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Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music
by Rob Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.95

4.0 out of 5 stars A highly readable and meditative history, 1 Sep 2013
I grew up at a time when British folk music had long since been relegated to the sidelines of popular culture as an object of ridicule, as personified by the comedians Trevor and Simon "swinging their pants" on Saturday morning TV. Because of this background, aside from a teenage interest in the brooding songs of Nick Drake, I never felt a particular affinity with folk music. Indeed, the only reason I picked up this book was that a friend recently recommended it as a kind of nostalgic meditation, through the theme of music, on the nature of Britain itself.

As it turned out, I got what I was looking for from this book and a whole lot more, including a new-found respect for folk music. At first glance, the book is a meticulous, chronological history of British folk music, taking the reader from the beginnings of the genre to the present day. The author also pleasingly meanders away from the timeline, approaching subjects as general themes rather than stops along the way. Because folk is by its nature quite closely linked with the land itself and the way people see their place in this land, there is a lot of fascinating social history in which the author looks at the attitudes and trends that gave rise to certain strains of folk. Rob Young clearly understands the music thoroughly and has a passion for it, and I found his analyses of the standout albums and songs of the genre so fascinating that it made me want to go out and buy everything he mentioned so I could hear it for myself.

The aspect of this book that I found particularly impressive was the meditative, almost poetic quality of the writing. If there is an overriding theme to "Electric Eden", it's the sense of a culture always looking back longingly towards a past arcadia. This is apparent throughout, from the descriptions of early folk historians tirelessly compiling traditional ballads to the depictions of later artists trying to recreate a vanished rural idyll in their songs and album covers. Young describes this almost melancholic urge to escape into a rapidly disappearing past with great sensitivity and perception, all the while seeming to suggest that this is a uniquely British quality.

The overall effect of "Electric Eden" brought to mind a passage in the fantasy novel "Lud-In-The-Mist" by the English writer Hope Mirrlees, in which the protagonist hears a musical note that inspires in him "a wistful yearning after the prosaic things he already possessed." The effect of the note, Mirrlees writes, makes the man feel as though "he had already lost what he was actually holding in his hands." Like Rob Young's portrayal of the visionaries and misfits that have defined the history of British folk, although there's certainly something sad about the note Mirrlees describes, it's also strangely beautiful, perhaps even inspiring.

Dredd (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray)
Dredd (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Karl Urban
Price: 6.00

94 of 99 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When he speaks he never says it twice", 5 May 2013
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Most others who enjoyed this movie approached it with low expectations and came away shocked by how good it was. My expectations were high because I'd read a lot of positive reviews by the time it reached my part of the world, but my reaction was pretty much the same.

This is the kind of simple, taut action movie I thought people had forgotten how to make. It throws you in the deep end and never lets you come up for air. At just over 90 minutes, DREDD tells its story, gets the heck out, and leaves you gasping for more. It's the best kind of comic book movie: the kind that stays true to the roots of its source material, attempts to recreate the sensation of reading a comic in a striking way (in this case, the slo-mo effects), and acknowledges deeper themes without being preachy.

The few negative reviews I've read seem rooted in an inability to accept a film that takes a different approach to everything else that's come out in the last few years. It's a film that doesn't constantly spoon-feed viewers by telling them what they're supposed to think about every character or situation or pander to family audiences, and it's all the better for it. To me, not having a convoluted plot with lots of clumsy character development and exposition is a merit, not a drawback. DREDD is an action film that exists to entertain, and it achieves this aim with a brutal efficiency of which other modern action filmmakers would do well to take note.

While it works on this visceral level, DREDD also has a degree of subtlety to it that makes it more rewarding than standard action fodder. Examples include a scene in which the rookie, Anderson, is in an elevator with Dredd, clearly traumatised after having to shoot someone. Dredd stares at her disapprovingly, scrutinizing her; Anderson notices and desperately pulls herself together. It's a subtle illustration of the brutalizing effect of Dredd's world and a hint of what made him the way he is, there for receptive viewers to pick up on.

Maybe it's this simple emotional core amid all the carnage. Maybe it's the stylish cinematography and evocative music. Maybe it's the way Karl Urban completely and unselfishly inhabits the character of Judge Dredd. Maybe it's Olivia Thirlby's sensitive performance as Anderson or Lena Headey's menacing turn as the villain of the piece. Whatever the reason, this is one of those rare action films that lingers in the senses long after you see it. Well worth owning.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 25, 2014 10:14 AM GMT

The Bandini Quartet
The Bandini Quartet
by John Fante
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 10.49

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book details, 16 July 2004
This excellent edition gathers together four of John Fante's best books. They all feature his fantastic alter-ego, Arturo Bandini. The books are, in order:
- 'Wait Until Spring, Bandini' (Arturo aged about 14, living in Colorado with his devoted Catholic mother and wandering father, dreaming of becoming a great baseball player. Shades of 'Catcher in the Rye').
- 'The Road to Los Angeles' (Arturo aged about 18, living with his mother and sister, dreaming of becoming a writer and working at degrading menial jobs).
- 'Ask The Dust' (Arturo aged about 20, living on his own and struggling to become a writer. This is Fante's most famous, successful book).
- 'Dreams from Bunker Hill' (Bandini living in Los Angeles and working on the movies in Hollywood. Fante actually wrote this just before he died).
The whole thing is well packaged, and it includes an excellent introduction by Fante's son, Dan, who is also a very good writer. I can't recommend this enough. I have all the individual books anyway, but now I have this I can lend my old books to friends and spread the word.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2009 10:55 AM GMT

The Brotherhood of the Grape
The Brotherhood of the Grape
by John Fante
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wish he'd written more, 21 May 2004
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This later Fante novel introduces a dysfunctional Italian-American family, which is presided over by the head of the family, an old rogue of a bricklayer. The protagonist, Nick Molise, could be seen to be an older version of Fante’s much-loved alter-ego, Arturo Bandini, and there is a long flashback section in which he recounts experiences that are very similar to Bandini’s tribulations in ‘the Road to Los Angeles’.
The writing is less spectacular than the flowing prose of Fante’s earlier novels, and the novel is more mature and understated, but there are parts in which the old Fante magic shines through. The most striking thing about this novel is the way it portrays the complex relationship between the main character and his wine-loving, womanising father, who is now nearing the end of his life. It is touching how he remembers the suffering his family went through at the hands of his father - though his drinking and the way he frittered away his wages on gambling - yet his deep devotion to the old man still shines through. He even agrees to accompany his ageing father on one last building project, a bizarre quest to construct a smokehouse in the woods for one of his father’s friends. This ridiculous, Sisyphean quest forms the backbone of the story.
This is an excellent, well-written and perceptive look at the inexplicable bonds of love that exist in families, and the effect on people of ageing and change. It is also in parts very funny. It also raises many questions, as it suggests that Fante could have become one of the acknowledged greats if he had carried on writing, while at the same time suggesting that, even if he had continued, he might never have managed to come up with an alternative to the same themes and characters that recurred again and again in his work. Unfortunately, we’ll never know which is true.

Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante
Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante
by Stephen Cooper
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, unsentimental biography, 19 Mar 2004
I first heard of John Fante through a quotation at the start of "The Informers" by Brett Easton Ellis. The quotation was from the start of Fante's novel "Ask the Dust", and even in that short passage I could sense the passion, honesty and humour of the author. Now, having read all of the Bandini books, some other works by Fante, and this excellent biography, those qualities are very familiar to me.
Cooper is obviously a big fan of Fante, but he doesn't let that get in the way of his honest appraisal of the man. It is clear from Cooper's book that Fante could often be cruel and tyrannical as well as loving and excitable. The man portrayed here is the kind of man you would have expected to create the emotionally-charged characters Arturo Bandini and his Italian immigrant brick-laying father. Indeed, in this biography, in his early years Fante comes across as the real-life incarnation of Bandini, and in his later years, perhaps appropriately, he comes to partially resemble the tyrannical father figures of his work.
Another reason this biography is so fascinating is that Fante lived through a lot of upheavals in the history of America, such as the Depression, the Second World War and the Communist witch-hunts in Hollywood in the 1950s. Readers interested in writers and the process of writing will also find a lot to interest them here, as will people fascinated with Hollywood and the processes behind the movie industry. Central to the biography is the sadness felt by most fans of Fante's work, and obviously shared by Cooper, that he didn't gain the recognition as a writer that he deserved, and that he was forced to spend so much of his life churning out Hollywood scripts, a lot of which were never used.
Reading this book you get the impression that Fante never really gave up on his writing, and the section in which Cooper describes the older Fante, stricken with blindess, reciting his last ever novel to his wife, will give any fan of his work a pang of sadness. Reading this book, I was quite surprised to learn that Fante was actually still alive when there was a resurgence of interest in his work, partly inspired by one of his biggest fans, Charles Bukowski. It made me feel glad that Fante finally saw some late vindication of his novels (long after the initial interest in his early work fizzled out), but there is also a sadness to this turn of events because Fante was already nearing the end of his life.
This is a well-researched, well-written look at a fascinating figure who produced one of the classics of twentieth century American literature ("Ask the Dust"). It is also a very important book, and a step in the right direction of promoting awareness of an excellent writer who has been forgotten for too long.

The Road to Los Angeles ("Rebel Inc." Classics)
The Road to Los Angeles ("Rebel Inc." Classics)
by John Fante
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essential early John Fante, 19 Jan 2003
When I first read John Fante I felt as if I had a great new friend, someone I wished I had known all my life. If you like books that communicate eternal, human truths to you, books that remind you of the way you felt when you were growing up, and the way you still feel today, then you will love John Fante. It's a shame the Fante never achieved much recognition when he was living and working, and that he is not as famous as he should be today, but I'm just glad he ever wrote anything at all.

"The Road to Los Angeles" is the first novel John Fante wrote, and it is probably the weakest of the books I have read so far (I am still making my way through all the books ever written by him). It's the weakest, but it still manages to make you shiver with recognition at the pure, emotional honesty of the writing. It still delights you with the orchestral, flowing sentences that are a John Fante trademark, sentences that can make you laugh and almost cry at the same time. (Try not to read John Fante on the bus, or people will look at you funny). This book seems to be John Fante finding his style, honing his craft and working out when he can go over the top, and when he should restrain the raw emotion and exaggerations that gush out of his prose sometimes.

Like many of John Fante's available books "The Road to Los Angeles" tells the story of Arturo Bandini, a compulsive, emotional young Italian American who feels that he has a calling to a higher purpose, and has a hilariously unshakeable confidence that he will soon escape the drudgery of his life. In this instalment of the Bandini saga, young Arturo is eighteen, he has just left school, and he finds himself having to support his mother and sister with a succession of menial jobs. Because of his own pigheadedness, his compulsive behaviour, and his conviction that he is better than the drudgery that surrounds him because he knows long words and reads Nietzche, Bandini manages to get fired from all his jobs. Eventually he gets a job at a fish cannery, and he comes home every night stinking of fish, secretly plotting his apotheosis with his plans to become a great writer.

There are certainly parallels with James Joyce, but the way John Fante so brilliantly portrays the burning yearning for something more and raw emotional intensity of youth, has a lot in common with that other American classic, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye". If you grew up thinking you were Holden Caulfield, you'll love this, and it will remind you why you loved reading in the first place. Bandini is compulsive, selfish, and foolish, but he's one of us!

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