Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Kid's Show


"You must remember that Homo Sapiens has little more to contribute to the music of this planet, nothing in fact but vain repetition. It is time for finer instrument to take up the theme."
Before I leave Bowie behind entirely...

I assume he read Olaf Stabledon's 1935 novel "Odd John" - about a pan-sexual, permanently adolescent, hyper-intelligent super-being.  It seems a more probable source of the phrase homo superior than "The Tomorrow People" anyway. 

Olaf Stapledon's a rather unsung figure in British Sci-Fi. He's best known either for 1930's "Last and First Men" - in which he wrote more broadly about the future evolution of humanity, really broadly in fact, I forget how broad, millions of years - or for 1937's "Star Maker" - in which the narrator pops out for cigarette and ends up voyaging to the end of the Universe, again I forget the details, I think he meets God. Its final pages, I do remember, set out very clearly the case for war against the Nazis. Christ, imagine living then!
"A nation, after all, is just a society for hating foreigners."
With subjects these humungous (and unfilmable) perhaps it's clear why Stapledon's not more widely known, yet he relates these immensities about as sanely as any writer can I guess. There's always a sense of fun. The wit is more apparent in a work like "Odd John" though, where the human scale allows for actual dialogue. Here for example, is an eight-year-old John in conversation with a business magnate:
"It must be so snug to feel both safe and important."
I love that. 

Homo Superior's childish curiosity takes a much darker turn later on in the novel, but Stabledon's a canny enough writer to suggest that this journey - like much in nature outside the experience of homo sapiens - has nothing to safely teach us. All the quotes come from the younger John's Gulliver-like observations of life in the thirties. We've had capitalism, here's communism:
"Funny, too, what a religious fellow that Communist really is... Of course he tells you the Class War is needed to emancipate the Workers. But what really gets him about it isn't that. The fire inside him, though he doesn't know it, is a passion for what he calls dialectic materialism, for the dialectic of history. The one selfishness in him is the longing to be an instrument of the Dialectic, and oddly enough what he really means by that, in his heart of hearts, is what Christians so quaintly describe as the law of God." 
Okay, that quote wasn't so much fun... 

Maybe it was "The Tomorrow People".


Beyond Good and Evil with Pete and San

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Station to Station with Buster Keaton


He's standing in the wrong place!
Speaking of obvious Mirrorboy influences, seeing this image from The General recently, made me realise how much of Buster Keaton's comedy (and influence) can be derived from that one statement: he's in the wrong place. It's character comedy of a sort, but a classical figure in a non-classical landscape that's modern and breaking down and falling apart and moving differently to what you've braced yourself for is also pleasing just visually. You could say it predicted surrealism if Keaton didn't normally like people so much.
"The Frozen North" is an exception...


A complete break in character: here the Great Stone Face snarls, robs, murders the innocent, and incorporates a giant comedy beard into a rape scene in a way that had me genuinely gasping with laughter. It's alright though because it all turns out to be a dream or a film, or a dream in front of a film. I first watched it with the sound down, bewitched. It was only watching it the second time with the piano accompaniment up that I recoiled: this isn't a story that benefits from being buoyed up by ragtime, it needs music from the abyss, something that could sell a burning rose. Looking for a better accompaniment I went to Ralfe Bande's (the Ralfe Bande's?) fab absurdist-friendly score for Paul King's film "Bunny and the Bull", but reviewing the resultant mash-up I think it turned out a little joyless. Then I saw the photograph below, and went to Bowie. "Station to Station" is nice and long (if not long enough), but it's also fierce and I think it fits. See what you think. I'm going to pretend that this is Keaton's Bowie tribute.

