Tuesday, 21 October 2014

caught in the flash of the curious camera

In every precinct a golden mile
in every doorway stands heart's desire
but see him crouching running through the fire
cos he's the man who built America 

As a Film Studies teacher for the last twelve or so years but not being a film buff particularly, I have always taken it upon myself to "read around the subject". This is of, course the most sage advice I have ever given when asked by students, their parents and management. "Reading around the subject" is the easiest thing in the world to do, after all, shops and the internet are full of them. Books about film/cinema/da moovees have grown exponentially in the last few years. But do they listen? Do they . . .

When I used to teach Surrealist film as a subject area - which somehow seems to have been about six years ago now - I would always include some Chuck Jones cartoons, particularly the Roadrunner ones. I'm pretty sure that none of my students wrote about these cartoons in their exams. I presume - and hope, obviously - they chose to write about the main study films such as Le Chien AndalouLittle Otik, Alice  and Being John Malkovich. Mostly they hated them and I soon gave up the idea and started to concentrate on "Popular Film and Emotional Response", Mexican Cinema - I'd given up on Iranian Cinema too- and Vertigo as the close study film. Most of the students wanted to study Fight Club until they watched it and I showed them the sort of reading material and type of questions they'd get. The main problem here is that most students (occasionally there'd be one or two who would be interested enough to read around the subject) couldn't cope with the sort of texts they needed to read to have that greater understanding. I don't think that they could even read a book like 1000 Films to Change Your Life.

Still, in his autobiography Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones included the nine rules that he claimed were always obeyed in the creation of each Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon.  These rules found on
page 225 were:

1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep!"
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote - only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” (George Santayana)
4. No dialogue ever, except "beep, beep!"
5. The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, reason than that he would not be called Roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

This to me always showed how much craftsmanship went into the cartoons - by sticking to the boundaries, verisimilitude for this elastic and violent world was created.

Back in August the family were in New York and we had to go to Queens for a meal at the Himalayan Yak (definitely recommended) to meet some of our eldest daughter's friends. As the family were spread around NYC for the day we needed somewhere to meet before set off to find the restaurant. After consulting various guide books I noticed that the Museum of the Moving Image was nearby (about 35 minutes away) in the Astoria region, which seemed ideal. Even better was the fact that there was a Chuck Jones exhibition on at the time. That was a first - usually these things open a week or two later after I've gone home!

The exhibition was fantastic - artwork, scripts, memorabilia and loops of cartoons such as Duck Rogers in the 24½ Century * and What's Opera, Doc? Two of the best examples of his work. After wandering around the top floor where the exhibition was, we wound our way down to look at the rest of the museum. I was aware that there was more to the American film industry than Hollywood but to be honest, I wasn't quite aware of the rich seam of talent and film work that came out of these studios. I'll leave you to discover more for yourselves but here's a link to the Wikipedia page. 

To be honest, I think the rest of the family were just indulging me about the exhibition, but once we met there it took a while to get everyone out. The studios themselves whilst giving us in Britain the name Astoria for many of our cinemas, tend to concentrate on TV production. However, the Marx Brothers filmed there amongst many others. There is a whole history of film production there and if you're ever in NYC, it's well worth a visit. 

By having a deeper interest in film and from "reading around the subject" I was able to find somewhere unusual to visit and learn something new. Now that's a good day out.

*Erm, is it just me or are those "Evaporators" rather familiar? This was 1953 and a full thirteen years before the first Star Trek tv series.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

the cranes

On their wings they are returning
On their wings they fly
Shadows fade the sun is burning high

Every day the light stays longer
Every day you sigh
Shadows fade you start to wave goodbye

If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time
If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time

Grey on grey the sky is changing
Grey on grey sunrise
Morning breaks the crimson waits behind

Only love can end the yearning
Only love knows why
Only love the colour of your eyes

If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time
If you're thinking of leaving
You're leaving at a very bad time

On their wings they are returning
On their wings they fly
Winter fades the sun is burning high

The first time I went to Spain was probably about ten years ago. I was there for about half an hour. I have been back once and I managed to stay there for about three days. The first time was a quick trip from Portugal because we'd hired a car and the weather was awful so we took a trip down to Spain. It was a sleepy little seaside town with very little happening.

What was notable about the trip was that as we went over a bridge, we looked down and a flock of flamingos were wading and feeding in a river. It was a magical sight. There were - seemingly - hundreds of them and they looked fleetingly elegant and slightly hallucinatory.  A few years earlier than that we had driven across the Camargue and seen Storks nesting on chimneys. But Cranes? I've never seen one in the wild - the closest I've ever got is the Brooke Bond PG Tips card in my Wildlife in Danger album (by Peter Scott - price sixpence).

