Thursday, 18 July 2013

DVD's & Blu-Ray's From My Collection


For information on this 70's TV supernatural techno-chiller scripted by 'Quatermass' writer, Nigel Kneale, see BFI, Screenonline here

And scene clip below:

THE KINGDOM I & II (1994 & 1997)

For information on this wierd black comedy (TV) set in a haunted hospital, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, see Wiki entry here


For information on this mainstream comedy, where a middle aged grump (Bill Murray) get's to repeat one day in his life over and over again, see allmovie by Rovi here


For more information on this poignant eco-science fiction movie see allmovie by Rovi here


For information on David Lynch's very weird and surreal mystery shot on digital cameras see Wiki entry here

Friday, 21 June 2013

Books I've Recently Read: Replay By Ken Grimwood (1986)

From Walton: "Ken Grimwood’s Replay (1986) is the story of a man who dies in 1988 and finds himself back in his youthful body and dorm room of 1963 — over and over and over again. He knows the future, he can change the world, but no matter what he changes he’s going to live through twenty-five years and die on that day and start again. And just when you think you know where the book is going, it starts to get really interesting.

The book isn’t just the one gimmick. Grimwood explores the idea in a proper science fictional way, ringing a lot of variations on it. It’s also brilliantly written — tense, taut, fascinating. It’s a quiet almost pastoral character study as much as anything, but when I’m reading it, I can’t put it down. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about it that wasn’t on the lines of: "If that happened to me, I’d...” The idea of re-living your own life while relieved from the burden of money worries and uncertainty is very appealing, and this is part of what makes the book so seductive."

Books I've Recently Read: Our Lady Of Darkness by Fritz Leiber (1978)

From Tangent/Nader Elhefnawy: "Our Lady centers on Franz Westen, a widowed and formerly alcoholic pulp writer with a lot of time on his hands in '70s-era San Francisco (in short, a rather obvious stand-in for Leiber himself) who is intrigued by a figure--a "pale brown thing" he spots in Corona Heights Park from his apartment window. Coincidentally, his eye then falls on a pair of old books he bought years ago--Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities by one Thibaut de Castries, and a journal apparently kept by Clark Ashton Smith of Weird Tales fame--and it strikes him that these might have something to do with that mystery. His fancy tickled, he decides to check out Corona Heights for himself, and what starts as a lark soon enough immerses him in a Lovecraftian mystery amid obscure old books and archives, involving the secret history of San Francisco as influenced by Victorian occultism."

"Leiber, praised by Moorcock in that very same essay as "the best of the older American sf writers," for, among other things, "his wit and his humanity, as well as his abiding contempt for authoritarianism," would seem to live up to that praise with his new take on the Cthulhu mythos, pointedly discarding the older writer's racial and sexual baggage, cutting the implied horrors down to size and using reason to defeat anti-rationalism, all with a spirit of play much like what he previously brought to sword and sorcery in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. It is on this level that Our Lady succeeds--admirably, but problematically, since this approach is best suited for a hardcore readership capable of not only recognizing but appreciating such a spin by one giant of science fiction on the work of another."

Monday, 3 June 2013

Books: Extreme Metaphors: Interviews With J.G.Ballard, 1967-2008: Edited By Simon Sellars And Dan O'Hara

Reading this excellent collection of J.G. Ballard’s interviews I was constantly reminded how off-message he is politically from my own radical left wing albeit libertarian views and how different his class background is from my own, even though he lived very nearby in Shepperton. But oddly (or not) his vision and style resonates so strongly that not only is he my favourite fiction writer but I consider him a major thinker too.

If I approach him as someone purely concerned with the psychological world of his introverted obsessed characters and their response to collapse and catastrophe or the stultifying boredom of modern society, ignoring political solutions or movements, it helps to iron out the deep discrepancies. I believe we are entering an era of crisis, collapse and catastrophe and the bubble of consumerism and affluence we used to live in the West has finally burst. (One predication that J.G. Ballard makes constantly in these interviews, that we would be living in a society of leisure and wealth in the West has proven to be wrong.) How do we grasp psychologically the strange landscapes thrown up by a disintegrating world and what personal satisfactions can we gain from it-if only in an aesthetic sense? These are the disturbing questions JGB asks in his fiction but is it possible to combine ‘inner space’ with the collective political and social project of human emancipation and hope? I really don’t know.

A very interesting review here from the philosopher John Grey (New Statesman.)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Blu-Ray From My Collection: Dracula (1958), Directed by Terence Fisher

This is the new Blu-Ray restored edition of the Hammer Horror classic with all the extras. The picture quality is fantastic and the film although dated now is one of the greatest horror films of all time.

From allmovie by Rovi: "With so many mediocre vampire films, the few which are truly excellent often get lost in the static. Terence Fisher's 1958 Dracula is easily one of the best, and it proves just how important good writing, acting and directing can be in a time-tested genre. The performances are stellar: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee make their respective roles of Dr. Van Helsing and the Count uniquely their own. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster's condenses Bram Stoker's novel, shifting most events to Dracula's castle and sharpening the material's dialogue and pacing. Appropriately atmospheric and dark, the film adds enough touches of humor and sexuality to update the tale's heretofore staid feel. Fisher's Dracula is a must-see not just for devotees of modern horror but also for fans of good storytelling in general."

Blu-Ray From My Collection: Oldboy (2003), Directed by Park Chan-Wook

From the allmovie by Rovi website: "A harrowing, labyrinthine revenge epic that will keep viewers guessing right up to its shocking denouement, director Park Chan-wook's masterful tale of lost time and dark secrets achieves the rare feat of eliciting sympathy from the viewer before dropping in a devastating twist that is as plausible as it is affecting. As we first meet the character of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), the drunken husband and father is sitting in a police station awaiting the arrival of his best friend to bail him out. Despite Oh Dae-su's unruly behavior in the scene, the viewer senses an inherently flawed, but ultimately good-natured character, which makes his mysterious disappearance and subsequent imprisonment in the opening moments of the film so effectively disconcerting. It is key to the film's success that the viewer identify with him, and Choi -- appearing as something of a cross between Johnny Depp in Secret Window and a blank faced Takeshi Kitano -- is able to make both his character's mental deterioration and physical transformation compellingly watchable. Though Oh Dae-su does eventually make it back into the outside world, his increasing paranoia and unquenchable thirst for answers and revenge offer a frightening look at the depths to which the human soul can sink given the right (or wrong, as it may be) conditions. His transformation is made especially convincing thanks to the inclusion of several moments of well-placed humor that is as quirky as it is low-key, providing a fleeting glimpse of the formerly carefree family man. Aesthetically, comparisons to the works of such filmmakers as David Fincher and Christopher Nolan are inevitable; though Park and cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun 's stylish lensing was no doubt influenced by the aforementioned filmmakers, the inventive South Korean duo (with a little help from co-screenwriters Lim Jun-hyeong and Hwang Jo-yun) eventually succeed in distinguishing themselves from their Western counterparts by constantly surprising the viewer with sharp storytelling skills and fresh visuals."

Blu-Ray From My Collection: Chungking Express, Directed By Wong Kar Wai (1994)

I've made the effort to watch Chungking Express three times now because I know amongst the more cerebral type of film buff this is rated highly-it's certainly stylish, influenced by the French New Wave, specifically Godard. The first story had me griped but mid-way it cuts to a different romantic story that to be bluntly honest and at the risk of making me look like one of those ignoramuses who write bad reviews on Amazon, was frankly boring. I think the film critic Roger Ebert makes a very valid point here:

 "If you are attentive to the style, if you think about what Wong is doing, Chungking Express works. If you're trying to follow the plot, you may feel frustrated...When Godard was hot, in the 1960s and early 1970s, there was an audience for this style, but in those days, there were still film societies and repertory theaters to build and nourish such audiences. Many of today's younger filmgoers, fed only by the narrow selections at video stores, are not as curious or knowledgeable and may simply be puzzled by Chungking Express instead of challenged. It needs to be said, in any event, that a film like this is largely a cerebral experience: You enjoy it because of what you know about film, not because of what it knows about life."

For more info see the Wiki entry here

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Books: The Accumulation Of Freedom: Writings On Anarchist Economics (Various Writers)

Many consider anarchism devoid of any specific economic analysis, an ideology built around a rigidly negative philosophy of knee-jerk anti-state and anti-authority reactions. This collection of essays tries to remedy a common misunderstanding and goes someway in putting forward anarchism as an alternative to both neo-liberalism and state regulated capitalism. All of the contributors subscribe to a broad anarchist-communist or socialist approach so the actual in-depth look at how present day capitalism works is not in anyway significantly different from the Marxists. To distinguish themselves from Marxism then the essays here mostly concentrate on anarchist strategy and tactics and how they relate to the economy, especially the crisis we are now undergoing. These strategies and tactics range from building alternative economies in the here and now, direct action involving squats, taking over public squares. land-seizures and occupied factories and workplaces as in Argentina, through to horizontal networks and federations as a way of organising on a national or international level.

For a more in-depth review read Jasmin Mujanovic in the Politics Respun website here

Friday, 19 April 2013

CD's From My Collection: Deutsche Elektronische Musik 2: Experimental German Rock and Electronic Music 1971-83

What it says on the tin: The equally brilliant follow up to the Soul Jazz Records double CD comp of German rock and electronic music of the 70’s and early 80’s, coined Krautrock rather xenophobically by the Brits. You get all sorts of styles here from psychedelic rock and folk (Agitation Free and Gila) to minimalist ambient electronica (Eno, Moebius & Roedelius and Rolf Trostel) and from relatively well known (Can and Neu!) to obscure (Wolfgang Riechmann and A.R. & Machines.)

Friday, 12 April 2013


Thatcher is dead and as a consequence an outpouring of justified hatred is directed at this loathsome political figure who wrecked and destroyed so many lives. Spontaneous street parties celebrating her death have appeared in Brixton, London, Bristol and Glasgow. Tomorrow a party is arranged in Trafalgar Sq, scene of the anti-poll tax riot of 1990, which is expected to attract 3,000 people or even more. Ding-Dong, The Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz is reaching the top five of the charts. The Daily Mail and other right-wing rags meanwhile have launched a vicious personal attack on two teachers who are involved in the ’death parties,’ fanning the flames of all those sick to our stomachs of one of the founders of brutal neoliberal austerity and the darling of the champaigne swilling crooks of the finance sector, not forgetting the whole ruling class. To add insult to injury the British establishment are putting on a virtual state funeral with military honours costing 8 million pounds that will not look dissimilar to Winston Churchill’s!

The response of many liberal media commentators has been to come on all moral. To celebrate an old woman’s death is seen at best as very bad taste, at worst an outrage. What these mostly closeted wealthy people seem to forget is that we have been suffering under the yoke of Thatcherism for 33 years. Now because of the biggest economic disaster ever caused by the bankers, the process began by her is escalating, where such prize gains of the working class, the NHS and the Welfare State (institutions even Thatcher did not dare touch) are being dismantled. But what they fail to realise, cocooned in their privileged lifestyles as they are, is that if you suffer, you want to take it out on those who have caused your suffering if only in words. We are not saints, anger and hatred are natural responses of those who are powerless and are attacked and bullied. Thatcher has become a symbol of all we despise. Calling for her to be murdered when she was alive would have been wrong, but to celebrate her passing rather then mourning is an expression of legitimate protest against everything she believed in and the attempt of the ruling class to canonise her.

I hated Thatcher when she was alive, I hate her now when she is dead. To say otherwise is the worst form of hypocrisy! Celebrate this evil woman’s demise with all your heart and organise for the burial of the horrific social system that she helped to create. See you Saturday!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Seen On The Big Screen (BFI Southbank): Point Blank, Directed by John Boorman (1967)

From allmovie by Rovi: "John Boorman's Point Blank was one of the most interesting and quietly influential films of late 1960s American cinema. Unashamedly violent, void of morality, and full of "European" experimentation, the film ignored the conventions of typical Hollywood crime thrillers. Compared to the stark grimness of typical crime movies, Point Blank was downright phantasmagoric in its narrative structure, camera placement, color schemes, and sounds. Released just three weeks after the similarly revolutionary Bonnie and Clyde, the film was not an immediate hit with audiences; even though star Lee Marvin was coming off the successful The Dirty Dozen, the film got swept up in the "violence-in-movies" controversy. Where Warren Beatty's Clyde and Faye Dunaway's Bonnie were sympathetic and glamorous, Marvin seemed capable of "bashing somebody's brains out," to paraphrase his famous line from The Dirty Dozen. But the actor's icy menace and Boorman's artistic pretensions have gone on to influence filmmakers to come, most notably Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Quentin Tarantino."

DVD's From My Collection: Synecdoche, New York, Directed by Charlie Kaufman (2009)

Billed as a comedy (the smash-hit comedy of the year!) on my DVD, Synecdoche, New York is far from hilarious. It’s a cerebral fable/farce about ageing and death with surrealist touches; the sort of film you need to watch a couple of times in order to understand the labyrinthine plot. 

From allmovie by Rovi: "Kaufman has written about this kind of pain in his previous scripts; Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation each carry a heavy dose of existential angst. But the directors he's collaborated with have always found a way to make all that pain and struggle remain meaningful for the characters -- and therefore, for the audience as well. Working as a director for the first time, Kaufman tackles his main theme so unsparingly he provides barely a single concession to the viewer aside from casting brilliant actors like Hoffman, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, and Catherine Keener. The result is a straight shot of pure undiluted Charlie Kaufman -- he makes Caden's angst and pain and helplessness and self-loathing feel agonizingly palpable from the first moment to the last. The film never condescends to Caden's emotions, and because of this, you get the sense that Kaufman is sharing his own turmoil -- and for his sake, let's hope that darkness is just a small fraction of his inner-self. In an idea that he's hinted at in his previous scripts, Synecdoche is very much about the dangers of the artist confusing art with life, and more so here than it's ever done in the past, this theme seems to insert Kaufman himself into the story. The film doesn't conjure up any of the characters as vividly as it does the idea of Kaufman, sitting behind the camera, orchestrating everything before you as a giant, tangled expression of how he feels.

The thought that Kaufman himself might be this conflicted about his own artistic gifts is disheartening -- especially because it seems like no other topic interests him as much. But by that same token, there will probably be a cult for this movie no matter what Kaufman does for the rest of his career. The emotional commitment from the director, and the film's weird, offbeat rhythms, guarantee that there will be a niche of fans who will respond strongly to it. But, looking forward for Kaufman, it doesn't seem possible he could have much more to say on the dangers of living in your own head. Synecdoche, New York is the kind of movie that only exceedingly talented filmmakers can get away with, and usually only once in a career. Charlie Kaufman is that talented, but he picked a dangerously early point to cash in his free pass."

DVD's From My Collection: Weekend, Directed by Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

An avant-garde road movie from the French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, where a boorish and complacent bourgeois couple travel through the countryside, confronted by traffic jams, car crashes and lethal social antagonisms. WARNING-This film contains real animal abuse.

From Rotten Tomatoes: "French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard's Le Weekend remains his most consistently relentless attack on the bourgeois values of his own country and the perceived imperialism of the United States. Mireille Darc plays the central character, an "average" woman who is systematically radicalized during a weekend motor trip. No sooner have the woman and her husband (Jean Yanne) embarked on their journey than they become enmeshed in the mother of all traffic jams. The motorists rave, rant, burn, rape, murder, pillage and even descend into cannibalism -- all of which is treated by Godard as a natural progression of events. The prevalent theory that Jean-Luc Godard had intended Weekend as the apotheosis of his career is bolstered by the film's last two titles: "End of Film." "End of Cinema." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

DVD' s From My Collection: Santa Sangre, Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (1989)

A weirdo horror pic from Mexican cinematic surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky, saturated with garish and colourful imagery. If you like David Lynch or Luis Bunuel you'll love this.

From allmovie by Rovi: "A candy-colored, blood-soaked journey into the disturbed mind of a damaged soul, Alejandro Jodorowsky's dark and surreal comeback offers a potent tale of psychological despair with striking, haunting imagery that will linger in the mind long after the viewing. It had been quite a long time since El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) thrust '60s underground cinema into collective mainstream consciousness, and Jodorowsky proves without a doubt that he still has the power to shock and move audiences as few other filmmakers can. Time has certainly not diluted Jodorowsky's ability to craft the sort of bold and fearless film made virtually extinct with the ever increasing commercialization of the film industry, and his years spent penning fantasy comics has only served to strengthen his ability to portray the kind of complex characters that make his films so compelling. As deeply troubled Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) is enslaved by his armless mother and forced into a murderous existence following his release from a sanitarium, Jodorowsky instills his protagonist with a desperate sense of fear and helplessness from which there seems little chance of escape. An alternately brutal, hallucinatory, and beautiful film, Santa Sangre is without question a polarizing effort by its very nature, though viewers willing to be seduced by Jodorowsky's alluring cinematic nightmare will find themselves surprised, enthralled, and richly rewarded with an uniquely unapologetic film that's not easily shaken off."

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Books: Germinal By Emile Zola

Emil Zola’s classic novel of brutal class war in 19th century France. A rare breed of a book, both brilliant literature combining vivid description and character study and a page turner with a savage bite. A tragedy rather then a revolutionary polemic-there are no heroes here, except the defiance and resilience of the miners, engaged in a doomed strike brought on by intolerably working conditions and starvation wages. There is a villain though, not the individual bourgeois or the Russian nihilist Souvarine or even the thuggish scab Chaval, but the capitalist system itself-a vile monster that not only feeds on the blood and sweat of the workers, but eats the corpses of its own failed capitalists to accumulate more and more profit. 

See Wiki entry here

Christopher Eccleston reads from Germinal below:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Lessons From The Anti-Poll Tax Movement

I was involved in the anti-poll tax struggle and what I’ve learnt from it is that if the conditions are right events can really escalate into something big. There is always a lengthy lull before the storm when it appears nothing is going on. You seem to be banging your head against a brick wall of apathy. You get slightly despondent. I think this is the period we are going through now. Then suddenly everything comes together and a mass movement arises seemingly out of the blue. This is what happened with the student revolt of winter 2010, the Arab Spring and the international Occupy movement of 2011. Of course underneath the seemingly spontaneous uprisings are committed activists that do the boring stuff-do stalls, drop leaflets, organise meetings, etc. The important thing is to be open minded and imaginative, not full back on dogma (including anarchist dogma). Always keep it local and grassroots orientated, avoid as far as possible heavy involvement by Labour MP’s or councillors or union big wigs, but keep a loose dialogue open with such people. But it is also important to link up with other grassroots groups on a federated fashion to create a unified campaign. Above all be flexible and open to surprises. The big mistake the Socialist Workers Party made with the Poll Tax was to put all their eggs in the union basket by rejecting the non-payment campaign and relying purely on the council workers to refuse to implement the tax. Their rivals Militant (The Socialist Party) won out tactically by basing their campaign on the working class community itself where Militant had connections, especially in Scotland and the North of England.

There are big difference though with then and now. Then it was only one heinous tax we had to deal with but now the working class are under attack from all fronts and it’s global. We are seeing an escalation of neo-liberalism, a re-structuring of society (which of course began with Thatcher.) We are dealing with the dismantling of the Welfare State, the privatisation of the NHS (something even Thatcher did not dare to attack) and the privatisation of the public sector using the deficit as an excuse, including the police and the fire service. And that’s only for starters when you bring ecological devastation and climate change into the equation. With hindsight it was easy to defeat the Poll Tax; if you have enough people who are not paying the tax then it becomes unworkable. Also as everybody had to pay the tax it also affected the lower middle classes and became an electoral liability. This is not so for the Bedroom Tax for instance.

The need for open-mindedness, flexibility, imagination, a linked but grassroots orientation, radical democracy and an experimental politics is even more important now then in 1989-90. This is because we are going to see (and are seeing) major but unpredictable and fragmented revolts breaking out everywhere in workplaces and the community all connected by the degradation of people and planet caused by neo-liberalism. Not one of these struggles will be more important then the other and almost over night many people will become activists without even realising it. Self-conscious activists of all strips have to be involved in debating, offering alternatives and organising in the community and workplace but at the same time not seeing themselves as special or a vanguard with all the answers. Distrust all conventional politicians or ