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How Should a Person Be?
How Should a Person Be?
by Sheila Heti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slipshod, 22 Nov 2013
Before I bought this, I read pages from it using the Amazon preview and liked them. After I finished it, squeamishly unable to keep such a bad book in the house, I gave it to charity. I've now looked again at the preview, which, interestingly, still makes the book seem good. Caveat emptor. Amazing editorial care has gone into omitting everything from the preview that was turgid, pretentious, convoluted and charmless - everything that, breaking Heti's own rule, doesn't know 'where the funny is'. There is, in the actual book, quite a lot of this.

In the good fragments, Heti has a nice simple style and talks appealingly about life for a young artistic type by turns confusing, upsetting, touching, obscene etc. But you realise reading the whole that unlike a lot of people with a nice simple style she doesn't stick to it and she's not using it to say a lot with a little; she's just not saying much. Often she's committing that mainstay sin of bad writing, 'telling, not showing'. No longer having the book, I'm forced to do this a bit too, but the preview gives me this: Heti exclaiming, apparently in horror, 'These are my f***ing contemporaries!' and stopping there. I think I might know what she means, but no concrete evidence is presented for the prosecution. Future generations, who with luck won't be privy to the horror, are left guessing.

This isn't writerly economy, it's shirking. For all the self-loathing displayed, the frequent charge of narcissism from other reviews is right. It's partly in the self-involvement itself, but also in a disregard for the reader so total that she doesn't bother to explain to us whatever it is she's trying to say. She seems, in fact, too arrogantly lazy as a writer to even work out what this is. Or maybe all she's really trying to say is that she and her friends and their so-so art-life chit-chats are pretty great and use this as a bulwark against whatever it is is she feels bad about. The ostensible purpose of the book, expressed in its attention-grabbing title, is not touched on.

Mainly, given the hype, I think it's important to say this: for all the brouhaha about Heti's supposedly unusual techniques, it's not especially radical or challenging formally. If you're reasonably well-read and come at this hoping for something interestingly new, you'll be disappointed.

Lastly, an aside: why does Heti think we (as in the contemporary collective cultural consciousness) don't know what a female genius looks like? Surely, her self-obsession hasn't stopped her reading the nineteenth and twentieth century classics?


Fire of Love
Fire of Love
Price: 8.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's overlook this genius no longer, 11 Oct 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Fire of Love (Audio CD)
Yes, the greatest rock 'n' roll album ever made. A black train ride through the soil in which rock grew, the dreamlike and nightmarish landscapes of the North American south. Jeffrey Lee Pierce, The Gun Club's prime mover, saw first what no one has ever expressed better: Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, Strange Fruit and the KKK, firebrand Christianity and a demonology of voodoo, will-o'-the-wisps and folk devils - all this belonged together, filtered through the poetic sensibility of Faulkner and the stripped down attack of Bo Diddley, shot through with mysticism and sexual violence. Sung, spoken and screeched in Pierce's unmannered middle-American voice, it transcended pastiche like none of the cartoon possessed who trod this furrow after Pierce ploughed it. The feral animi of blues and country had always contained the germ of this ferocious punk apotheosis, and punk, in finding the venomous undercurrent in its prehistory, discovered the source of its own power.

And yes, it's worth buying for the lyrics alone.


The Pumpkin Eater [DVD] [2010]
The Pumpkin Eater [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Anne Bancroft
Price: 5.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, 16 Dec 2011
Like the great works of Cassavetes, this seems to come from some parallel universe where films for intelligent adults are standard procedure. There's very little that's obviously arty, but also none of the usual mainstream pap, just some key fragments from the characters' lives presented without pedantic expositions, implausibly transformative 'arcs' or phoney empathy. Aside from Cassavetes, I know of nothing else remotely like it in film history and more's the pity.

See it.


Private Road (BFI Flipside) ( DVD + Blu-ray)
Private Road (BFI Flipside) ( DVD + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Bruce Robinson
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 11.36

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a forgotten masterpiece., 3 Dec 2011
I first saw this when I was 17 or 18 in the mid-eighties, late night on Channel 4, since which time it's felt as if I dreamed it: a funny, intelligent, alternative movie made for buttons in the UK -- Indie before the letter by 20 years and not from America. Who knew? Practically no one, it seems. Like so many of the BFI's recent heroic rescues, this appears to have been in danger of total omission from the textbooks, leaving the official story artificially anaemic.

As other reviewers have noted, it's probably best not to add much to the official plot summary, but that still leaves plenty to talk about. First off, and more to get it out of the way than anything else, there seem to be interesting relationships to certain French films. Bruce Robinson's character, Peter, is reminiscent of Jean Pierre Leaud's Antoine Doinel in Truffaut's BAISERS VOLE and DOMICILE CONJUGALE, with both characters harking back to earlier heroes of silent comedy and neither suffering by any of these comparisons. (There are also thematic similarities with the film Leaud made with Jean Eustache two years after Private Road, LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN.)

Visually, the film looks very like Eric Rohmer, the same wide, full figure shots of characters in ordinary, un-set-dressed rooms and streets, static frames, occasional almost imperceptible pans, naturalistic colour and light and, above all, the same pleasure in the every-day that has the power to heighten your perception of and pleasure in your own life.

Having made the French comparison, I'll also make one with the American mainstream: for anyone caught up in the esoteric mysteries of screenwriting, this is a masterclass in breaking the Syd Fieldian rules; essentially, there's no arc. The characters are not awkward propositions saved by love, it is not clear to us or to them what they want, they do not learn much if anything; yet the story does go somewhere and with a naturalness, or a brilliant impression of naturalness, that should make the mechanical, form-filling scriptwriters of so much recent mainstream fare ashamed of themselves. That said, perhaps my ideal double-bill match for this would be an American movie, the equally idiosyncratic and similarly rare BREAKING AWAY.

Finally, given the lead actor, there's also some fun to be had with the WITHNAIL comparison. How much was Robinson influenced by this when he came to make his movie set in the same era just over a decade later? Overlaps abound. At least one of Robinson's lines here -- 'Trust him to be in the bloody herbacious border!' -- could have come straight from the later movie. Platts-Mills' is known to have used improvisation, so maybe Robinson actually authored this.

But so much for the parallels; the film is really sui generis. A lot of its uniqueness seems to reside in its Englishness, a peculiar sort that tends to get lost among the working and upper class depictions that still dominate UK cinema. The young protagonists were still recognisable to me as a teenage Londoner in the 80s and even have equivalents in the much harder London of today, yet this is the only time I've seen these types on film. Their collective character, matter-of-fact, unshow-offy and un-macho, given to laconic wit, not so much opposed to convention as honestly, wryly bewildered by it, is also the character of the film. It seems to meander as the characters do, apparently unconcerned with plot points and jokes, but deftly delivering both to lead you to a conclusion both very funny and quietly touching.

I've never seen anything else like it. Why isn't it better known? Probably because a prophet is without honour in his own country and era, especially one so softly-spoken. Or, to put it another way, real individualism does not shout and thereby runs a genuine risk of going unnoticed. But perhaps eventually, thanks to the BFI's release, this will come to be recognised as the great work it is.

THE EXTRAS:

The little film not by Platts-Mills, THE FINAL CHAPTER is, as a previous reviewer said, nothing special, but it's worth noting that one of its authors is the usually more interesting novelist John Fowles and that, for a feminist attack on Ian Fleming, which it seems to be, it's got an awful lot of topless shots.

Platts-Mills' ST. CHRISTOPHER is a beautiful film, the kind of documentary the British used to do uniquely well: simple, carefully observed, humane and quietly radical in its overturning of our assumptions -- here about mentally handicapped children and their care -- with an underlying, deeply serious faith (of the kind neoliberals have spent the last 30 years undermining) in the human capacity to make a better world. I cried a little.

A final note: Now that this is out I'm hoping Flipside will deliver another hippy era film also shown on Channel 4 around '85 or '86, about a slightly deranged character trying to make a film among the the drop-outs and freaks of early 70s London. Anyone know the film I'm talking about?
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2012 1:56 PM BST


Herostratus [DVD] [1967]
Herostratus [DVD] [1967]
Dvd ~ Michael Gothard

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fascinating but frustrating, 27 Nov 2011
This review is from: Herostratus [DVD] [1967] (DVD)
At its best, which is not where it is enough, this is brilliant filmmaking depicting a side of the 60s we don't generally get to see, decidedly more punk than hippie and ferociously angry and alienated. The main character, Max, a short-haired, angularly handsome young man deranged by rage and dressed perpetually in white lives in a dingy bedsit covered in febrile black scrawls. At some point, like an English Iggy Pop, he rips into the walls and tears the place to pieces, then goes out to plan a spectacular protest suicide.

