Naturally Born

I have a dubious relationship with contemporary art. By which I mean that I generally dislike all contemporary art, but as a general concept I love it. This is essentially due to the notion of alchemy – turning the ordinary into something extraordinary or using it as a means of representation for something greater than itself.

The best contemporary art exhibition I ever saw was at the Baltic in Newcastle around 2005.

I used to have a poster of this on my bedroom wall when I was 18.

It was an exhibition of the work of Edward and Nancy Kienholz. It was a collection of free-standing environmental tableauxs. Kienholz’ assemblages were of found objects – the detritus of modern existence, often consisting of figures cast from life. It was vulgar, brutal, and gruesome. The idea was to confront the viewer with questions about human existence and the inhumanity of twentieth-century society. This was largely achieved. While on one hand these were mostly a graphic and almost Ballardian commentary on the nature of the American dream, there was also The Hoerengracht. On the surface, this was Kienholz’ visual representation of Amsterdam.

As you walked through The Hoerengracht, full of garishly lit alleyways and tacky, seedy, run-down rooms, the joke was that by viewing the exhibition, you became part of the grungy, sordid, voyeuristic spectacle.

I was reminded of this tonight as I was watching Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. I honestly think it’s one of my favourite movies. It is so good on every level: amazing cinematography, editing and storytelling. It is all here. If, as a career path, Kienholz had opted for film-making rather than creating tableauxs, I suspect you’d end up with something fairly similar. A movie that starts by driving through a psychotropic collection of images of America, but is set up and presented in such a way, that the viewer is watching Mickey and Mallory watch a movie. So you in turn become part of the spectacle, because what you have here from the off the is a the story that is overtly built around cinema as a medium.

I suppose you could do a negative reading of this movie in which it is simply an extended bit of nasty sadism and torture porn, but that would lead to an interesting commentary in itself, as the year this movie was released, 1994, was the year the World Wide Web was born. In the movie itself, there is a very clear link between sex and television in terms of the depiction of Mallory’s abuse at the hands of her father. As the World Wide Web is still being born, we’re at the point in history where the link between television and pornography is still growing, and hasn’t yet been usurped by the internet. It’s ’94 and we have VCR, which means that television isn’t just simply a broadcast medium but a medium of storage and replaying. Which means, of course, that it’s possible to have pornography on it. In practice, though, most of the pornography that could still actually be easily obtained at the time was scarcely what you would consider pornography by 2018 standards – it was mostly soft-core titillations. More common throughout the rise of VCR was cheap, dirty, and violent movies, dubbed ‘video nasties.’ So in turn, the movie is at once transgressing against these kinds of ‘video nasties’ of the eighties, while alluding to the every increasing public fascination with celebrity, sex, violence and what is to come in the form of the internet. Interestingly, in terms of sex, celebrity and video, arguably the most famous example would arrive the following year in the form of the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson sex tape, when the medium would reach its zenith (nadir?). Natural Born Killers is a fascinating insight into this time period, as it stands at the precipice of a new era. This isn’t actually a film about two mass murderers. It’s a film about us and how we consume media, and how in turn a veritable buffet of mindless sex, violence and celebrity becomes a consumer product. Like Kienholz’s tableaux, and this is evident from the very first shot of the movie, through viewing we become part of the spectacle.

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God’s Real Name was God

As I write this, I’m in bed watching a documentary called ‘The Trials of Henry Kissinger.’ This is based on the book of the same name by Christopher Hitchens. The proposition being that it is a case for a prosecution, charging Kissinger with crimes against humanity: The result of a man’s worldview being shaped by a desire for power, moulded through the destruction of innocent life rather than through acts of creation. Preceding this, I had watched a talk with Hitchens, which was mostly notable for his comments on the human condition in relation to religion, namely that man has a desire to be ‘told what to do.’ However, as Blake said, there are some who do wish to shake off the ‘mind forged manacles.’

As I walked down by the riverside
One evening in the spring
Heard a long gone song
From days gone by
Blown in on the great North wind
Though there is no lonesome corncrake’s cry
Of sorrow and delight
You can hear the cars
And the shouts from bars
And the laughter and the fights
May the ghosts that howled
Round the house at night
Never keep you from your sleep
May they all sleep tight
Down in hell tonight
Or wherever they may be

From this, I consider six paintings I had been looking at earlier in the day:

More than any other form of human expression, art is the barometer that lays bare a period’s view of reality, of life, of man. A work of art reflects its creator’s fundamental ideas and value-judgments, held consciously or subconsciously. Since most artists are not independent theoreticians, but absorb their basic ideas from the prevaling consensus (or some faction within it), their work becomes a microcosm embodying and helping to spread further the kinds of beliefs advocated by that consensus.

‘The Spiritual form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan.’ Man as a tyrannical warmonger in the biblical style. This one strikes me as being absurdly ironic. The destroyer as a saint. One could imagine a more modern inversion of this with someone like Kissinger. Incidentally, Leviathan appears in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Job is an investigation of divine justice, which we will get to, momentarily.

‘Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils.’ This is an interesting painting. God is the creator of all things. God is the creator of Satan. Thus, there can no good or evil, as all is the creation of God, and all of God’s creation is good. There is an interesting passage in the New Testament. One also, that the cynic in me finds highly amusing. Paul to the Romans 11:32. ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that he may have mercy on all.’ The concept of Hell, doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, it only appears in the New Testament. If there is to be a Hell, it can only be an extension of God’s creation and be entirely, mercifully of God’s own design. We move to the design image when we can begin to see God in all things. Further to this, Balzac said, Man is neither good nor bad; he is born with instincts and capabilities; society, far from depraving him, asserts and improves him, makes him better; but self-interest also develops his evil tendencies. Out of this, man created organised religion, which is a complete system for the repression of these very tendencies. It is also the most powerful element of social order. Curiously, therefore, from our view, Christianity can be considered both the best and worst thing to happen to the West. For example, Christianity created modern nationalities, and it is through Christianity that they are preserved. All the Gods have died of their temporality. So what will happen when these shackles of organised religion and the social order it brings are shaken off? History has shown, man will just create new ones in their place. This might be considered unfortunate. History is, or ought to be, what it was; while romance ought to be the ‘better world.’ For everything to stay the same, everything must change.

It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. He tried to think what a big thought that must be; but he could only think of God. God was God’s name just as his name was Stephen. Dieu was the French for God and that was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. But, though there were different names for God in all the different languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages, still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.

This is the inversion of the theme. Where woman is god and is responsible for all of creation and its manifestations. This one has its roots in the Garden of Eden, where the original sin was human consciousness. Woman as the giver of life is therefore responsible for the creation of consciousness. From reading the Old Testament, what I have taken from it is that Genesis symbolically represents the birth of human consciousness. Specifically, the tree and the apple represent the foundation of the central nervous system – further to this, consciousness and the ability to abstract is what separates man from nature, and that is the sin in the Garden of Eden. The separation of humans from nature via consciousness. We can try and impose order over nature with words and symbols but it isn’t possible to do so. Thus, ironically, it is our hunger for knowledge and desire to understand that causes us to lose touch with the essence. Incidentally this is also why I have an abiding interest in Taoism, because Taoism gives the reason why that it is. God is ineffable. It is impossible for any human to understand and know the divine source. We can only use symbols as a way to allow us a glimpse of the true essence of the divine. Hence in Taoism, once you refer to the Tao as Tao, it ceases to be the real Tao as words are purely man made constructs and symbols, thus they can never capture the true essence of a thing.

Here is more of my favourite theme: ‘The Promise’ and ‘The Sleeping Fool’ by Cecil Collins. Here we see the artist beneath the tree of life, the dawning of consciousness and the act of creation. Or, again, man as god or as the creator, through his art.

Here we have ‘Landscape of the Threshold’ by Cecil Collins. This one interested me as in this painting, the Holy Trinity act as a barrier to reaching the divine Godhead. Of course, despite the apparent protestations of the trinity here, the Godhead is always present. Heaven wheels above you, displaying to you her eternal glories, and still your eyes are on the ground. The Trinity appears across most world religions and philosophies. For example, in Taoism, the trinity comes in the form of the three treasures or, the three jewels which are compassion, frugality and humility. In Tibetan Buddhism there are three refuge formulations, the Outer, Inner, and Secret forms of the Three Jewels. The ‘Outer’ form is the ‘Triple Gem,’ the ‘Inner’ is the Three Roots and the ‘Secret’ form is the ‘Three Bodies’ or trikaya of a Buddha.

For things to remain the same, everything must change / BlacKkKlansman

I was interested to see BlacKkKlansman. It’s an interesting take on a real life story. Being a Spike Lee movie, it’s a quirky, well made movie. It is essentially Mississippi Burning millennials. I found the parts effectively equating David Duke with Donald Trump to lack any kind of subtlety and to be fairly trite and predictable in what was an otherwise good movie. Unlike Duke, Trump is not an ideologue. That said, Duke has also had the savviness at several points throughout his career to try and disassociate himself from extremist groups in a less haphazard than Trump’s blundering comments on Charlottesville for example. Sadly, as a result, most people will just take this at face value as being an anti-Trump movie, rather than look at the interesting things this movie has to say about heritage, the nature of extremist groups and the relationship of those groups within a form of material dialectics, where extremes breed extremes as a reaction to said extremism. This has historically always been the case. If we look back across the last century, second World War fascism was given rise as a reaction to communism in Eastern Europe, or in Britain, Thatcherism and the rise of the individual was a reaction to the power of the trade unions.

It was Hegel who first propagated the theory that would come to be appropriated, developed and known through a man who should never be mentioned in polite civilised society as the materialistic conception of history. It simply means in laymans terms, that the economic, or broadly speaking, the trade conditions existing in the world, determine the way in which the production of wealth must work. One could also pontificate, that this ‘working out of production’ goes so far as to even determine what the social, ethical and religious considerations shall be. However, it is recognised that economic conditions don’t stagnate, they are always in a state of evolution. Inevitably, they will come into collision with the previous social, ethical and religious state of affairs. What we will consider the previous state of affairs however, will not simply die and go away without a struggle, consequently react, in doing so, limiting the extent of the material evolution which is going on. At the risk of leaving myself open to objections, I have given this principle as fully as I can, within a short space in order to provide context and a background.

So in BlacKkKlansman, at the start of the movie, when Ron is sent undercover, Spike Lee effectively sets up the movie by foreshadowing and explicitly displaying that the Black Panthers – as a reaction to white oppression and historical injustice – are proposing a form of reaction that is every bit as violent and as extreme as the ‘program’ that will be put forward by the KKK throughout the movie. This is made even more explicit throughout the movie through the use of Ron’s Jewish coworker Flip going undercover in the Klan.

This subsequently leads to probably the best and most understated moment in the entire movie, where Flip discusses with Ron his Jewish identity. Flip is a non-conforming Jew, while Judaism is his heritage, he tells Ron he has never even had a Barmitzvah. Infact, in practically every sense Flip has never actually lived his life as a Jew, he has effectively spent his entire life essentially conforming more to a form of white Anglo-Saxon culture – the same kind of culture the Klan seek to affirm through their opprobrium and hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities – and only as a result of the opprobrium and hatred of the Klan towards Judaism, does he begin to come to terms with his own Jewish identity.

This is actually something I’m entirely familiar with. Coming from an Irish Catholic background, truth be told, I never actually gave a shit about my Irish heritage,  the Irish question or Catholicism in any practical sense until I encountered hatred towards the Irish, Catholics, was called a ‘Fenian bastard,’ and was told by a group of people with a UVF flag that they’d happily kill me because I’m a ‘taig.’

While somewhat ironically, Irish Republicanism actually has its roots in the protestant reformation, modern Irish Republicanism shares a curious relationship with the American black civil rights movement. After the partition of Ireland into two mean-spirited states, Irish nationalists in the north were subjected to gerrymandering, deprived of the right to vote, deprived of jobs, housing and opportunities and in every sense were subjected to gross inequalities simply because they weren’t protestants. In the 1960’s, inspired by the civil rights protests Irish nationalists in the north of Ireland began protesting against the inequalities, as a response from the Protestant and unionist communities, rioting began, Irish nationalists were burned out of their homes and driven from their communities, and it was from this that the Troubles began. The Provisional IRA were born out of a necessity to defend the nationalist communities. So it’s interesting to see the correlation. That’s why I always find it hilarious that late 20th century Irish politics is put down to religion. Catholics, Protestants, religion doesn’t come into it. I aways think of the scene in the ornate garden in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part 3:

The most important scene in Godfather III is Michael’s conversation with Cardinal Lamberto. Walking by stone pillars and fountains surrounded by pigeons, Michael explains his Vatican problem to Lamberto. Agreeing how this is scandalous, the priest reaches into the fountain and pulls out a stone. “Look at this stone,” he says. “It has been lying in the water for a very long time. But the water has not penetrated it.” He breaks the stone open, showing it to Michael. It’s dry. Michael motions into his pockets, then pulls them out, unsteady. Lamberto continues. “The same thing has happened with men in Europe. For centuries, they have been surrounded by Christianity. But Christ has not penetrated it. Christ does not live within them.”

Lamberto is describing more than Catholic Europe; he’s explaining Michael to himself. As Lamberto outlines Christendom, Michael collapses on a bench and loosens his tie. He whispers that he needs some candy or orange juice. Coppola begins this conversation in a full two-shot, then slowly moves in on Michael as he falls, not cutting away while he struggles to keep his breath, diminished to a child in oversized adult clothing. The candy and juice is quickly brought out, and Michael thirstily, with uncharacteristic desperation, quaffs the juice and shakily tears open the candy wrappers, eating ravenously, some residual pulp on his lip. He reaches to the Cardinal’s arm. “When I’m under stress sometimes this happens.” In the same way that John Cazale’s depiction of mental shame is achingly real, so is Pacino’s depiction of diabetic affliction. Lamberto points out that afflictions of the body and the soul are connected. “The mind suffers…and the body cries out.”

Or as Michael will later say, “For things to remain the same, everything must change.” 

INTJ Cinema

Prior to doing my post on James Joyce which I alluded to in the last entry, I thought prior to getting into that it would be interesting to have a quick look into MBTI and INTJ’s and how they are portrayed in cinema and other media.

I don’t think it’s actually worthwhile spending much time trying to ascertain the types of fictional characters. For a variety of reasons, and often in order to serve the narrative the  type you ascertain for any character could and will often fluctuate quite dramatically in order to serve the purposes of the narrative. This is a portentous way of saying fictional characters usually don’t reflect how the overwhelming majority of people behave in real life. However, it can be fun as an exercise and as discussed here it can be instructive as one means of gaining a broader understanding of authorial intent, directors, producers and a meta-understanding of the work, and so on. When thinking about how I was going to go about doing this post, I considered a few different options but having mentioned INTJ writers and directors previously, I thought it would be interesting to look at another one: Christopher Nolan.

I got thinking about how in many Nolan movies, they’ll be laden with INTJ characters and even minor supporting characters will often be only slight variations of this theme – I mean, that’s without even going into Inception (I will at some point do a post on this), which is literally a love note to introverted intuition. INTJ’s as introverted intuitives want to dwell in the subconscious. The whole debate about whether the totem falls at the end of the movie is to deftly miss the point. It’s immaterial. The subconscious and its many layers is to the INTJ as real as outward physical reality.

At the very least, you’ll find them to be predominantly xxTJ. As an example, I was considering how Nolan’s vision of Bruce Wayne/Batman is rather unsurprisingly an INTJ. Suffice to say, Nolan’s Batman is big on symbolism. He wears the Bat-suit, here reimagined as military gear – a super-flexible lightweight armoured fabric, to be a symbol and an idea. The crucial abstraction is that this Batman isn’t so much fighting actual criminals as fighting the idea of crime and fear.

So we have a character that is an abstract symbol fighting abstract ideas. For any talk of gritty realism, the only thing that is really grounding Nolan’s narrative in anything resembling reality is an underlying theme that social problems are best solved by the intervention of powerful and virtuous rich men. Suffice to say, I’m not much of a fan of Nolan’s neo-liberal politics in these movies, but we’re about to get on to addressing why this is important.

It seems futile to put off getting to Heath Ledger’s Joker. My reading of the Joker is that he’s also an INTJ with Ni gone awry. For what it’s worth, there is a really good reading here which has him as an ENTP and makes a strong rational argument as to why. Still, as I said at the beginning of this, MBTI typing fictional characters is a futile but fun exercise useful mostly as a means of ascertaining meaning to authorial intent, it’s interesting what the Joker tells us about Nolan. Nolan’s Joker is interesting in that he offers an actual ideological difference to Batman. Batman represents a world ruled by militarised power wedded to an incorruptible symbol, The Joker represents on one level what is ostensibly Nolan’s view of the left: that they stand in opposition to his primary world view, intent on tearing it down, but they don’t actually have anything tangible and constructive to put in its place. Hence, ‘Some men just like to watch the world burn.’ Interestingly however, this isn’t necessarily the critique that it appears on the surface. Certainly when you consider this in juxtaposition with The Joker’s experiment: the schmaltzy sequence with the two boats, this actually posits the suggestion that the Joker is at the very least redeemable. Further to this, Gotham, as imagined by Nolan, actually makes a strong case for anarchism. When the world is wholly corrupt and the only apparent alternative is violent authoritarianism, burning it down is an entirely rational response. The sensible points of disagreement with the Joker are thus over his tactics, not his goals. Still, Nolan’s conservative instincts prove too strong, conservative and thus the second part of Nolan’s trilogy ends with a defence of the importance of mass surveillance when implemented by suitably benevolent overlords. It was never going to pay off the possibilities of this Joker. However…

At the tangential level, this trilogy is an unruly mess. The Joker actually pretty much represents the structure of the trilogy in macrocosm. By the final movie Nolan simply loses control of it all and it becomes a sprawling tangle of competing ambitions that doesn’t know what it wants to do even as, if at any given moment, what it’s doing, it’s doing well. This is unusual for Nolan, as generally his movies will employ a puzzle-box structure, operate across multiple frames of reality, or in the case of Dunkirk utilise a non-linear narrative structure across three separate timelines. (That last link about Nolan’s work is a fun read. It is basically INTJ life in a nutshell. ‘A common theme… is the conversion of people themselves into puzzles … for its audience to solve.’ Not that this is in anyway what this blog does or attempts to resolve.)

As mentioned at the start of this, MBTI is not something that can deftly and cleanly profile fictional characters. As fictional characters they will generally have to at some point defy the archetypes they represent or more accurately they will fluctuate into other archetypes in order to serve the purposes of the narrative. (An interesting example of this in other media would be Doctor Who. The actual archetype of the character due to its conceptual nature on paper is INTP, yet the character in practise has been practically everything but. However, I would speculate that this is because Doctor Who has never had an INTP show-runner. I would be curious to know how many INTP’s actually watch Doctor Who without considering the whole thing to be silly. Personally, I primarily enjoy it as it is a format that conceptually lends itself to telling absolutely any story, and thus being a story about telling stories. I also like it as conceptually lending itself to being a show about ideas. I’ve never had any interest in it from the atypical sci-fi level as I cannot for the life of me understand how you can illicit any kind of enjoyment from listening to someone reel off nonsensical technobabble and scientific sounding phrases which make absolutely no sense at all.)

Nonetheless, this is definitely the case with Bane, who at once takes up a role that much of it seems on the surface to have been intended for Heath Ledger’s Joker, instead we’re left with a character who shifts from a freedom-fighter with an elaborate plan to a qlippothic brute to an anarchic revolutionary to the archetype of the most tedious totalitarian scheming villain depending on which narrative purposes require serving at the time. This is the most profound example of why typing fictional characters doesn’t work. Sometimes they are just, like this, composites of various archetypes designed because circumstances dictate them necessary such as in this instance of Heath Ledger’s Joker no longer being an option, and/or it’s a more expedient way of handling logistics or moving the narrative along with out to much fuss or otherwise completely fucking up the pacing.

