Wednesday, August 14, 2019

TV: An episode of "Game of Thrones" (2017)

When I was on an aeroplane to Canada I took the opportunity to watch a random episode of popular TV series Game of Thrones to see what I could make of the plot. Of course, because I do not live under a stone I have some familiarity with what this programme is about, even though I have never seen a full episode. This one featured the Blondie Lady and her pals (who include the Short Guy) deciding to send a message to the Curley-Haired Guy, inviting him to join their gang. Meanwhile the Lady Who Shags Her Brother was rallying other people to fight against the Blondie Lady by warning them that, like her late father (probably a Blond Guy), she was some kind of mentalist.

There wasn’t too much in the way of gratuitous female nudity, though the Blondie Lady’s Assistant did get her kit off at some point. There was also an incident in which people on a ship were captured by pirates, I suspect for plot device reasons, while another guy had his skin cut off to save him from a repulsive disease.

It was all pretty dialogue heavy and focussed on people trying to form alliances and test each other’s loyalty. For me that was quite appealing, making it like an updated version of a classic BBC drama like I, Claudius. I can definitely see why people like this and may one day proceed with my plan to watch the very first episode of season 1 and then the very last episode of the final season so that I will know all about the Game of Thrones.
image source:

The Blondie Lady, the Short Guy and some other people recreate their favourite U2 album cover (Guardian: Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode two: Stormborn)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Film: "A Star Is Born" (2018)

On a flight to Canada with my mother I watched this film, which is the one about Jack, an ageing alcoholic cock-rocker, played by Bradley Cooper (who also directs), who meets, discovers and falls in love with up-and-coming pop singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga. The film is a loose remake of two previous films and the plot is broadly formulaic (her trajectory is upward while his leads down into the bottom of a whisky glass, with tragedy ensuing) yet I nevertheless found it quite affecting and my hard heart was melted by the sad ending (curiously a slightly different sad ending to the one I expected, which may or may not be one similar to the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand previous versions).

One thing I found mildly amusing was that Jack meets Ally when she is performing in a bar most of whose performers are transvestites. To me this seemed like an ironic nod to how Lady Gaga was once dogged by strange rumours that she was secretly a man (or a transsexual, or a something (you know how it is with rumours)). I was also struck by how this was a film without villains. Ally acquires a manager who is set up to some extent in opposition to Jack, but while he is a bit smooth, to me he does not come across as a bad person or as someone exploiting Ally; when he vetoes a joint tour between Ally and an increasingly erratic Jack, he is clearly doing so to protect his client. That said, his actions do precipitate the final tragedy, but the real villain here is alcoholism and Jack’s inability to moderate his drinking.

To some extent Jack and Ally are presented as inhabiting briefly overlapping musical words, his one of blues-bore country rock and hers a more pop sound. Somewhat surprisingly I did find myself thinking that Jack’s music sounded a lot more appealing than the pop stuff (though I suppose the film’s director is going to give himself the good tunes). I may have to start investing in records by Stevie Ray Vaughan and similar.

Finally readers will be pleased to hear that this film features Sam Elliot (the cowboy from The Big Lebowski). He basically plays the same part as he does in The Big Lebowski.
image source (Guardian: A Star Is Born soundtrack review – instant classics full of Gaga's emotional might)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Podcast: "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (2018)

This is a dramatisation by Sweet Talk Productions' Julian Simpson of HP Lovecraft's popular short novel of the same name. It is available to stream or download from BBC Radio 4. It is made in the style of one of those true crime podcasts that are popular with the young people, with the set-up here being that the Mystery Machine podcast people are investigating the eponymous character's mysterious disappearance from a locked room in a secure psychiatric institution.

I think this would be fun to listen to if you if were unfamiliar with the source material, as the true crime podcast stuff is done so straight that even I at the start found myself about to look up the previous cases the Mystery Machine had been involved in investigating. But even having read the original a number of times, I found myself gripped by this. Partly the narrative takes some twists and turns that bring it along different paths to the original, with Lovecraft aficionados noticing that it increasingly draws from another of his works. Partly also there is the power of the audio drama format. Being able to hear but not see is an extremely effective device for horror, as the mind's eye draws in the blanks in a way far more terrifying than any film's special effects could manage. And there are some truly terrifying moments in this, like in the first episode when an old house is being explored or in particular the later episode where one of the investigators is poking around in an abandoned trailer home. The cast are also excellent, as is the appealing music by Tim Elsenburg that ends each episode.