The flat trashing and a few other sequences are like passages from some genuine lost classic, one that could take its place alongside Performance and Easy Rider while actually looking more modern than either of them. I love, especially, the non-narrative shots of Max violently shaking his head and body, creating Francis Baconesque blurry disfigurements. The effect is both visually extraordinary and so simple you wonder why no one else in film history seems to have thought of it. I also think it's fascinating that both this film and Performance reference Bacon - and this one does it better.

Sadly, the lost classic status is undermined by some out-and-out badness: frequent, tediously repetitive resorts to standard-issue film-school artiness (the cover's dominatrix, prancing around King's Cross with an umbrella for no reason, passages of hum-drum psychedelia) and a script that is an amateurish muddle. In particular, it seems unsophisticated in its assumption that the advertising industry would want to co-opt the protagonist's suicide to defend high flown moral values, as if capitalism wouldn't happily sacrifice religion, traditional morality and the family unit to keep on flogging product -- a 60s counter-culture assumption that the most astute commentators recognised as fallacious even at the time. Or, if you like, a bit of hippy naivety putting the fly in the ointment of all that proto-punk nihilism.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2012 10:18 PM BST


Philosophy: The Basics (Basics (Routledge Paperback))
Philosophy: The Basics (Basics (Routledge Paperback))
by Nigel Warburton
Edition: Paperback

37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Surely a better introduction to this subject is possible, 5 Sep 2009
I don't want to pan this outright, not because I'm a kind reviewer but because I can see that it might be helpful to some readers and my own reasons for finding it largely unhelpful are fairly subjective. This is a review for readers like me, my current and younger selves.

In early middle age I'm gradually getting to grips with philosophy through a mixture of primary and secondary sources. That means some of the stuff I'm reading is fairly hard and I'm finding it so, but generally managing to struggle through by means of whatever help I can get, including, I hoped, from Mr. Warburton.

I guess I imagined that the basics he was offering would be a general overview of western philosophy, a sense of who the main players were, the positions they held, how they related to each other and what some of their more difficult terminology meant. Be advised: this book doesn't provide that at all. Instead it divides philosophy into areas of inquiry such as philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of art etc. and lays out debates within these fields as clearly and simply as possible, and I mean very simply indeed, occasionally tending to labour its points.

The two stars tell the story. I don't like the book. I think it's boring, indefensibly so. I think I would have found it boring when I was a teenager - apparently the book's target audience. This would be fair enough if philosophy actually were boring, but, so far my researches tell me it's not - that is to say, all my researches except via introductory works like these, which seem curiously determined to present the discipline as nothing more than a litany of dull and obvious pedantry and scotch, as quickly as possible, any and all notions in young minds that philosophy is going to be something mindblowing. This was done to me when I was a kid and I can't endorse it. I think philosophy is mindblowing. It's difficult, yes, and, yes, often pretty dry getting there, but the places one arrives at are, by turns, revelatory and confounding and rock one's sense of reality and what it is to inhabit it. Is it too much to ask that at least some of that might be conveyed, at least hinted at, from the outset?

And other than that, I can't let this go: this idea in the introduction that a lot of philosophy is only difficult to understand because it's badly written. Warburton really needs to cite some examples if he wants to make a claim like this. In my view, he shouldn't make it at all. It's wrong and liable to promote philistinism. In fact, it looks perilously like philistinism itself, of the worst kind: the assertion that one's inability to understand is the fault of the author not the intellectual incapacity of the reader/viewer. I'm sorry, but, aside from everything else, what's the point of introducing people to a subject only to tell them that there's no point reading its tougher texts? It's unnecessarily discouraging. Why not, instead, explain some of that Latin and Greek derived jargon you're so disapproving of so that your readers can make a start?
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 8, 2012 1:24 PM GMT


The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
by Christopher Booker
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A quarter good, the rest a mess, 18 Oct 2008
Booker kept reminding me, weirdly, as I went through this, of Slavoj Zizek. Just as Zizek, the Lacanian Marxist, trawls through films only to repeatedly discover, each time like a revelation, that we are in the realms of ideology and the 'obscene dominant superego injunction to enjoy', Booker, the Jungian right winger, reads every story as a valediction of Jung's archetypes and hetero family values and a denigration of the ego. Booker's 'ego' and Zizek's 'superego' function in similar ways, roughly speaking, as the psychic embodiment and inspiration for evil, particularly selfishness and it's these devices that bring these apparently antithetical figures into similar territory. Zizek's delineation of the latter's functioning is considerably more complex and, ultimately, useful, but both ego and superego are drivers of the modern decadence perceived and unashamedly pilloried by both authors. At times their targets can seem remarkably similar, e.g. the hippy movement. Reading Booker's characterisation of this as a 'rigidly conformist' 'group fantasy' built on denigration of others felt rather like pulling a poisoned dart out of myself. (Booker goes on to describe Solzhenitsyn's own vilification of western decadence in some detail. Zizek might balk at the comparison, but, as another former Soviet Bloc dissident, feted by a West he continues to phlegmatically critique for its moral bankruptcy, he can seem like a successor of sorts.) It's fun to read contemporary moralists because they provide such a corrective to the sixties' painfully, corruptedly foggy-headed legacy of la la let it all hang out, but where Zizek is rapier-like, challenging, funny and full of surprises, Booker does ultimately just come across as a crank.