No less telling is the characterisation of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. This is interesting because I think how men write their female characters is probably just on some level reflective of how they see women in general, and provides some indication as to what they consider to be their ideal partner. I’m a big fan of Anne Hathaway and her performance here, nonetheless, the actual character itself at once demonstrates the same basic revolutionary instincts as Bane, proclaiming early in the film that “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Thus, her arc offers a secondary engagement with the politics of a violent overthrowing of the rich. Taken this way, her story ends up being firmly against class war, her early politics from early in the movie abandoned in favour of running away with a billionaire at the movies end. Like Nolan’s own instincts across the three movies, conservatism wins the day. While the composite archetype of Catwoman is pretty much anything but, if we were to look at Catwoman as something of a Mary Sue, you’d be left with thinking that Nolan’s ideal partner is somewhere between independent and idealistic and ruthlessly pragmatic, like, oh, I dunno, say, an ENTP.  Who knew that’s what INTJ’s were into.

The World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls – Critical Review

Doctor Who fans can mostly, certainly not always, be defined by either their love of stories involving monsters, bases under siege and running through corridors or their love for David Tennant and floppy haired Matt Smith. My own personal love of the show stems from the fact that at its very heart is a show about ideas and telling stories. From this angle, I personally believe that the ‘Moffat era’ of Doctor Who is the greatest in the shows history. Therefore, I’ve decided to look at The World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls and explore some of the concepts within these episodes and how they relate to various concepts throughout the ‘Moffat era’ and the history of Doctor Who.

The idea to set The World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls on a 400 mile spaceship teetering on the precipice of a black hole whilst encountering time dilation is actually a brilliant one. Infact, you could quite easily have based a whole season around this concept. It’s that good. Season 10 has been essentially a disappointing one, for reasons we will tick off as we go along. A lot of the season has felt thrown together at the last minute on a number of levels, a lot of aspects of these episodes didn’t strike me as being developed enough as they could have been throughout the season to be fully paid off. This even includes The Doctor’s relationship with Missy. We only have to look at the 2016 Christmas special and the subsequent niggly retconning of The Doctor and Nardole following that episode to see that the idea of Missy being kept in a vault was clearly a last minute one. Nardole’s whole season has up to these episodes been mostly underpinned by a steadfast determination to keep The Doctor in Bristol, it’s difficult on the surface from his characterisation to see where jaunts to New York and ancient Mesopotamia fit in with that. Still, we’ll leave it as a niggle.

I love Michelle Gomez’s portrayal of Missy and her menacingly playful take on playing Doctor Who is a joy, as is her explanation of The Doctor’s name. I’m actually happy to accept that The Doctor’s real name is infact ‘Doctor Who’ and by the way, I will not accept Bill Bradley portraying William Hartnell’s Doctor in the upcoming Christmas special if it is anything other than Bradley portraying a cranky old man who thinks he’s from the 59th Century. I also expect him to at least have the decency to cantankerously abduct someone for relatively ambiguous reasons. I digress. Missy’s flirtation with decency is interesting and wouldn’t have been harmed by some more development.

Her scenes with Capaldi’s Doctor have been some of the most interesting and dynamic of the past three seasons. From this, we get to see a little of The Doctor/Bill/Nardole relationship leading into this episode. I’m not entirely sure how necessary this was, but it doesn’t hurt the pacing of the episode, which is frankly excellent and seems to fly by. Bill is shot by a scared blue meanie who, well, has absolutely no reason to be scared at all actually, as he firmly states and it is firmly shown that the creepy prototype Cybermen are only interested in humans, which he isn’t, so yeah, that makes absolutely no sense.

The macabre nature of the hospital scenes is excellent. The volume control is also a nice Moffat touch. The next point of contention is that on the whole, the scenes of Simm in disguise could be viewed on one hand completely unnecessary as the BBC stupidly decided to ruin the whole reveal. Moffat just about gets a way with this one in terms of the actual episode itself as a) The Master has a precedent for using disguises, b) The Master was PM on Earth’s ‘twin’ Mondas, which made me smile and is a cute nod to the RTD era and original series and c) because John Simm is just really, really good to watch and it’s kind of fun watching him to pretend to be Razor. There in a nutshell is The World Enough and Time, which gleefully sets up the pieces for the finale.

In terms of the modern series, Moffat is the only one who has actually mastered the ‘two parter.’ Part of this entails starting the second episode off from a completely different point to where we left off with the first. So if the first part was Frankenstein meets Interstellar meets Genesis of the Cybermen meets The Day of The Master, then the second part was obviously going to be… Little House on the Prairie with creepy scarecrows.

Missy has decided for the time being that she has absolutely no interest in being good and as a result, we spend the first few minutes after the credits watching her and The Master gleefully ponder how to kill The Doctor. Ever notice how much John Simm’s Master likes tying The Doctor to chairs? I’m sure Tumblr probably will have. A few minutes of this, The Cybermen turn against The Master/Missy and we’re onto our next set piece of Little House in the Prairie.

