Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gujarat Gallivanting

Journeying on foot across this wild unchecked country, having left behind the oasis that serves the coldest beer on this remote arid island (and there having indulged in a lunchtime tipple or two) I rambled along with the sun on my face, booze in my belly and a distinctly rolling gait to my step, not unlike that of the sea-faring man back on terra firma after months walking the decks. And even with the beating sun cooking my already parboiled brain, I somehow managed to deftly avoid any untimely detonations through this holy-cowpat minefield up the side of this gentle hill.

But somehow failed to avoid the snake.

Bladder full to bursting and not a native in sight, I drunkenly lurched from the unbeaten path to offer these parched Aloe plants a much-needed drink. Initially I thought I’d stepped on a stick of sorts, my weight pushing it out from under my planted foot and shooting it across the dusty ground, but to then be punched on the shin I thought a tad peculiar, least not because I hadn't seen a single dwarf since leaving Mumbai. So I looked down. And there it was. Or there it went. This rather long, dark, shiny thing. Slithering off into the undergrowth. Leaving me alone with my thoughts. Of which there were about a thousand. Including the quite popular, "The cunt just bit me."

Immediate examination of the jeans revealed no obvious puncture holes. Heart thumping like a woodpecker on speed, I ripped my belt open, popped my fly buttons and dropped my jeans to my ankles. What horror show awaited me? What would I see on my shin? Already discolouring skin surrounding two fresh puncture marks leaking blood and lethal serum? Would it be haemotoxin or neurotoxin speeding through these doomed veins, unfairly aided by this heart working overtime to bring about an untimely death in this desolate land? Who would find me out here? Miles from help. Belly full of booze and fingers stained yellow from that particularly tasty lunch. Left to die and rot under this relentless sun. But no matter how hard I rummaged through the hairy foliage on my shin, I could see no evidence of attack. Even in my drunken paranoid state I couldn't even see anything that I could even remotely pretend could be a serpent's kiss.

And so it transpired there was no horror show for me that day. Which does not mean there was no horror show on offer. As this mini-bus jam-packed with grinning natives now charges past, being forced to slow down to take the sharp bend around a hill devoid of any architecture or life. Apart from one arse. Devoid of underwear. With a pair of balls dangling between the cheeks. Would make a marvelous target. If they had thought to pack catapults and pea-shooters. And for some reason, having quite generously exposed the rear, I am now less inclined to reveal the face. And so I remain bent over. Praying that the snake doesn't suddenly reappear and bop me on the nose as I wait for them to pass on their merry way.

Made much the merrier
By a glimpse of a chap
His balls in his lap
And a distinctly foreign derriere

It would seem that for each sprinkling of relief God grants me he also sends a deluge of horror.

Extract from The India Diaries, by Jared Kelly.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Product Placement

The Writers’ Guild recently sent a response to OFCOM’s proposed rule change on product placement on television. here

Personally, I think they should have just sent David Lynch.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Survivors BBC New Drama

So, I’m thinking that maybe some BBC think-tank studying successful US television shows (like LOST with its diverse cast of strangers thrown together in a survival situation) came up with the thought, “Hey, if we copy that kind of format but with shit production values we might achieve similar success but with shit production values.” Except rather than come up with an original take on the ‘group of strangers thrown together’ scenario they just borrowed an old idea (one they conveniently already owned) and justified the lack of imagination on the grounds that we’re all a bit worried about flu these days.

I know influenza in its various forms is a real concern, but a person dying of flu doesn’t really make great television. “Oh no, she sneezed again!” “Shit, we’ve run out of tissues!” “Oh look, another person has died in their bed!” And that’s it. That’s as exciting as it gets. Most people dying from flu really would expire in their beds. The only real concern being if their mattresses were capable of soaking up the gallons of Lemsip released by their bladders post mortem.

For this reason, and plenty of others, having a feature length first episode (like that!) was a waste of time as the narrative could, and should, have started 40 minutes later. Instead we get uninspiring stock characters telling us (rarely are we shown) about the global spread of lots of people dying in their beds, with very little drama occurring before the real story starts when Julie Graham wakes up in bed. It took Danny Boyle about five minutes to arrive at the same point in 28 Days Later with a tense prologue that fired us straight into the story. A post-apocalyptic drama can be many things, but boring? Now that’s a first.