I therefore recommend this work highly and will be keeping an eye out for future productions by Sweet Talk and Mr Simpson.

Sadly The Case of Charles Dexter Ward failed to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category in the Hugo Awards.

images (Sweet Talk Productions)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Film: "Midsommar" (2019)

Ari Aster was widely praised for Hereditary and now he has returned with this offering, which can still be seen in the cinemas. You may well be broadly aware of the film’s premise, which is that a bunch of American students head off to take part in the midsummer festival of a weirdo cult in a remote part of Sweden; high-jinks ensue when the less appealing aspects of the cult's way of life become apparent. Unusually for a horror film, the action mostly takes place during daylight (the festival is so far north that there is almost 24 hour sunlight). It also takes place in a strange alternate universe where none of the characters have ever heard of either The Wicker Man or Nazi paganism. Of course, many people have never heard of these things, but the American characters are mostly students of folklore and folk traditions, so you would think that both of these would have impinged on their consciousness.

The spectre of The Wicker Man does of course haunt this film, with its similar basic setup, but the film plays with that a bit, using deliberate misdirection. At one point we learn that each year the cultists choose a young lady to be their May Queen, and we think we know where that is going; we are wrong. But the film is also its own thing. Where Howie was alone in investigating Summerisle, here there are a group of American visitors, joined by an amiable English couple (whom I got very fond of and wished they were appearing in a film with a more pleasant outcome for them). The film plays on the tensions between the visitors that in large part distract them from the more unsavoury aspects of the Swedish community’s life: two of the Americans are research rivals, while in turn the romantic relationship of Dani and Christian (mmmm) is in the throes of disintegration.

That relationship is interesting, with the two strongly played by Jack Reynor as Christian and Florence Pugh as Dani. It is easy to see Christian as a bit of a dickhead and I certainly found myself initially thinking of him like that, but I think there is a bit more to him, at least with respect to his relationship to Dani – he is in this relationship that has really run its course but is unable to leave her because she is in a very bad place and to do so would make him a heel (or so he seems to think, perhaps it would be better for everyone if he were to cut and run). The bros he hangs out with are however almost completely terrible.

It should be noted that Pugh’s performance as Dani is particularly striking in the sense of strength and fragility it presents. Anyone who has seen her in Lady Macbeth or the not-good film The Falling will not find this a surprise.
Another thing that should be noted about the film is the bright colour palette, which is not too much of a surprise for a film mostly taking place under the heady lights of a Scandinavian summer. What is particularly striking about this is the way the film evokes the magic mushrooms consumed by the characters at key points in the story, with colours and flowers pulsing in an unstoppable manner. Kudos should also go to the musical soundtrack by Bobby Krlic of the Haxan Cloak, which includes both the tunes performed by the cultists (like the Summerislers, they are a musical bunch) and the more usual kind of scored accompaniment, yet even the latter feels as much like part of the sound design as something meant to just signify mood to the audience. In this it reminded me of the soundtrack to Dunkirk, and I was going to launch into a discussion about how this represents and interesting new direction for soundtracks, until I recalled seeing the same kind of thing recently in the 1977 film Suspiria.

I am however not sure if Bobby Krlic did the song about the bear that appears not in the film but in an advertisement for the Bear In A Cage novelty tie-in product.

Film also features weird sex scene.

images:

välkommen (Guardian: Midsommar: what the hell just happened? Discuss with spoilers)

Handing on the torch (Vanity Fair: Midsommar’s Showstopping Flower Dress Was So Heavy They Hid a Chair Under It)


Sunday, August 04, 2019

"Bohemian Rhapsody" - Slight Return

I have previously mentioned going to see the brilliant film Bohemian Rhapsody. At some point afterwards my beloved reminded of an episode in the Queen story that somehow failed to make its its way into the film: their concerts in Sun City. For the benefit of younger readers, Sun City is a South African holiday resort, which in the apartheid era was located in what was then the faux independent "homeland" of Bophuthatswana. Queen were one of many international acts to be lured to Sun City or South Africa by apartheid money (others include Tina Turner, Status Quo, Black Sabbath, Joe Dolan, and Phil Coulter) but Queen played there in 1984, when no one could really say there were ignorant of the evils of apartheid South Africa. At the time Queen were also one of the biggest bands in the world and could hardly claim to have needed the money. Their attempted justifications at the time were weak (bullshit about not being political and being happy to play to anyone who wanted to see them). In a feat of complete political tone-deafness they even played 'I Want To Break Free' to their audience of white South Africans.