How Moffat has decided to portray CyberBill from here on in is interesting. Moffat has Bill rejecting the programming in a manner not too dissimilar to how he introduced Clara in Asylum of the Daleks, obviously this also allows the wonderful Pearl Mackie a chance to shine. I found it pretty interesting that in the first scene where we see Bill rather than CyberBill in this episode she’s shown as a black woman who the children are scared of. Given that we’re now in Little House on the Prairie, this probably deserves a critique in itself. CyberBill will also later be shot by the same scared white woman. Capaldi and Pearl Mackie however really are good. (It’s disappointing that we’re not going to get another season of Bill as she’s a wonderful character who is an absolute joy to watch.) Also really, really good is The Master’s taunting of CyberBill. “Didn’t you used to be a woman? I’m going to be a woman soon.” At this point it is already hands down my favourite episode since Hell Bent, just for Simm’s performance.

The pacing again is absolutely fantastic. Moffat is at his best just delivering line after line of quality exposition and concepts at break neck speed. It’s just great to watch. We seamlessly flow from Simm putting on eyeliner, making erection jokes with Missy which are entirely inappropriate for Saturday evening television, to a little girl blowing up legions of Cybermen with an apple, which is a classic Doctor Who idea.

The Doctor delivers his big speech which is cruelly dismissed by The Master, although received a little bit more receptively by Missy. Are we going to actually have Missy redeem herself… well yes and no. The only way The Day of The Master was ever going to end was with both The Master and Missy after 45 minutes of flirting, (read: Master-bation) literally stabbing each other in the back.

The Doctor makes his final stand along with CyberBill to an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack from Murray Gold. Gleefully blowing up Cybermen. On first watch I actually thought it was Bill who shot him. That would’ve been dramatic. The Doctor defeats The Cybermen and it’s time for the de rigeur season ending piece of deux ex machina. This time it’s puddle girl. This is a truly lovely scene and I’m pleased that Bill gets a happy ending. I think this also the first time I’ve ever seen two lesbians get together on TV without one of them being killed. Well, actually, they’re both technically dead, but they’re getting a happy ending where they’re both alive, so this can only be read as a victory for Bill, Puddle Girl and LGBT representation on TV, so huzzah. I’m kind of pissed off only in the sense that this would’ve been so much better if Puddle Girl had at least got a cursory mention at some point between the season opener and the finale, but still. Despite the fact Puddle Girl is essentially an immortal, omnipotent being, Bill decides she is going to Billsplain the universe to her…

As for The Doctor, despite being electrocuted, shot and blown up, he decides that he can’t be arsed with regenerating and we get to see him one last time in an adventure with the only person more cranky than he is at Christmas, so to finish off in true Moffat style, please return to paragraph three.

Degüello

To the chagrin of my neighbours I spent the morning listening to back-to-back ZZ Top albums on the Kitsound Boom Evo and I’ve rediscovered this classic.

  
Manic Mechanic aside which is like some kind of mescaline trip. Although it kind of works if you listen to it within the scope of the whole album; as a standalone track it’s kind of terrible, I think Degüello (meaning ‘slit your throat’) might be one of my favourite albums ever. Beat-up, sleazy blues. It’s basically what would happen if Charles Bukowski was a guitar player. The album is complete filth. Tracks such as I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide, Fool for your Stockings and Cheap Sunglasses which is effectively the greatest porno movie riff never used – one which would make you watch to the end of the film to see if they end up getting married – are mesmerisingly good.

I much prefer this to their more commercially successful stuff: Eliminator and Afterburner. I actually also much prefer it to the outstanding Tres Hombres which has the classic La Grange with that amazing ripped off John Lee Hooker lick. Which basically makes this head and shoulders ZZ Top’s greatest album and probably one of the best and most underrated albums of all time. I actually rate this as being up with albums the calibre of Revolver by The Beatles. 

Strongly recommended.

A Short Treatise on Guitarists

Yngwie Malmsteen may be amongst the most technically skilled and accomplished guitarists of all time. But his work is mechanical and the incessant shredding is overbearing and at the expense of the soul you would find in other eighties guitarists such as Guns N’ Roses’ Slash or the talented Randy Rhodes (Of Blizzard of Oz fame.) Malmsteen was inspired by nineteenth century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini and the more contemporary Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple.
Frankly after about five minutes, whilst you can marvel at Malmsteen’s technical acuity it ceases to be enjoyable. Art sacrificed for mechanical drudgery. The attention of the listener is overtly drawn from a state of appreciation into an analysis of themotion. Similar to listening to a machine churn rapidly. Paganini or Segovia he is not. Plus, just for good measure. Slash’s foray into the orchestra pit at the end of November Rain completely surpasses anything which could be classed as part of the pretentious neo-classical metal genre anyway. Slash of course provided the likeability, as the aspirationally talented, essentially working class hero constrasted against Axl Rose’s febrile, loathsome, white trash heel with deranged delusions of grandeur, to such phenomenal effect to help make Guns N’ Roses at the time easily the biggest band in the world. 

Nonetheless I digress, Malmsteen’s debut album Rising Force is a fascinating insight into the man. Whilst largely well received – being completely instrumental – and easily the best of his work, I’m always aghast at how Malmsteen aside, the other session musicians on the album would not be good enough to play in a bad such as Ratt. Malmsteen’s shredding is against a backdrop of badly played generic eighties metal. Critics (as did most eighties shredders who he is largely responsible for) quickly tired of Malmsteen, due to his lack of interest in anything akin to artistic development or range such as other contemporaries like Todd Rundgren. Saying that, not many people do have the range of Rundgren. As technically skilful as his playing may be, he’s effectively a one trick pony, repetition is the mother of indifference. A wasted talent.