Poor storytelling. Poor casting. Poor acting. Even poor music. All represented on our screens by many of the same tired worn out TV actors who must all be part of some secret actors collective blackmailing the BBC board for constant work. In their defence, they didn't have much to work with. The characters were so badly drawn they felt like they'd been written by a Parkinson’s sufferer perched on a washing machine on spin dry. All the characters, bar none, seem remarkably okay about the fact that EVERYONE THEY KNOW IS DEAD yet just three days previously EVERYONE THEY KNEW WAS ALIVE. Surely people wouldn't behave like that if this really did happen? I don’t believe they would. And that’s the problem. I just didn’t believe the characters. I didn't believe in their actions or lack of reaction. They didn’t feel like real people, they felt like they were created by someone who lives, not in the real world, but in a world that exists in front of a television set. These characters weren’t born out of life experience and imagination, they were born of a hundred other dramas before them. They’re reflections of reflections.

The pace and timing felt like it was written under the instruction to be absolutely clear about absolutely everything just in case not absolutely everyone understands absolutely everything. It's the drama of sheep on Valium, and in complete contrast to those US shows that probably inspired this remake. Plot-wise there were just so many stupid and annoying moments, from the ridiculous mosque scene to the utterly pointless dog trapped in a car scene.

Why make a point of showing us this lonely little boy hearing a dog barking and then cutting to show us that barking dog trapped inside a car, but then NOT SAVING THE DOG YOU BASTARDS! They even went so far as to zoom in close on the boy’s ear just as we heard the dog barking >>okay okay we get it! The boy has heard the dog barking!<<  Everything about that scene suggested a set up for the boy to discover the dog. But he didn’t, and the dog didn’t feature again. That’s just plain bad filmmaking (and also not very nice for the poor widdle doggie) plus it was such a great opportunity to inject some much needed sentiment and have the boy rescue the dog and them team up together for the rest of the series. The dog would have been a much better companion for the boy than his stupid football, and their growing relationship could have contributed to future storylines, plus the dog could have been used as a device to discover other survivors rather than relying on coincidence: there was a little too much bumping into each other on deserted motorways for my liking.

Oh, and to top it off, it’s got no zombies. Not one zombie. Rubbish. I blame 28 Days Later. And 28 Weeks Later. And now Dead Set. In fact, I blame me for watching those films. Because I sat through Survivors constantly waiting for the zombies to appear, for no other reason than they are supposed to appear in a drama that looks like this. Empty streets, empty shops, abandoned cars, no electricity, no running water, no television… because we all know who lives in the land of the empty streets and no electricity, right? Right! ZOMBIES! Running really fast, foaming blood at the mouth with bulging white eyes. “Arrgghh! Run! It’s the zombies!” But even though I knew it wasn’t a zombie film, I still couldn’t stop thinking about bloody zombies.

It’s like when you alight at a tube station and step onto the elevator that’s undergoing maintenance and isn’t working and your feet and head have a mild communication problem. Your brain’s thinking, “Cool. This is where we get to float to the top.” But your feet are shouting, “Walk! Walk! Walk! It’s not working!” Well that’s how I felt throughout much of Survivors, with my zombie motor neurons kicking in whenever someone entered a deserted building, “RUN! There’s gonna be zombies in there!” Or when someone went into a deserted shop, “RUN! There’s gonna be zombies in there!” Or when anyone approached a body on the floor, “RUN! It’s a zombie you idiot!” But nothing would happen. Nothing frightening. Nothing scary. In fact nothing even mildly interesting, which might be scary from a commissioning point of view but certainly not from where I was sitting.

Mind you, a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by the same actors on UK television playing stereotypical characters that say stupid things and don’t care about the fact that everyone is dead is extremely scary. Maybe that’s where the horror lies and I'm just coming at it from the wrong angle?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Rock Biography

My fondness for music extends to its history and associated literature, and when it comes to musical literature nothing irritates me more than the rock biography. If the author takes a back seat and simply concentrates on the artist, then fine, but quite often the author is compelled to include themselves in their story. I appreciate that authors need to spend time with their subject, sometimes as a participant observer, but when authors then include themselves as part of the bigger picture, an accomplice on their subject’s rocky road to infamy, then that’s where I draw the line and the book goes in the oven.