In the first section, where he lays out the seven plots of the title, I was with him all the way. Reductive? Incomplete? I can do without the pedantry at this point. You don't have to buy the system wholesale to see that Booker is here, fascinatingly, identifying patterns in storytelling that are extraordinarily consistent over thousands of years. The point is, he's giving you something you can use. In an almost Euclidian way I found myself involuntarily playing with his basic storytelling riffs to come up, giddily, with an ever more complex world of variety. I felt so inspired I thought I was going to pop. It's this section and this section alone that earns the book its stars here.

How could it have got so tangled after this? The second section is eye-wateringly repetitive, telling us in several barely varying passages how stories are peopled by a selection of archetypal figures who's function is to bring us and the hero out of darkness and into light. The same principles come up over and over again: the ultimate aim of 'seeing whole', the need to go down into darkness in order to attain light, the importance of uniting the mature masculine with the mature feminine, the need to go 'below the line' to the realms of the marginalised and oppressed in order to expose the corruption of the 'above the line' world of authority. This is not complex stuff and even if it was, it would only need to be explained well once.

Where was the editor? Asleep it seems, or overawed, because, as the book goes on, it's not just the repetition that becomes wearing, it's the increasing instance of missed out words. There's at least one indefensibly verbless sentence and also a bizarrely erroneous description of the story of Rebel Without A Cause that someone really should have spotted: Dean as a speed-obsessed hero ends by wiping himself out in a car accident. Has Booker even seen this film?

Oh well, even a fully awake editor couldn't have done much to right the book's more serious philosophical flaws, which are, I'm afraid, fatal. Booker's an old-fashioned Tory paternalist and he uses his Jungian system to inform us, in no uncertain terms and with only slightly more intellectual rigour than your average reactionary, that most of nineteenth and twentieth century literature (as well as a great deal of the music and art of this period) is immoral and therefore bad for us. There's a certain amount of shooting the messenger in all this. Booker often doesn't seem to know who his friends are. He off-handedly describes Breathless as one of various new wave films that take us through a series of largely senseless events only to end with an act of shocking violence - completely missing the fact that the film almost precisely conforms to his own description of tragic structure: anticipation followed by decisive immoral act followed by dream stage (it's all going to be OK) followed by frustration, then nightmare stage, brief renewal of hope, then destruction.

Booker can't seem to conceive of the idea that films like Breathless, Bonny and Clyde and A Clockwork Orange might be anything other than unconscious critiques of the sixties licentiousness he disapproves of. The last, in particular, he criticises on the grounds that it leaves its hero unpunished, contains untrustworthy authority figures who have pornographic sculptures in their homes and, most egregiously of all, shows its antihero being inspired to commit acts of violence by listening to Beethoven. Booker's now childlike mind seems incapable of grasping the three key, interrelated points here a) that Alex ends up unpunished precisely because the authority figures are, themselves, hypocritical and deficient in morality - to whit the critique is deliberate, b) the pornographic sculptures are there on purpose as a sign of precisely the kind of moral and aesthetic bankruptcy that Booker bemoans and c) the Nazis listened to Beethoven too; and it's not surprising Booker misses this last, because it's the dangling thread that almost unravels the whole second half of Booker's epic paean to morally uplifting art.

Except there's worse: he lets his manichean good v. bad moralism completely blind him to more nuanced pleasures, both humane and aesthetic, of Remembrance of Things Past and Ulysses. His 'critiques' of these books, centring on Proust's 'immaturity' and Joyce's depictions of masturbation, also 'immature', read like justifications that could have been used at Nazi literary auto da fes. Everywhere, the sound of galloping right wing hobby horses becomes deafening, even as Booker tries to slip in some of his more beyond the pale prejudices by insinuation: William Burroughs' books are mischaracterised as being designed so you can read the sentences in any order (bad) as, in the same sentence, we learn that Burroughs was a drug addict (bad) and homosexual (hmm...bad?).