Patty Larkin was driving from Manhattan, Kansas to Hastings, Nebraska  some time in 2003. She was with her Road Manager when they found themselves under a sky full of cranes migrating north. She says of the experience:

It was little Vs making a large V and it was probably a mile wide. It was so cool. . . the song came to me that night.

On the CD version from Red=Luck she plays and sings it with her own acoustic guitar accompaniment backed by an acoustic bass (Mike Rivard) and Aussie guitarist Jeff Lang. His achingly beautiful slide guitar playing reminds me of Martin Simpson but others suggest Ry Cooder. Larkin tuned her acoustic guitar down to a Double-dropped D tuning (DADGBD) a half step lower (ie, all notes flattened a half-step). The verses are picked and the bass has a deep soulful thrum that can resonate in your chest, there are a few strummed G chords in the chorus. A simply stated song. It's an exquisite song that stays with you long after it has finished. It has that hovering quality of beautifully recorded acoustic instruments and a gorgeous voice - an intimacy that you can't forget. 

The notes and melancholy atmosphere of the words hang in the air and give a beautiful evocation of coming across one of those wonderful moments in nature that we are only occasionally party to. It's not a song that is easy to understand why it resonates but the chorus suggests a deeper meaning - something beautiful having to move on. Maybe it's a metaphor for a departed lover.

Go for the original version* although she re-recorded it it with David Wilcox on 25 and there's a live version on youtube with a story about the song's genesis.

I'd love to hear Martin Simpson do a version of it.

*Apologies for the site - I couldn't find a complete version of the original. Should you wish to download a version I'm sure you'll go to iTunes or Amazon and pay for it so the artist gets the royalty. I've just checked and it's on Spotify too.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

bearded tits

I can't help about the shape I'm in,
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin.
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give you the answer that you want me too.

Oh well, indeed.

About forty one years ago I started growing a beard. It was a bit scrappy and probably didn't look too good. A friend's dad was a bank manager and took the piss out of me relentlessly - evidently I looked like a "Billy goat". I guess nearly half a century ago bank managers knew what was acceptable in respectable life whereas I'm expecting to meet a bank manager with facial tattoos and piercings any day now. I just had a small chin and felt a beard made me look a bit older and less immature.

Beards are very much in vogue nowadays, evidently. Comments about them and how awful they look seem to crop up regularly. I must admit that I still have a beard - as always, it's more of a goatee when I haven't taken it back to a five o'clock shadow - and am used to it. To me it's much like having a glass eye or a monobrow or some other vaguely unusual feature that people get used to you sporting. Like Owen Wilson's nose. But, ultimately, it's a choice.

Recently I have noticed that some of the comments made about younger men sporting facial hair have been quite vitriolic. I have, I must admit, noticed that large beards seem quite popular. The Amish look seems very popular amongst certain types. In the early Summer when I was in London a few times, particularly around Soho, I did have a slight flashback to Jerusalem in the late seventies. There were a lot of large beards - maybe in this current climate I should call it the 'Bob Hite' look. Mr Hite was the large gentleman who sang Going Up the Country with Canned Heat. And then during the Summer New York seemed awash with young men who certainly favoured an Amish look. The ones around Philadelphia were Amish so they don't count here.

When we got back to Blighty in late August beards became a major talking point. In fact, it was the look itself and the young men that wear them that became a major talking point. The newspapers started to run articles about them: the Independent and the Guardian particularly. Evidently - and it was news to me, these chaps are called "Hipsters". I always thought that was a style of trousers but I've been known to be wrong before. There is even a Wikihow on how to become a Hipster, should you so wish. Unfortunately, the opening paragraph sounds like myself and many friends but none of us would want to be "Hipsters" I'm sure.

One thing that I have learnt from these articles is that Williamsburg N.Y. is the "Hipster capital of the World" - would that be the Williamsburg N.Y. that we wandered about in on a very hot day in August? The very Williamsburg that I mentioned in my last post (cf Earwax Records)? Well I must admit to not seeing very many young men with large beards who evidently smell a lot. However, we did go into a clothes shop that had some very nice - and very expensive - clothes in. All made in the USA evidently. Now I think about it the clothes in there were aimed at a particular audience and, other than possibly the softest denim shirt I have ever felt, were not to my taste. Unlike the Bedford Cheese Shop which was definitely to my taste. A lovely place which we returned to  on the way home. The Crottin from California and the Juliana from Indiana cheeses were gorgeous. . .

