Monday, April 30, 2007

Listen to the Silence

Paul Morley first came to my attention as a panelist on Newsnight Review. I remember him cutting into recent Oscar Best Picture winner and Hollywood didactic, Crash, drawing parallels between Crash and Team America: World Police because they are both about a bunch of liberal Hollywood types speechifying a lot about how racism isn’t a very good idea after all. I also recall him describing Thank You for Smoking as “Hollywood! Disney! Tom Cruise!”

Investigating further I found out that once upon a time he had been a writer for the NME, back when being a writer for the NME seemed to mean something vaguely more than it seems to mean nowadays. I also found out he had written two books. One called Nothing – that sounds a bit bleak, I thought, and another called Words and Music – much more like it. Within days of learning of its existence I found Words and Music hanging around in a local bookshop, smiling out at me from what suddenly seemed like much emptier shelves than when I had first walked in. I bought the book immediately, read it, and somehow it managed to live up to my very high expectations.

But I avoided reading Nothing. I avoided reading it because of the title, which as far as I was concerned sounded more ominous than the notoriously ominous Heart of Darkness, which, by all accounts, as far as titles go, is too poetic to suggest the true “horror” Conrad confronts in the text itself. Nothing is a title that echoes with the indirect incomprehensible infinity of the universe, and the stone gray, everyday banality and certainty of death. I avoided reading it because the blurb eerily promised a book about his father’s suicide, the unhappy parts of Morley’s childhood and Joy Division.

Then I read some of the reviews. Overwhelmingly positive. Many of the people posting described the book as life changing. I’d never read a book I considered life changing. I’ve read some great books, books I love, books I feel better for having read, books I feel have expanded my consciousness, books that I have learnt something from, and in one way or another, by and by, books that have changed my life. But I had never read one I would describe (to anyone else, at least) as life changing. I wasn’t sure I wanted a book to change my life. As Thomas Anderson once said in a movie about reality and machines, “I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my own life.”

The fictions surrounding the largely fictional Nothing at the center of a book written about Paul Morley, his father, Ian Curtis, death and existentialism orbit around a figment of my imagination which at this moment in time has decided to manifest itself in the form of a former NME journalist who once wrote a book about Nothing, which somehow communicated more than the sum of its parts because any book about nothing is really about everything, now, the moment and the infinite moments that are occurring by the infinite bucket load all the bloody time and space. A book that made me understand better than ever what Roland Barthes was on about. To tell the truth through sly, liberating lies and because the world can be a better place because of the imagination, and why not?

Of course I won’t know for sure how good it really is for a little while yet. I need to wait a few days, let the book settle into a more comfortable position and find its place in the natural/artificial order of things inside my head. At the minute its still floating around, knocking into things, disturbing other things, somewhere near the front of my thoughts. What I can say for sure is that I think Morley is a remarkable writer. An enabler, a kind of cosmic key for unlocking the wonders of a more mature and adult imagination and the knowledge that such seriousness and silliness need not, and will not end with childhood if you don’t want it to.

I don’t think I could recommend the book to anyone else, as such, it does get very tough in parts, but from a very personal place I think I can say, Nothing is the first book I read that changed my life.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What is the Matrix?

After I finished writing my last blog post I realised what I was really trying to say was not what I had written. The problem is not that Hollywood continue to make Hollywood films, it's the fact that other films are not getting screened. Multiplexes, having put almost all smaller cinemas out of business, now insist on showing the same films because those are the films with the biggest advertising budgets; the ones people are told they want to see, and those get shown over and over and over again.

Films I have not had the chance to see in the past couple of weeks:

The Lives of Others - The best foreign language film winner at this years Oscars.
INLAND EMPIRE (capitalisations are his) - The new David Lynch film.
The Namesake - Mark Kermode's film of the week a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile Norbit and Mr Bean's Holiday sit atop of the UK box office.

Friday, April 20, 2007

If it hasn't got a button, it's not worth pushing

In The Times yesterday: “Spider-Man 3 is the opening shot in what Hollywood believes will be a record breaking summer at the box-office.” Dear God no! Please don’t let it be record breaking, that’ll give them the impression that what they’re doing is a good idea. It’ll give them completely the wrong idea about how to move, ostensibly, ‘forward’. Here is the list of films expected to be the biggest box-office draws of the summer.

Spider-Man 3
Shrek the Third
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Ocean’s Thirteen

Every one of them a sequel!

The Simpsons movie and the Transformers movie fill out the slate. So far, so lacking originality. There’s not a lot else needs to be said (I’m going to continue regardless, of course, but…) the list speaks for itself. When did we let money become the bottom line in everything, (probably it always was) but there are so many more important things to be taken into account when making movies, music, art. Will it sell? Can be and has been an important maxim for making sure what you are making is something that might be enjoyed by other people, to guard yourself, in part, against self-indulgent nonsense. But when did personalising you work, trying to say something, attempting to reveal some truths, at least as you see them, at a particular moment in time, become an anathema to what is considered commercial? Why should stupid sell better than smart? Why should bland be more profitable than innovative? There is no reason, so why do our cultural touchstones seem determined to reconfigure themselves into the shape of a toilet? It’s like the Matrix never happened. Probably the sequels helped deaden its impact. But, there was a film over-flowing with action and ideas, set pieces and philosophy, broad humor and wit, familiarity and invention. Subverting genre as it re-invented genre. You don’t expect every film to be as good as that one or as successful at bringing something new to the screen but you would like to see them trying. C’mon Hollywood, pull your finger out!

I will probably watch Spider-Man 3, because I liked the first two and because Sam Raimi is a proper filmmaker. Shrek 3? The second one was one too many. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End might be a prophetic title. For all I know the filmmakers know something I don’t. Maybe the Pirates of the Caribbean films are artifacts from an alternate future, a message from our alternate selves attempting to warn us against our continued abuse of god’s green earth. From a universe not dissimilar to the one first glimpsed in Waterworld. The ice caps melted and technology dissolved with them, forcing humans to adapt to lives on board ostensibly old-fashioned galleons where mutant humanoids, resembling creatures of the sea, live and work among us… Maybe I’m asking too much for the most widely watched film community on the planet – namely, Hollywood – to be, at least, in part, at least in touch with the cutting edge, at least. Breaking film up, taking it in new directions, previously unexplored directions, investigating the possibilities of what the medium might be, or could be. Instead, they serve us largely the same old stodge and expect us to swallow it. Then again, why am I wasting valuable seconds railing against what will probably be some enjoyable, throwaway pieces of fluff, the real threat to humanity is Eddie Murphy and his fat suit. He must be stopped!