The reality of these books is that as much as we like the music we also want to hear the stories of rock‘n’roll excess. That’s really why we buy the book. We want to be shocked, amazed, disgusted and also a little jealous. Then we too, just like that author, get to repeat those great stories with some authority. We believe these insights help us identify with the artist, though the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. We are reading about a lifestyle we could never hope to achieve, and, if truth be told, a lifestyle completely unsuited to most of us. Which brings me back to that pesky author.

It’s not uncommon in the standard rock biography for the author to get somewhat over-enthusiastic and include himself (I say ‘himself’ because they are invariably male) in some vainglorious attempt to impress upon us just how crazy he is. But let’s face it, who really cares? Be your stories true or fantasy we just don’t care about you - the only reason we are reading your book is because of your choice of subject matter. Give us the booze, the drugs, the parties, the near death experiences, the music, in fact give us anything but you.

Here is music journalist extraordinaire, Dave Bluez, and his insightful history of popular music... READ HERE.



Monday, November 03, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Most Popular Hermit

I met Beryl Bainbridge last night. Was at a party quaffing expensive booze and smelly cheese and was introduced to the chain-smoking whiskey-guzzling great Dame.

Beautiful. Remarkable. Mad as a hatter. My kind of gal.

Clare “I used to be a pirate” Francis was also there. And suddenly they proceed to have a very public spat. No fisticuffs, of course, not these dignified ladies, and certainly no ground-to-air fountain pens were in evidence, just a few choice blue words hurled back and forth across a crowded room.

As I understood it, Beryl referred to Clare as “that sailor bird…” to which Clare took great offence. Clare’s gripe seemed to be that the being a "sailor bird" days were long behind her, and now that she’s a best-selling author she felt she should be referred to as such. But Beryl seemed to be of the opinion that the title “sailor bird” was more appropriate. It was all rather interesting and definitely a timely diversion from the peculiar couple from Perth who were spitting bits of Stilton into my Rioja.

Then I get introduced to this tall, interesting chap. Long unruly hair, tweed suit, tweed waistcoat, tweed hat, round glasses as thick as submarine windows, long flappy shoes, a flower in his button-hole and teeth so long they inspired thoughts of garden patio decking. We get chatting and he tells me he's a hermit.

He said he became so inspired after reading about a Russian hermit that he proceeded to read all the books he could find on being a hermit, then procured a caravan (that he refers to as 'she' and references boat-speak when talking about 'her'), located a vast empty wasteland and moored her there. And in doing so achieved his goal of becoming a hermit. Brilliant.

But I met him at a party?

Surely that's something of a lifestyle anachronism, or at least a not-quite-right-ism? I met a hermit at a party. How do you meet a hermit at a party? That’s like meeting a penguin in a sauna. And then it gets worse. Or better. He starts telling me about all these other famous hermits around the world. Exactly how does a hermit become famous? How does that work? As I stood amongst this group of well-heeled individuals, all desperately fascinated with this tweedy hermit and his tweedy tales of other hermits, my slightly sozzled brain started malfunctioning under the weight of these hermitry revelations. It was ridiculous. But no one else was laughing. I was trying so desperately hard to not spray red wine over everyone that I kept making silly little gargling noises, further compounded by the fact that hermit sounds too much like Kermit. That really wasn’t helping.

And then he mentions, to this enthralled wide-eyed audience, that he has a most fascinating tale to tell about the most famous hermit of them all. Cue drum roll…

... this hermit was SO famous and SO great, that... wait for it… loads of other hermits went to visit him. Ta da! Yep. And because there were now so many of them in one place, Mr. I’m-the-best-hermit-in-the-world decides to build a huge house so they could all live in it.


As hermits.

Living together.

Lots of them.

Got that?


Monday, August 25, 2008

The Dark Knight at BFI IMAX

Watching The Dark Knight on a screen that's the height of five double-decker buses with an 11,600-watt digital surround-sound system was the equivalent of being run over by five double-decker buses, peeled off the road by screaming baboons, stuffed into a cannon and fired head first into a brick wall.