Queen also licensed 'We Will Rock You' for a Sun City advertisement. It's something else.

Queen's appearance in Sun City was I think important in galvanising artistic opposition to apartheid and led to the Artists Against Apartheid record. Playing in South Africa became increasingly problematic for artists, a situation that continued until apartheid's fall.


image source:

Queen arriving in South Africa (retroculturati: Queen’s Sun City Sin)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Finding the other Retro Hugo finalists online

In Dublin this August the Hugo Awards for the best science fiction and related stuff from 2018 will be awarded. Dublin will also be awarding Retro Hugos for material from 1943. In a previous post I linked to where most of Retro Hugo finalists in the novel, novella, novelette, and short story categories can be found online. But what of the other categories? Sadly here things seem to be a bit more difficult, but there is still more than nothing that can be looked at online for free.

Best Graphic Story

Readers will I think struggle to find some of the finalists in this category. Jack Cole's Plastic Man #1: The Game of Death is available in full on the Digital Comics Museum for online reading and downloading, but that seems to be the only finalist readily available in full online. The blog The Wonders You Can Do has an interesting post summarising and analysing Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood (by William Moulton Marsden and Harry G. Peter), complete with some illustrations. The Black Gate blog meanwhile has an illustrated summary of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon: Fiery Desert of Mongo. Hergé's The Secret of the Unicorn is available in many libraries and all good bookshops; a summary with sample illustrations can be seen on Tintin.com. That seems to be it. Libraries and bookshops may also have reprints of the other finalists.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Heaven Can Wait and Münchhausen are both available in full on YouTube. The Internet Archive meanwhile appears to have Batman, Cabin in the Sky, and Phantom of the Opera. And OK.RU has A Guy Named Joe.

Better quality versions of these films may be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Ape Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and Super-Rabbit are all available on YouTube. The Seventh Victim is on Dailymotion.

That leaves I Walked With a Zombie, for which YouTube has just a trailer. It might be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Here are links to what the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists the finalists as having edited in 1943. Have a look at each issue's table of contents and see if it tickles your fancy. If you have infinite time, consider popping over to the Internet Archive to skim some of these issues.

John W. Campbell Jr.: Astounding Science Fiction & Unknown Worlds

Oscar J. Friend: Thrilling Wonder Stories

Mary Gnaedinger: Famous Fantastic Mysteries

Dorothy McIlwraith: Weird Tales

Raymond A. Palmer: Amazing Stories & Fantastic Adventures

Donald A. Wollheim: The Pocket Book of Science Fiction

Best Professional Artist

Samples of Hannes Bok's art can be seen here on the blog Monster Brains. Readers can also check out his illustrations to Robert W. Chambers' "The Yellow Sign" in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

While primarily famous for her saucy covers for Weird Tales, Margaret Brundage appears to have had a fairly quiet year in 1943, producing just the one somewhat tame cover then. A Google image search gives a broader look at her career.

Virgil Finlay's work can be seen on the covers of the March 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and the February & May 1943 issues of Super Science Stories.

Unless you have been living under a stone you almost certainly are broadly familiar with the illustrations Antoine de Saint-Exupéry created for his own book The Little Prince, but if you need a refresher check out this post on the blog Faena Aleph.

J. Allen St. John's work can be seen on the covers of the January and February 1943 issues of Amazing Stories.

The art of William Timmins can be see on the covers of the February, June, and October 1943 issues of Astounding Science Fiction.

Fanzine and Fanwriter

FANAC.ORG is an amazing archive of fan stuff of yore. The people that run it created a portal page for fanzines from 1943 there, and there you will find links to scans of the finalists in both of the fan categories.

In case you can't remember, the best fanzine finalists are:
Fantasy News, editor William S. Sykora
Futurian War Digest, editor J. Michael Rosenblum
The Phantagraph, editor Donald A. Wollheim
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, editors Jack Erman (Forrest J Ackerman) & Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
YHOS, editor Art Widner
Le Zombie, editor Wilson “Bob” Tucker 

The Best Fan Writer finalists are:
Forrest J. Ackerman
Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
Jack Speer
Wilson “Bob” Tucker
Art Widner
Donald A. Wollheim
 
So there you go. With voting in the Hugos and Retro Hugos closing on 31 July, this does not leave much time to research your ballot.

