rightly served, but I felt slightly ill. We are never presented with the question of Harry's ethical dilemma in vigilanteism, only the judgment that he is doing the job the police ought to be doing. The drug dealers he visits are also painfully cartoonish. Firstly, that kind of underworld dealer would not grow cannabis. He certainly wouldn't grow it in the same office he deals from. That sort of scummy, reprehensible human being generally deals mostly in heroin. I have lived in places like this, and most drug dealers are more like Moff in Human Traffic. There is more realism in an episode of Shameless than this nonsense.

Caine, through dint of a nuanced and moving performance, managed to lift the film above whatever Death Wish in Chavland the screenwriter had in mind, but beyond his contribution there seems little to praise. The direction is, while not bad, lacking in any kind of originality or sense of aesthetic significance, and the overall tone will probably be familiar to viewers of The Bill. I enjoyed the early scenes, especially those featuring Caine and David Bradley, but before long the script degrades into an insipid Daily Mail world of murderous thugs and pure, rotten-to-the-core evil that finds its absurd apotheosis in a full scale chav-riot of krystallnacht proportion. Only, pure rotten-to-the-core evil is actually quite dull, because it only ever does one thing, and the predictability of Harry Brown was ultimately disappointing because of that.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2014 11:42 PM GMT

Avatar [DVD]
Avatar [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sam Worthington
Offered by streetsahead
Price: 6.21

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stylish and Stupid, 11 Aug 2010
This review is from: Avatar [DVD] (DVD)
I wasn't expecting terribly much from Cameron, I'll admit. I rarely enjoy his filmic excursions into style over substance direction and Avatar has more style than anything he has made thus far, which would seem to indicate a proportionate absence of depth. I was not, however, prepared for the parade of borrowed plotline, colonial native-romanticism, weak characterisation and fat-handed didacticism that comprised Avatar's two and a half hour runtime.

That said, it isn't a Bad film. The technical marvels here are occasionally enough to actually distract from the failings of the script, and at times it becomes a genuinely enjoyable action romp full of beautiful design and care, and I cannot deny the tension in some of the more dramatic scenes. The flatness of Sam Worthington's protagonist goes out the window when his 'avatar' battles a crazed cliche of a Colonel wearing the mech-suit from Alien with guns on.

Seen in its full Oscar-baiting "masterpiece" context though, one has to wonder what qualifications other than escapist fun the movie seems to have to the rest of the filmgoing world. It deals with grand themes, indeed, but in a way so naive as to be cheapening and crass. Cameron's universe is populated by absurd binaries and a romanticism of naturalistic life that is blinkered and clumsy, that takes his admittedly admirable message and polarises it to the extent of exploitative ignorance. Humans are generally evil, as is anything associated with technology, the Na'vi are inherently noble and good, and anything associated with them takes on the same bluey hue of purity. We never see them war or squabble, nor do they seem, for all their simple ways, to ever fall ill and die prematurely. Theirs is an impossible utopia, ours a impossible dystopia. It reads like bad post-colonial literature rehashed for the digital age.

One could also take issue with its treatment of war. Antagonistic war is, in Avatar, a purely human concern, and so the same brush that generally tars nazi soldiers is applied here to all humanity, their slaughter seen not as a necessary and regrettable evil but a righteous act. Despite theirs being not to question why, despite the nature of soldiery as order-taking, they are evil by virtue of their accidental and inevitable collusion with those in command. For all their purity, no Na'vi ever shows regret in killing a human, because in Avatar, the Na'vi are more human then the humans. They are the avatars of all our good qualities, and men the manifestations of all that is evil, the gendered pronoun here justified by the conspicuous maleness of the human presence in the film. Notice how all the human female characters are native sympathisers. Notice the elegant feminine grace of the Na'vi as opposed to the bulk and doglike gruffness of the humans. This in binary opposition at its most ungainly. Avatar's universe is peopled only by absolutes, by blacks or whites unmixed. Entertaining as it may be, no such patronising and simplistic writing deserves a serous accolade.

Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith
Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith
by Mark E. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.79

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Near Edge, 23 July 2010
There is something of the Bennett monologue about Mark E. Smith. Perhaps the easy familiarity with his listener that comes from recording your own self-important observations, or perhaps simply the fact that our narrator is one of the most unreliable imaginable; in any case the tone and dry humour are alluring, and give this exercise in pub-philosophy and scattered memoir all the readability it may have. Unlike Bennett's men, however, Mark is no so downtrodden and beset by wolves as he likes to believe, (Renegade is a synonym for turncoat) and part of the amusement to be found here is deciphering when he is and is not simply adopting his one-man-against-the-world shtick. Flawed? Sure, as an "autobiography", the text has massive failings, lacking the self-honesty and introspective personal analysis that marks (ahem) the best of the lucrative memoir genre, but you weren't really expecting honesty from Mark E. Smith, right?

What you might have expected, however, given how often Smith likes to remind us how well-read he is, would be some prose originality. Not so, indeed this anecdotal tract is ghostwritten. I am disappointed, Mark. This could have been a wildly interesting experiment in writing, this could have been structured, intelligent storytelling. At the very least it could have been penned by its eccentric drunken subject. Rather it is a collection of transcribed and seemingly only slightly edited interviews, (almost certainly conducted in some drinking establishment or other) so scatty and jumbled you wonder why he even needed a ghostwriter. The only nods to "real" prose come in the form of intermittent "Voices" chapters that dot the text, but these are an extreme superfluity, adding nothing but a heightened sense of the subjects own poet-storyteller pose.

For all its failings, this does seem like the book Smith was always going to produce: a slipshod, bitter, unreliable, funny, readable, irritating and dishonest prose exploration of his own self-image. He is what he is, for better or worse, and so is the memoir he drunkenly pours onto the pavement for Fall-lovers to lap up. It is a testament at least to the overblown Dickensian nature of his own character-caricature that the book is also so compulsively enjoyable. Renegade is also an anagram of Near Edge, and it seems that is always what Mark E. Smith is; never quite close enough to fall, but surely too close for comfort.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Price: 6.16

5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Hotel Hype & Hipsterdom: An American Classic, 11 Jun 2007
There is so much critical hyperbole surrounding Jeff Mangum's most revered musical creation it seems impossible to approach In the Aeroplane Over the Sea with anything like analytic clarity; too much is bound to get lost in the best-album-ever organic hype machine of enthusiastic hipster noise. Yet surely the most pertinent question, putting aside its semantics, cultural context and fanbase for a moment, must be "is it really that great?"

This is a hard question to answer, because context is an essential part of how we receive a piece of art. Most people make judgements about one before they have actually experienced it for themselves based on the opinions of others, and since the general consensus among a certain type of music listener (i.e. one who actually knows who Neutral Milk Hotel even are) is overwhelmingly positive, that positivity is self-perpetuating.

This is a well-known process which few people admit to being party to. It makes one look like a dishonest poseur to eulogise the genius of Ingmar Bergman, only for people to discover you have not seen a single Bergman movie, but nobody is innocent of this. Everybody, on occasion, will subconsciously absorb consensus views among peer-groups, then unthinkingly reproduce them verbatim. We are social animals; it is evolutionarily beneficial we should be predisposed toward such pretenses. Far from being pathetic, it is quite human, only nobody will admit to it. That would obviously spoil the act.

Returning to Aeroplane with this in mind, then, perhaps it is possible to separate the ideas that have arisen out of hype from the ideas that seem to be a product of the album's content itself. Certainly the "greatest ever" epithet is of the former category, along with all the other wild over-exaggerations to the tune of "everyone should buy it" (patently absurd) or "if you dislike it, you have no soul" (downright supercilious), but what characteristics can we find for the latter?

Firstly, its purported "honesty" is very obviously real; this album could be nothing more than the true, uncalculated art of one mind. Jeff does not hold back for fear that his self-expression might make people uncomfortable, as it most likely does when he wails (apparently) irreligiously about how he loves Jesus, or repeatedly sings about male seed. Its certainly not a record I'd buy for my mother. Despite its simplicity, it also holds up to the standard of "well written", both in lyrical and musical terms. While the chordsheet strays rarely, if at all, from basics, there is such a depth of feeling here as to hold the candle in its stead, much as there is in the music of Joy Division or early Bob Dylan. To compliment that, Mangum has a distinctly developed authorial voice rich in its own idiosyncratic tones and preoccupations, an unmistakeable autograph of a great lyricist. The "Goldaline, my dear" passage in Oh, Comely, where he sings "feel for ourselves inside some stranger's stomach, place your body here, let your skin begin to blend itself with mine" is as heart-breaking a moment I've seen words give life to in song. Even without such lyrics, the album's structure alone is a work of maddening genius, capable of whisking you to the end of the first side before you even knew it was happening. It pulls off the rare and difficult trick of breaking tempo and tone in exactly the right moments to hold attention and simultaneously convey emotion.

And what emotion! I would be dishonest if I denied shedding the occasional tear by the unbearably sad last gasp of Two Headed Boy, Pt. II, and having opened with the King of Carrot Flowers' infectious radiation of good-feeling (ironically deployed, in fact, given the content), between the two there is conveyed a genuine range of sentiments, coloured overall by an overarching bittersweetness; happiness tinged with melancholy and sadness tinged with joy. Consummate musicianship can take a walk when one has such consummate conviction and heartfelt human warmth to take its place.

I have not touched upon Mangum's voice because it is touched upon far more often than is warranted. I grew up with punk; Jeff Mangum wailing, next to Crass or Mark E. Smith's particular brand of singing, is about as hard to stomach as a steak after a long diet. Plenty of people find his voice execrable, tuneless and sloppy, but to me it just sounds like a man who craves to make sounds with words to them, and isn't going to let mere vocal inhibition get in his way. I respect that.

There is a blog called "Nick Thinks" knocking about somewhere on the internet. Its premise is simple: a guy plays records to his aging father and records his responses. One of the records featured was this one, and I found it very interesting to note that, isolated from the adulation Aeroplane seems to command, the response of a hipster-naive, more-than-middle-aged, classical music fan was one of the most positive on the whole site. Having only heard it once, he arrived at the verge of rhapsody. It would seem its appeal goes far beyond the usually assumed lumberjack-shirt-and-glasses brigade and, perhaps, begins to knock on the door of the universal. It certainly knocks on mine.

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