As a viewing experience it has to go down as the most painfully dumb, excessive and utterly pointless battering of the senses I have ever experienced in a cinema, although I would hesitate to label the IMAX a cinema in the tradition sense, as the general effect of flying, sweeping, dipping and diving around the skyline of Gotham City is more in keeping with a rollercoaster ride that just... doesn’t… end. Leaving me feeling like I’d been subjected to some pointless human foie gras experiment and force fed four thousand cream cakes then ordered at gun point to trampoline for two and half hours whilst someone told me a really shit story that just... wouldn’t… end.

Talking and telling. There’s so much talking and telling in this film. With his ridiculous 80-a-day voice (we’re talking cigars here, Marlboro Man’s a pussy compared to this bloke) and a mask that obscures all but his mouth, it’s only natural that Batman's teeth become the focal point of attention, especially as he’s constantly spouting endless soul destroying bat wisdom (what is it with all the endless ridiculous philosophizing? Is there some kind of Batman bible? The Book of Bat? Bat Zen: the art of sucking the life from an audience via their ears?) and so it quickly becomes apparent that his mouth and teeth bare a striking resemblance to those of David Beckham’s, which further highlights how utterly ludicrous his more-gravel-than-a-footballer’s-driveway voice is. It is ridiculous. Then comical. Then annoying. Really annoying. To the point I started fantasizing about headbutting the chair in front of me until my skull caved in rather than sit through one more minute of endless bat babbling from what sounds like an asthmatic mountain gorilla who’s just eaten a maxi-tub of crunchy peanut butter at high altitude.

Ledger’s performance is good, it does stand out, but more so because of a distinct lack of competition. The Joker, expectation-wise, surely has to be an easy character for an actor to play, and Ledger strolls through this (with his “I’ve just shit myself” geriatric shuffle) like a natural on auto-pilot with no surprises. Which is the problem. No surprises. Everything about the Joker is predictable. From how he is first introduced to how he acts/reacts throughout the entire film, and the only real surprise is that he doesn’t figure in the finale. Go figure. Or not as the case may be. Bizarre really. The finale is gifted to Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, Mr. Two-Face to his enemies, who turns overacting into an artform and screams and shouts a lot about a lot of stuff we really don’t care about - a performance that will surely be the envy of Nicolas Cage. Oscar-worthy performance from Ledger? Not if he was in last year's category, but then he’s gone and sadly done that dead thing so watch this space.

In summary: the movie was an assault on the senses, yet still felt ponderous. It was already long at two and half hours, yet felt considerably longer. Crucially, although based on a comic book, it took itself very seriously, and because it took itself very seriously it subsequently failed in opting for caricature over character and cliché over invention. Overall the film displayed little grasp of the subtleties involved in good storytelling with only limited effort aimed at making dramatic sense. It was all about the glorious spectacle.

The only thing that might have improved The Dark Knight would have been opium-dipped popcorn. And possibly a gun. My journey home that night was delayed due to an unfortunate person under a tube train. I'm thinking a quick rummage through bloodstained pockets would have revealed a ticket stub for the IMAX.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


"It seems to me that the most important of all the rules is to please, and that if a play has achieved this goal, it has followed the right path." Molière


Mexican stand-offs gone wrong, suitcases of abandoned drug money, a bad-ass killer on the trail of a likeable desperado, a smooth-talking bounty hunter on the trail of the bad-ass killer, and a policeman who talks a lot about a lot of stuff a lot of the time – for ages.

It fails to deliver on a set-up that is driven down our throats with each gruesome murder. An unstoppable killer closes in on his prey, an intuitive and very capable Vietnam veteran, whilst a wise old philosophizing policeman tracks both of them. That's the set-up, and we sit back in expectation as these three hurtle towards each other and… well… nothing really.

So we're left with a psychotic Spaniard sporting a Beatles haircut on a big face, lugging what looks like a scuba diving tank around a desert, laying waste to all and sundry in his pursuit of a Vietnam vet who doesn't quite understand the concept of running away (1974 anyone?), all whilst being investigated – and I use the word in its loosest sense - by a walking drawling scrotum in a sheriff's uniform prone to a soliloquy or ten.