Where was I? Oh yes, young hipster types with beards. It seems that one of the biggest problems is that the movement is difficult to market so the media has taken against them and decided to pour its opprobrium upon them. I'm sure that must be the reason. Or, as the Boots and Gloves video above  suggests perhaps they are just a natural enemy for all who see themselves as 'normal'. Evidently many of these Hipsters are rather wealthy which is another thing to hold against them, of course.

Well I don't really know but it must be near the end of Hipster-dom now that even Roy Keane has started sporting  a full Yusef- call-me-Cat set of facial fungus. I may not know much about what's hip but I do understand how to quickly kill off a youth movement. And as that older Hipster from another time siad:

Because something's happening here
But you don't know what it is,
Do you, Mr Jones?

Since posting this I watched the short film about the aforementioned Mr Stevens who definitely looks like the stereotypical Hipster in all but age - big beard, hat, sunglasses. However, it's a nice film that features the other former Island Record British Muslim musician of this parish. Well worth a view.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

sighing for retirement

O take me from the busy crowd,
          I cannot bear the noise!
For Nature's voice is never loud;
          I seek for quiet joys.

We took the annual pilgrimage to the Trimley Marshes Blackthorn patch as Mrs Dave felt the call to make some Sloe gin. Now, we don't have a "secret Sloe patch of which (we) speak proudly and guard jealously" as John Wright writes in Hedgerow (River Cottage Handbook No 7) but we do have two regular patches that tend never to fail us.

One of the patches is over the river at Bawdsy. It's a tiny fenced off wild field but we've never been told off for entering and helping ourselves. The other is the Trimley one we went to yesterday.

As we walked along the track past the fields and marvelling at the rich Autumnal colours amongst the trees, we laughed about a previous trip a few years ago. We had done exactly the same thing but on a Sunday. The weather was okay but "threatening to wet" as Bill Caddick sings. By the time we had started to pick the Sloes the rain got heavier and heavier, eventually causing us to give up and trudge back to the car soaked. What made it so memorable was that an old lady in a car drove past (cars rarely traverse lanes) and stopped to give us a lift. She didn't mind that we dripped rivulets into her car's interior. Such is the kindness of strangers. As we remembered that time, spots of rain started to hit us occasionally. Mrs Dave took no chances and elected to wear her flimsy rain coat - of the 'pacamac' variety - but despite the clouds in the distance nothing much came of it. In fact, the sun broke through and the walk back to the car later was beautiful and quite warm.

We had a good haul of Sloes, we'd managed to time it just right and find plenty of juicy ones amongst
the dried and shrivelled fruits waiting around to rot. A trip to Lidl on Sunday to find some reasonably priced gin and next year's supply is secured. I'm not a fan of gin at all - it suggests golf clubs and weekend sailors to me - but Sloe Gin is another beast all together. I've found quite a few mentions of it in various recipes such as crumbles and gravy. It's a much more pleasant drink than normal gin and certainly comes into its own to sip as a postprandial tipple.

Near to the car park we stopped to look back over the fields and tracks that we have wandered across this past quarter of a century and admired the Stratocumulus clouds looming over the horizon. at least, I think that's they are. I'm sure someone will tell me differently. I'd left my phone at home updating so Mrs Dave took the picture above.

Bloody Apple had sent me an email saying that I had to update my phone to continue getting updates for Twitter - which I have continued to use although I'm not obsessed by it! Unfortunately that means that my iPhone screen now looks totally different and all modern. Obviously I can't use it properly and spend all my time trying to find things that were a doddle before. Welcome to the future, one where you're never allowed to stay still.

Whilst walking along the tracks yesterday we looked back over the past few months and hoped we'd made the right choices. Both of us going down to three days a week has meant a huge cut in income but we feel that the benefits outweigh the 'benefit' of earning full salaries but at the beck and call of our paymasters. The slight distancing from the everyday at school has meant a healthier outlook and the opportunity to feel more in control. We can afford to wander these lanes without guilt - the piles of marking are much smaller! This last point is a huge bonus for me now that I have dropped English teaching completely.

So, yes, we reasoned, we have made the right choice and we look forward to retiring from the classroom come August - well, July really - and can wander these lanes without any guilt whatsoever. Our days can be enjoyed away from crowds and noise and listen more intently to Nature's voice as John Clare wrote.