Whilst Malmsteen would be best described as a dour, mechanical air splitter, I much prefer guitarists who are the opposite and play out of a passion for music and furthering their art.

Following the excesses of late eighties shredding drudgery, in the early nineties there was Cobain. Cobain had soul and could sing too. Rare and difficult to find many people who can combine the two to such a high level, which puts him on the level of Hendrix. Whilst Smells Like Teen Spirit may be overplayed, the In Utero album is to this day grossly underrated.

Tom Morello is someone I love watching. He has a chronic difference to anything which could be described as fancy. Plus, testament to the creative spirit, he works with low budget kit – and has done for most of his career. I find it fascinating and it’s part of his enduring appeal, that quite early on, in his own words he gave up searching for ‘the perfect sound.’ Opting instead to work with what he had. Building his music on the quirks and glitches of the equipment at his disposal to find his own unique sound. There’s a video of him with Springsteen at The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame where they perform The Ghost of Tom Joad and the audience are just in awed silence.

The first time I ever picked up a guitar I was inspired by The Beatles when I was eight years old. Or as it would happen, George Harrison. The opening note of A Hard Days Night is something I tried to play constantly. Even at a young age, I couldn’t accept that it was basically someone playing a fucking boring chord like a ‘C’ but that’s testament to the ability of the man. To make it sound so engrossing. Anyone can work with good stuff, it takes a master to work with shit. To this day, I’m still mesmerised by that . Also an honourable mention to ‘I Feel Fine’ which is probably my favourite song of all time and the first song to utilise feedback. Whilst it was actually number one at the time, it never made a Beatles album because Ringo didn’t like it (!) which embodies the high standard of the times. Where their contemporaries were the likes of The Rolling Stones who have virtually unheard b-sides which are better than pretty much every song of the past twenty years. She Smiled Sweetly being probably one of my favourites.

A lot of the earlier stuff of the sixties was inspired by a lot of great blues stuff which kind of goes unheard. I mean probably Chuck Berry aside, it’s rare you ever hear anything about the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker which is quite sad.

Then there’s the classic jazz guitarists I love like Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt. Wes Montgomery block chords are the bane of my life, however sound amazing. Wes Montgomery probably even surpasses Django Reinhardt who is mind-blowing. Especially for someone with only three fingers.

Fin.

Crabwalk @ NGCA 

Checked out this great exhibition at the NGCA in Sunderland, today. Particularly liked this:  

  

It’s called The Cortical Night by Alex Dordoy. The canvas shows a cerebral cortex manifested as a forest against an opaque backdrop. Forests traditionally serve as a great mythological metaphor for transformation and change. This is also reflected in the spherical orbs representing the moon. Of course the moon is the ultimate methaphor for transformation. Those distant enchanting spheres that exist in the space between wakefulness and sleep, before disappearing to be reborn again. It’s a truly stunning interpretation of the dreamscape intertwined with the waking consciousness.

 
Also, I really liked the work of Jennifer Douglas which is designed to represent the current condition of Kazmir Malevich’s suprematist masterpiece ‘The Black Square.’ I’m a great fan of Malevich and I continue to lament missing the 2014 Tate Modern exhibition. Nonetheless, her work here serves as either individual (fractured) canvasses, or as a complete constructivist composition for which the picture below doesn’t do justice. 

  

Well worth a look.

Favourite Movies: Alphaville

  
“Machines generated new problems. Problems the human mind couldn’t solve.”

In the first part of an ongoing series about why Jean Luc Godard is a genius, this is about one of the most stunning and engrossing movies I have ever seen. Alphaville. A science fiction film without special effects. Set in a dystopian world that looks identical to Paris and takes us on a visual tour around some of the cities early 1960’s modernist architecture. A movie that is also part Chandler, part film noir, part Orwellian nightmare with a dash of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Jorge Luis Borges.

We meet the leading man Lemmy Caution, who looks like he’s walked out of every Bogart movie you’ve ever seen. He has a look of steely determination. It’s the classic 1960’s movie archetype of a man with purpose. When accosted by a beautiful woman (a level three seductress no less), she’s not given so much as a first glance let alone a second. This is a man with a job to do and he’s intent on doing it. You got this in the early Sean Connery Bond films before the role was ultimately softened and Bond was made to atleast exchange a glib or flirty one liner with the woman. Here, it is the textbook Gregory Peck determined scowl and an assertive “Clear off.” Also on another note writing a hard-boiled character like this also produces stronger women characters within the story as a result, as the women have to be actually y’know relevent and play a part in driving the story forward rather than just eye-candy for the leading man or there to engage in a bit flirty banter or provide a shoulder to cry on, such is the case in most modern movies.