There were some scenes that were just, well, I don't know what they were or where they were going or why they even existed, I suspect simply to give McCarthy's prose a voice, and Woody Harrelson's character didn't really bring anything to the equation other than another corpse for el big face to scuba to death. As I sat there watching this film whimper to its conclusion, the bone marrow in my legs started itching, and when Tommy Lee Jones started getting all Hamlet on the motherfucker, I could actually feel my teeth growing. Jesus. I couldn't get to the pub fast enough.

I understand why they did it. I think. McCarthy’s book is all about how things aren’t what they used to be and how things don’t always turn out how they are supposed to and the unpredictability of life (a bit like football, really) and so we are accordingly gifted a lesson in keeping with that theme: a chase thriller that ends, wait for it.... not.... how.... it's.... supposed to. Brilliant. They subverted the genre to establish the narrative theme of a piece of literature and shock us all with the revelation… BIG FUCKING DRUM ROLL… that real life doesn’t always turn out the way you want or expect it to. Gee, thanks dad, but can you lay off with the life lessons I’m trying to watch an imitation of real life through the medium of drama. What? This is the film? Oh. How silly of me.

Drama isn’t just something that exists in this world because people write it, it’s pretty much the reverse that’s true, and dramatists exist in this world because human beings have an inherent need for drama. Writers exist to feed that need, and their role is, or should be, defined by those needs. Writers who fail to take an interest in the public perception of drama (what the audience wants/expects) can end up all too easily misunderstood or inaccessible. A writer who finds, to his surprise and frustration, that his audience fails to connect with him is a world apart from a writer who is inaccessible by design. The former is a learning curve, the latter is unforgivable.

Which raises the question: does a work of art exist if it has been created without regard for the spectator? I accept that's debatable with regards to many forms of art, but I feel it's wholly indefensible with regards to drama. A work of drama exists for an audience.

My problem with No Country For Old Men is that they ignored a fundamental principle of drama to preach reality to thousands of people who paid hard-earned money to leave the real world behind for a few hours.

The Language of Coffee

Here’s how it works at the little café round the corner. I pop in and say, "Hi. Can I have a very strong cappuccino with not a lot of milk, please?" And that's exactly what I get. Not bad, eh? We have an understanding, the Ecuadorian and I. We connect. So what was so different about my sojourn to Starbucks?

ORWELL IN STARBUCKS (A Tragedy in one act)


A rather DASHING YOUNG MAN enters and joins the fast-moving queue. He doesn't have long to wait.

Can I help you, sir?

Hi. Can I have a very strong cappuccino with not a lot of milk, please?

The SPOTTY ROBOT gives off the impression of having just been whacked over the head with a very heavy object.

I'm sorry?

Can I have a very strong cappuccino with not a lot of milk, please?

You mean you want a double shot?


A double shot. We put a double shot in for customers who want it strong.

OK. I'll have one of those then.

And you want that dry, right?


You want a dry cappuccino?

I have no idea what you’re asking me.

Dry means not a lot of milk. Froth.

Oh right. Froth. Yes. In that case I want it dry. Thank you.

So that's one dry cappuccino double shot. What size do you want?

Just a small one, thanks.

A tall one.

No. Just a small one, thanks.

Yes. A tall one.

No. I don't want a tall one.

Well what size do you want?

Grumbled mutterings emit from the growing queue behind.

I just want a small coffee. A little one. Your smallest coffee. That's all.

(gesturing to the board behind him)
The sizes are up there for you to choose from.

Up on the board, three sizes are offered. They start with the smallest and cheapest. This is called a Tall.

I'll have a tall one.

Thank you.

Sigh of relief from the masses behind.

One tall dry cappuccino with a double shot. That's two pounds ninety-eight, please.

Jared gives off the impression of having just been whacked over the head with a very heavy object.

Jared hands the money over the counter.

The spotty robot hands Jared his TWO FUCKING PENCE! change along with a little booklet.

And here's a little instruction manual to help you next time you order from Starbucks.

Thank you.

Jared steps off the pavement and throws himself in front of a bus.



Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Congratulations Harold

In 2005 Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Apart from a few predictable pieces, the media silence was deafening. I wrote a small piece on the subject and posted it on my MySpace page titled: Congratulations Harold. It was both a celebration of the great man and a damning commentary on the lack of media coverage the event received.

A week or so later I received an email from the MySpace admin team asking me to edit or remove my post. The admin said they had been receiving a lot of “traffic” expressing concern at the content of my post and questioned what I hoped to achieve by publicizing such views. I said I wasn't trying to achieve anything, I was simply venting, voicing my opinion, plus I hadn't received one single complaint. They then suggested it might be in everyone's interest if I simply removed the post, as they were sure I wouldn't want to offend anyone.

Okay, I replied to them, so let me get this straight. MySpace happily promotes:

Smut? Yes.
Expressions of violence? Yes.
Horrible music, in every sense? Sure.
Political campaigning? Yep.
Religious dogma? Disturbingly in greater quantities.
Adultery? Yes, and we made it easier.
Online Predators? Yes, and we made it way easier.
Exploitation? The site runs on it, actually.
Ignorance? More the merrier.
Free exchange of ideas? Sure. Oh wait, you mean intelligent ideas? Then no.
The greatest living British playwright? Heavens no!

I ended by asking if this kind of censorship would have happened before Murdoch took ownership of MySpace. Their response was short and to the point. “It's our policy not to discuss Mr. Murdoch with the public." It was then I suggested theirs was a rather bizarre policy, considering they seemed more than happy to suck his dick in public.

It was around that time I discovered myself and my account had parted company. 

Below is the offending article, posted on my MySpace blog in 2005.


Last week, the finest living British playwright recorded, from his wheelchair, an acceptance speech for the greatest literary prize on earth. And yet anyone who wished or hoped to see an allusion to that talk would have searched the mainstream television schedules in vain.

He received no mention on any of the BBC’s main television news programmes. The BBC flagship news and culture programme, ‘Newsnight’, carried absolutely nothing; there was not a single mention of the fact that a British writer had, this month, been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature. Harold Pinter's acceptance speech was restricted to the satellite channel, More4, with a late night repeat on Channel 4. And that, quite simply, was that.

What about our newspapers, did they all celebrate this fantastic achievement? Or did many of them choose to ignore literary history in favour of a farcical assault on a dying man’s political beliefs? Long admired for his dramatic work, Harold Pinter has been equally reviled for his political activism. His crime, according to the media, is voicing strong concerns about others’ crimes; those being crimes against humanity. For his 'crime', one of the world’s greatest living writers suffers the fate of so many writers before him: censorship. Except this isn’t nineteenth century Russia, this is twenty-first century Britain.

Powerful interests with plenty at stake drive the brutal truth of modern media and politics - that honesty and sincerity are heavily punished rather than rewarded. It does not matter how often the likes of Harold Pinter are shown to be right. It does not matter how often the likes of Bush and Blair are shown to have lied in the cause of power and profits. The job of mainstream journalism is to learn nothing from the past, to treat rare individuals motivated by compassion as rare fools deserving contempt. The benefits are clear enough: if even high-profile dissidents can be painted as wretched sickly fools, then which reader or viewer would want to be associated with dissent? As such, ‘normal’ (conforming, consuming, looking after number one) can be made to seem healthy, balanced, sensible and sane.

Journalists everywhere deferred to Les Roberts (one of the world’s leading epidemiologists) when he estimated millions of deaths in the Congo in 2000 and 2001. Yet he was publicly humiliated and judged a fool, guilty of schoolboy errors, when estimating 100,000 civilian deaths since the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. That is nothing less than disgusting - both his treatment and the grim reality of those figures. Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept, without much questioning, someone else’s version of what that reality is. It is a crucial act of independent thinking to be sceptical of someone else’s description of reality.

The great task of propaganda is to make dissent seem unrealistic, embarrassing, and absurd. And unfortunately, in this very real crime against a wonderfully brilliant man, it’s done just that.

“The theatre is what the British have always been good at. And nobody has so come to represent the theatre’s strengths, its rigours, and its glories, as Harold Pinter.” (David Hare, December 10, 2005)

The 2005 Nobel Prize for literature belongs to Harold Pinter.

Congratulations Harold. I’m proud of you.