Oh well. All we can do is try to avoid the same prejudiced reasoning ourselves. So I won't say Booker's argument is bad just because he uses it to be homophobic and anti-feminist, which is just my subjective view. I'll say it's bad because it's hopelessly muddled, which I'm pretty sure is inarguable. One of Booker's main themes, virtually the whole theme of the last section, is the idea that a great deal of immoral behaviour can be shown to be a result of 'ego-Self confusion'. The 'Self' (always capped) in Booker's schema is the light, balanced consciousness that 'sees whole'. It is symbolised in stories by the attainment of harmonious unities, particularly marriage, but it is really only a psychical phenomena, attained by bringing the archetypes in one's own mind into light and balance. Booker cautions, when these archetypes are projected outwards into material goals, we become alienated from the Self and act instead in the service of the ego.

It's an important distinction and one I find I have some sympathy with. I've been putting to good use lately: that shirt I wanted? It's actually just a representation of a certain feeling of confidence I lack. My need for a girlfriend? My need to get in touch with my anima. It's genuinely helping.

It also helps me read Booker, because it means that when he's talking about the need to go below the line socially or reconnect with nature, he's only talking about the mind. Like, he's definitely not defending Communism, which he says is a confusion of ego and Self objectives and, after all, didn't turn out too well - oh, except that its own 'below the line' darkness created heroes like Solzhenitsyn, who is real and not an archetype in your mind or mine. Nor, somewhat surprisingly, is he defending environmentalism, which he wants to tell us is also just another cultlike collective fantasy characterised by nothing but sentimentalism; he dislikes a lot of the real things that environmentalists dislike, but only, apparently, because of the effects on our minds. On the other hand, he does want to tell us that Churchill, the real life flesh and blood Churchill, was good because he was a heroic light father figure archetype, and that all that pitching in during the Blitz was good collective behaviour, even though that was real too. He also likes Thatcher even though she was a woman embodying the same heroic light masculine qualities as Churchill and doesn't like Ripley in Alien because she's a woman embodying heroic light masculine qualities. Oh brother. There's no consistency here. None. And the reason? Well, it's partly that Booker can't stick to his own strictly mental rule and partly that the whole Archetypes idea (as presented here), which Booker describes as being on a par with Einstein's theory of relativity and Crick and Watson's discovery of the double helix, is so nebulous that it allows him to defend and attack whatever he likes with a spuriously scientific underpinning.

In short, in an irony so dumb and obvious you think surely he would have noticed it, Booker's extended warning against the ego is seriously undermined by his own ego.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2013 10:14 PM GMT


Classics of Western Philosophy
Classics of Western Philosophy
by Steven M. Cahn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 32.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable sift, 17 Oct 2008
If you want to know how western philosophy got from Plato to roughly where we are now, this book provides the perfect overview. I'm using it, specifically, to trace the development of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant, a key period. Cahn's judicious selections provide the structural bones and a good deal of the meat of the arguments, allowing you to trace a line through all the major thinkers with remarkable speed. A process I'd expected to take years now looks achievable in a couple of months of dedicated reading. It's still a lot to get through and it's still only a beginning, but, to extend my skeleton metaphor, this is a solid spine from which to branch off in whatever direction you ultimately choose. Having the actual texts, in such generous quantities especially, is also a far better way to get into this material than going through the often distorting lens of secondary expositions.


Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1 - 1969-1972 [DVD]
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1 - 1969-1972 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 21.99

10 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not enough information, 23 Oct 2007
Er...which films are on this? It's kind of a big expense to make just as a gamble, you know?


Magnolia - Single Disc Set (1999) [DVD]
Magnolia - Single Disc Set (1999) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Cruise
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: 10.98

6 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars bogus, 16 Dec 2005
I think of this as a film I can't stand. The truth is, it has its moment - the very quiet, simply moving ending, which is enough to merit the two stars. But even that's sentimental and implausible and the whole of it does suck, using its apparently complex structure as a much too easy way of rushing at an appearance of profundity when all we're getting really is the trite message: all human life is here (at least, all Californian human life) and deep down we all hurt. Redemptions are too easy, nothing feels well observed and there are no real surprises. The coincidences are irritating. It's all the more annoying since the influences, primarily Robert Altman films like Nashville, are things I love. This has none of Altman's faith or rigour, which is why it goes over the top with rains of frogs and everybody singing along self-pityingly to a song about loneliness.

It's junk. Mannerist junk.


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