On the subject of thin white dukes, David Cairns' blog introduced me to the film and explains here how the whole thing was actually a satire on a peculiarly gaunt contemporary - the unfortunately named William S. Hart - a star of the silent western who'd kicked Buster's friend and mentor Fatty Arbuckle when he was down. So much surrealism, it turns out, is just spoofs of things I haven't seen. (By the way the other name above the title - Eddie Cline - went on to direct most of W.C, Fields' features. His last, "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break", features Fields chasing a bottle of whiskey off the observation deck of an airplane only to land in a screwball interpretation of The Tempest, a mountain nest occupied by Margaret Dumont, her virgin daughter, and a gorilla. Recommended obvs.)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

It'll Hurt More

Of course Alan Rickman's death hasn't really sunk in yet.
I rewatched "Truly Madly Deeply" only a few months ago, on an old VHS appropriately enough. And, once again, skiving off work to hang with Rickman's prickly ghost seemed a far more beautiful fate than having to move on to Michael Maloney and his hopping sack of quirks. "Wait," I thought on this latest rewatching "Is this subconsciously why I found grief so attractive? Because of Maloney with his sleeves stuffed with doves, trying too hard? Because of this film and Bach and Barrington Pheloung? Because of Juliet Stevenson? Because Alan Rickman made self-indulgence look so dashing?" Might this also have been why I spent so much of my twenties keeping my coat on indoors?

Spoilers?

 Probably. It's still there, under my skin, if I think about it. Look up: his influence can be seen even in the banner of this blog. Let's not mince words, for anyone of my generation acting as they entered adulthood Alan Rickman's performances really - really - broadened our options. The key supporting player in a lot of late adolescences, I can't think what it would have been like without him.
The Goblin King gone. Now Gruber. It hasn't really sunk in yet. After the count of three.
One -

Monday, 11 January 2016

Sweet Thing

Chris-Hadfield-Space-Oddity-2

Okay. "Blackstar". But David Bowie was always saying goodbye, wasn't he? That's what's so devastating. Space Oddity. Changes. Time. Let's Dance. Love Is Lost. Was there ever a work where he wasn't, if not raging against, at least charting the dying of the light? Even when he sang about the future it was to sing about a world without him in it. It's ageing to think that now might have stopped.
Not might have. Has.
Maybe they've uploaded him into Roy Batty. Facebook and Twitter are full of Bowie right now, but weren't they always? That's the other thing. Wasn't someone daily finding something Bowie-based which delighted them and inspired them and which they wanted to share? This is so much less fun than when Lemmy passed.
I tweeted, as far as I could within 144 characters, "Here's how it will have to work: We're all Bowie now. Someone dies you take all you loved in them and and become it... Too much isn't there?" Someone else tweeted that they understand now how our parents must have felt when Elvis died. Maybe. But I think it's bigger than that, because THOSE TUNES... Just as Shakespeare would be a genius if he'd only written "Measure For Measure", we'd be honouring Bowie today if he'd only written "Sweet Thing" (the first song of his I went to when I read the news today)...



But that's not how writing works. I guess you keep making things. Last year I lay in and learnt to enjoy not making things and to just take things in, and the year passed as slowly as it would have if I were ten, because it turns that out taking things in - even on youtube - counts as change, and the more change you experience the slower time passes. It was beautiful. This year might have to be different however. I'm sure time will pass slowly if I make things too.
His first wife's in the Big Brother House. Major Tim's in space. I wonder if they know yet. He was beautiful, but it was never about being beautiful. He was sweet too, let's not forget that either. Let's dance.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

As Many Stars as there are Ears!



As you can see it's been a fun winter, apart from the gas leak and the prospect of having all of our floorboards ripped up and - Forget that. Why not enjoy some of the fruits of that winter down the side of your head? And forget about not having any heat, or floor - Boiled eggs or floor, that's the deal - But don't worry about that! Here:
The Monster Hunters Christmas Special! "The Rapping on The Mirror" - NOW with added SCRYING. And a whole Series 3 is on its way! I'm listening again to Series 2 as I write this. Much happy.
North by Northamptonshire: Full Stop! A "bottle episode", which means I get to do a massive, long scene with Katherine Jakeways and Felicity Montagu and Penelope Wilton AND Geoffrey Palmer AND Sheila Hancock AND John Biggins, and TWO Kevin Eldons! All in a bottle! The kind of morning one files under "Christmas has come early", hence the jumper.
And finally, this very evening on the BBC's own Radio Four, a BRAND NEW SERIES of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme will be broadcast at half-past six! And then HERE!
Okay, enough fruit... I wonder if there's any pizza left for breakfast.