In the meantime, here is another picture of my cat, with SF books in background:
More cat action

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Finding the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists online

Soon in Dublin the winners of this year's Hugo Awards will be revealed, including the winners of the Retro Hugo Awards for science fiction published in 1943. This year unfortunately there is no voters packet for the Retro Hugos. However most of the publications in which the finalists appeared are available on the Internet Archive, where they can be read online or downloaded by Hugo Award voters. See below for links to where the various works can be found. Voting closes at midnight on 31July, so get reading.

Novels

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found in the April 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds.

Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner originally appeared in the April 1943 issue of Argosy, but it was subsequently reprinted in the July 1950 issue of Fantastic Novels.

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found serialised in the May, June and July 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] by Hermann Hesse (originally published by Fretz & Wasmuth) is readily available from bookshops and libraries.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (originally published by John Lane, The Bodley Head) is also readily available from bookshops and libraries.

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt was serialised in the February, March and April 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novellas

“Attitude” by Hal Clement appeared in the September 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Clash by Night” by Lawrence O’Donnell (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) appeared in the March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in the collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep from Arkham House and is now readily available from bookshops and libraries.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was originally published by Reynal & Hitchcock and is available everywhere.

The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton was originally published by Hyperion Press and can possibly be sourced from bookshops and libraries.

“We Print the Truth” by Anthony Boucher appeared in the December 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novelette

“Citadel of Lost Ships” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the March 1943 issue of Planet Stories.

“The Halfling” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astonishing Stories.

“Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Proud Robot” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Symbiotica” by Eric Frank Russell also appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Thieves’ House” by Fritz Leiber, Jr appeared in the February issue of Unknown Worlds.

Short Story

“Death Sentence” by Isaac Asimov appeared in the appeared in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Doorway into Time” by C.L. Moore appeared in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Exile” by Edmond Hamilton originally appeared in the May 1943 issue of Super Science Stories. That appears not to have been uploaded to the Internet Archive but the text of the story can be seen here and here.

“King of the Gray Spaces” (“R is for Rocket”) by Ray Bradbury appeared in the December 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Q.U.R.,” by H.H. Holmes (Anthony Boucher) March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch appeared in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales.

I will do another post with links to where people can see some of the finalists in the other categories. In the meantime, Jeff Vandermeer once said that you should always include a picture of your cat in social media posts, so here is Billy Edwards.

more cats

Monday, December 31, 2018

Le Guess Who: Part Two

This is part two of my account of November's Le Guess Who festival in Utrecht. Part one can be seen here. This part deals with Friday 9 November, the second day of the festival.

The main part of the festival was taking a break during the day, which left us with an opportunity to visit a place called BAK to see an exhibition entitled Forensic Justice that was being shown in conjunction with Le Guess Who. This had been put together by Forensic Architecture, a radical architectural organisation headed by Eyal Weizman, whose work has previously appeared in the LRB (the other paper of record). We watched a series of videos where the Forensic Architecture people carefully dissected video and other evidence to investigate official narratives of events. These were interesting as examples of how the panopticon society in which we live does not just lead to a Big Brother society in which the State continuously watches us, but one in which non-state actors have the tools to expose illicit state action.
Some of the Forensic Justice installations were pretty intense, like the reconstructions from multiple CCTV images of a hospital in Aleppo being bombed by the Syrian air force, which showed people being thrown around by the force of an explosion, or their analysis of the killing of two Palestinian school children (unarmed, not obviously taking part in rioting or even demonstrations, apparently on their way home from school), which showed they were killed by Israeli soldiers firing live bullets but falsely claiming to have fired only rubber bullets.

For me though I think the most upsetting was an analysis of the fatal beating of Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek anti-fascist, by members of the Golden Dawn, with the analysis of Forensic Architecture showing that the Greek police had stood by and let the attack happen. What made that the most disturbing I think is that crazy things (hospitals being bombed or soldiers shooting school kids) seem almost normal in crazy places like Syria or Palestine, but they are much more unheimlich in an urbane and democratic country like Greece. Good job nothing like that happens closer to home, eh readers?

The last examination we saw by Forensic Architecture was something of a relief as it did not involve anyone losing their life. Instead by careful analysis of several video clips they appeared to disprove the assertion of the Italian coast guard that a sea rescue vessel was operating in concert with people smugglers.