I digress. This is is such a fantastically shot movie and the strength of Godard is in the confidence he has in his actors and the rare ability to just put the camera down and fix a scene where there isn’t actually a lot happening. Few directors can do this. The best recent example of such quality directing would be Steve McQueen in Hunger when he sets a camera on Fassbender and the priest for twenty minutes and lets the dialogue unfurl. There’s no reliance on providing constant stimulation to the viewer and changing frame every two seconds to maintain engagement. Having the confidence to do this is rare and not only does Godard have faith in his actors, he trusts his viewer. As a result, his movies play out to their conclusion with pretty much all violence and nudity left to the imagination – and the end result is actually all the more satisfying for it.

It’s the simplicity of the movie though which provides the most satisfaction. Taking a familiar concept such as the hardboiled detective story and then setting it against an innate threat which is actually probably more pertinent in the current day and age than it was in the sixties. The nacent threat is a technocratic society where lives are controlled by machines and the people are systematically conditioned in semantics (see:  modern PR, marketing, media or as it’s sometimes known, propaganda).

One of my favourite concepts:  The bible prevalent in every hotel room scene, in what is a lovely twist is actually a reguarly updated dictionary where words are removed and made obsolete whilst more appropriate words are freshly added. This builds on one of the most frightening parts of the movie: In attempting to control the limits of thought, the manipulation of language is perhaps the most foundational tool of all, for an individual can only think in the vocabulary available to them. In colonial societies the effect of this has been devastating. By suppressing language you suppress culture and identity. I have wrote about this previously, Alphaville takes this concept to its extreme.

In what is an inverse allusion to Camus’ The Outsider, the idea is to create a logical society free from emotion. This is actually very much pertinent to the kind of secular and self-defined rationalist society desired by many atheists and humanists these days. In reducing everything to scientific lines, we’re left with a Christian society sans God, ran on terrifying technocratic lines for big business and profit. Although the great tragedy is that no-one will actually know what money is for, as we got rid of all abstractions: poetry, art, music along with irrelevant distractions like kindess, affection, love, friendship in the process. Fortunately, as the movie helpfully explains, there is no reason to ask “why” we should or should not have such things, just say “because.”

The villain of the piece: the machine if you wish to rationalise, is actually a light and a fan with an eery low pitched croak. If you wish to be more abstract and upto date, you can imagine it’s the eyestalk of a French speaking Dalek. However, to look at this rationally or abstractly actually does a disservice to what manages to be massively unnerving. Presenting   a quasi-ominiponent menace controlling everyones thoughts and aspirations in a fashion that everyone can strongly relate to makes it horrific and a brilliant piece of film-making. Tremendously done.

In the Heart of the Sea. Review.

One of my favourite – and one of the most beautiful – books I’ve ever read is Leviathon, or the Whale by Philip Hoare. It’s a stunning portrait of the authors obsession with these mastadons of the sea. Whales possess something of a mysterious aura, perhaps more so than any other creature of the deep. Mesmerising and intelligent, the book enshrines the terrible beauty of man’s relationship with the whale. The depth of the writing justifies the mystique which we hold the leviathan.

I was pleased to see ‘In the Heart of the Sea.’ An enchanting dramatisation of the story that inspired or perhaps preempted Moby Dick. Whilst I didn’t think the movie lent itself well to the 3D format and wasn’t without its flaws, I was still perhaps a little disappointed to see such a low turnout for such a movie. 

‘In the Heart of the Sea’ tells an enormous story, one that can most certainly be described as an epic. From director Ron Howard, whose previous work includes Apollo 13 about a group of men stuck in a capsule in outer space, this movie is bigger. There is a massive performance from Chris Hemsworth. Engaging and engrossing, embodying everything we expect of the archetypal mythic hero. There are also a number of other standout performances including that of Benjamin Walker who I thought had good chemistry with Hemsworth.

Perhaps in trying to tell such a story in two hours, some of the suspense and tension is lost. Ironically, the role of the white whale is perhaps the least satisfying aspect of the movie – becoming an inconvenience and distraction from some terrific human drama being played out between Hemsworth and Walker. The inevitable shipwreck at the behest of the whale within the scope of the movie is almost superfluous. The ship could have ran aground or been hit by a meteor, the whale is a minor detail. Jaws this is not. On some level this is a disappointment, as the role of the leviathon in such a movie should be to enhance the tension and drama to truly Odyssean levels. I think the movie also suffers from the backdrop of the story being narrated through a world weary Brendan Gleason to Ben Whishaw’s (who is ostensibly in every movie this year) Melville, who in turn is taking pointers for Moby Dick. Whishaw in particular does nothing to enhance or move the story forward. His performance is particularly flat in a movie which ultimately relies on the fine acting driving it. 

Without this Treasure Island-esque narration – which let’s be real is a writing cop-out and/or a director not having confidence in the story he’s telling – and rather, had Howard invested the screen-minutes between Gleason (who I usually like) and the woeful Whishaw in building the tension on the ship towards the encounter with the leviathon, whilst utilising the  tremendous acting talent at his disposal, this movie would truly have been an epic – in the cinematic sense – for the ages, rather than one that tries to do a little too much in two hours.

I’d associated Hemsworth with the Marvel: Thor abomination. With Thor of course being retconned as an alien rather than a Norse God, so the retarded American Bible Belt wouldn’t be offended by the notion of other deities. He really is a talent though, hopefully they’ll put him in a few more serious films to showcase his abilities.