There was more of Forensic Justice that we could have watched (something to with the unfortunate plight of Orangoutangs) but I can only take so much, so we left BAK and headed off to Lombok, which is another area of Utrecht where a Le Guess Who satellite festival was taking place. Beside an impressive mosque there was a food market taking place, with stalls selling a variety of tasty noms. We sampled their wares. Lombok seems to be multicultural bit of Utrecht so we were also treated to some guys walking around playing drums and those squeaking trumpets they have in the Orient. There were also some children doing some class of traditional dance for us; I think they might have been Turkish rather than Arab but it's hard to tell. I definitely admired their intense concentration.

And then we strolled around Lombok looking for further excitement. And we found it in the form of some class of Dabke flashmob taking place outside a church. If you do not know Dabke, it is the traditional dance thing from Syria and Palestine and other places round there, typically done by guys joining arms, often forming rings that rotate frenetically. This is what was going on here, with some attempt to bring home to Whitey that Dabke does feature actual steps and is not just all about the speed. We watched amusedly from a distance, careful not to be drawn into the maniacal gyres.

At some point we were sated by Dabke, so pretty much at random visited a place called the Ubuntuhuis, where some chap called Cengiz Arslanpay was going to be combining electronic music with his ney flute (ney!). The Ubuntuhuis turned out not to be a place for people to hang out working on the latest Linux releases but rather some class of centre for homeless people and persons newly arrived in the country. The venue where Mr Arslanpay was playing was living room sized and we were all more or less on top of the player but that made it all that bit more entertaining. Sadly he was unable to treat us to his electronics for reasons but he did play a succession of different Turkish flutes.

My Beloved and I reunited with our spiritual guru Mr B— in the Tivoli complex and went to see some chap called Serpentwithfeet (I think he might call himself serpentwithfeet but I do not hold with proper nouns beginning with lower case letters; frankly he should be glad I am leaving the spaces out of his name). Mr Feet is not actually a serpent, footed or otherwise, but an impractical red anorak wearing fellow from the USA. He apparently used to be a choirboy but now he makes music that is sometimes classed as experimental but seemed to me to be a fairly accessible form of R&B. The real joy of his performance came from his persona as presented to the audience, which was basically camp and endearingly positive. Everyone who saw him was happier than they were beforehand.

We then split off to the Janskerk again to see some of Vashti Bunyan, the lost folkie sensation who is now back in action. Ms Bunyan whispers very quietly between songs but then when singing projects at an audible but restrained volume suiting the delicate nature of her songs. She is also a bit of a roffler, quipping at one point that back in the day she was told her music had no commercial potential before launching into 'Train Song', from whose relentless use in films and advertisements she has made a mint. Overall though I wished that scheduling had meant that I arrived early enough to get a good seat at the front.

Back in the Tivoli complex I let myself be brought to see Paddy Steer, wondering if I had made a terrible mistake. For the first song I thought that maybe I had but then either he got better or I was reprogrammed. Mr Steer's music is an odd combination of analogue synth sounds and live drumming, with his vocals affected by the vocoder type thing he has in the space helmet he wears for some of the songs. I was intrigued by the question of whether all of the music was strictly live, as the drumming seemed pretty intricate and hard to imagine someone doing while also playing synths but it was impossible to be certain either way as he had a bank of equipment largely obscuring our view of whatever he was doing with his hands. We nevertheless did get to see his impressive space suit. Overall Paddy Steer hovers gamely on the borderlands between weirdo art music and novelty shite, staying I think on the right side of that boundary.

I stuck my head briefly into where Blanck Mass were playing and was a bit surprised by what I saw. Blanck Mass have a membership overlap with Fuck Buttons, but the my sense of how they divided was that Fuck Buttons played the more heavy beaty stuff while Blanck Mass play music that is not entirely dissimilar except that it is a bit beat free, making the music a weird kind of in your face ambient (use your Babbage machine to compare Fuck Button's 'Brainfreeze' with Blanck Mass's 'Chernobyl'). But on the face of this performance Fuck Buttons and Blanck Mass appear to have converged, with the music on offer tonight featuring lots of big fucking beats. I reckon this would have been great to dance to if you were so inclined. Even as listening music it was not unentertaining, but we were a bit *tired* so we repaired to our house and caught some Zzzzzs.

Day three coming soon!

Exhibition image source:

The Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Hospital in Aleppo (Forensic Architecture: Forensic Justice)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Le Guess Who: Part One

Since the demise of All Tomorrow's Parties many have wondered if something would ever arise to take its place. Earlier this year my old friend and quaffing partner Mr B— asked me if I was interested in attending Le Guess Who in Utrecht. I was curious and as always am eager to hear exciting sounds, so I agreed to go, with the promise of a line-up based around strange weirdo music being the draw. This is an account of what happened there.

Le Guess Who is a city festival, with concerts taking place in venues across Utrecht but particularly focussed on the Tivoli Vredenburg, a central complex of multiple performance spaces, ranging from ones reminiscent of the Barbican main stage down to more intimate locales. As a city festival, Le Guess Who does not provide convivial chalet accommodation to its attendees; rather they must find their own places to stay, scattered across the attractive Dutch town. In our case we were staying in an Airbnb house in the university quarter, we being Mr B—, my beloved, Mr McG—, and myself.


If you've never been to Utrecht and are wondering what it's like… well it's a bit like Amsterdam. Or rather all those olde Dutch town are like each other: canals, dinky buildings, sudden bursts of modernist architecture. Utrecht has less tourists than Amsterdam, but it makes up for the lack of stag party dickheads with another menace: out of control cyclists. It has also has a strangely non-Euclidean street layout that keeps feeling like it is approximating to a grid system when actually it is not. I think other people of less logical minds (and a willingness to let Google guide them around) found the city easier to navigate; for the first couple of days I was reduced to following them around hoping they knew where they were going. Anyway, let me adopt a day-by-day approach to the festival which may turn out to just be a list of people I saw as I am writing this a good bit afterwards and did not take any notes back then because I am a fule.

On the first night of the festival (a Thursday) an initial bug/feature of the event became apparent: it is massively multi-tracked. If you are lucky there are only five things to choose from at any one time, but there were sometimes more. So it was that I found myself missing DRINKS (sadly not a drinks reception but a two-person band featuring Cate Le Bon and someone else) and instead found myself in the Domkerk seeing an ensemble called ONCEIM performing a piece called 'Occam Océan'. Who were they and what was this? Well ONCEIM are a contemporary music ensemble, the name being some class of acronym (in French, so I won't write out the words as you would not understand them). 'Occam Océan' is a collaboration with Éliane Radigue, the French composer being bigged up by many cool members of Frank's APA, the paper of record. The piece was a fascinating piece of edgy contemporary classical music, which broadly speaking might be my favourite class of music, and atmospheric environs of the church were a great place to hear it.
ONCEIM were going to be playing again with Stephen O'Malley of SUNN-O))) but the festival's multi-tracking and our own craving of varied experiences drew us away from the Domkerk to the Tivoli complex where after some exploration we settled down in front of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, legendary political jazz figures of yore (well they appear on that political jazz comp from SoulJazz). They were playing in the big main venue in the Tivoli, where every seat has a good view, and we looked down upon them like Olympians.
Then we hightailed it to another church, this one being the Janskerk, where the Jerusalem In My Heart Orchestra were playing. They had already started when we arrived and, as is traditional with church venues, bad sight lines meant it was a real struggle to actually see anything of the performance. Eventually though I managed to reach a point where I could see some of the musicians and some of the images being projected behind them, which looked like they were portrait photographs from the 1950s and 1960s by Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani, about whom I remember reading on the BBC News website; his photographs are mostly portraits, of individuals (sometimes posing with guns) and friends. Musically Jerusalem In My Heart play Middle Eastern classical music. On this occasion they were joined by an orchestra from Beirut (suggesting that normally they are not actually an orchestra) and were playing some 1928 piece from Egypt. Readers, I liked it and wished I had caught the whole concert from a comfy seat with a good view of the stage.

At that point we could have headed back to the Tivoli to catch any number of acts who were playing late into the night but instead we heeded the call of bed.

Scratched photograph image source:

Mrs Baqari, by Hashem el Madani (BBC News Magazine - Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"He is my lawyer": Ken Russell directs a music video for his lawyer

In the mid-1980s film director Ken Russell and pornographer Bob Guccione fell out over a failed attempt to film the novel Moll Flanders. A lawsuit ensued, in which the relatively impecunious Ken Russell found himself facing the vast might of the Penthouse corporation. Russell however managed to reach an arrangement with celebrity lawyer Aaron Richard Golub. Golub was interested in launching a musical career, so Russell agreed to direct a music video for him in lieu of paying legal fees. This is that video.

The Russell-Guccione law case was the subject of an Arena documentary entitled Your Honour, I Object, directed by Nigel Finch and broadcast on BBC2 in 1987. I saw it when it was first broadcast and it remains one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. The BBC has a short excerpt from it here.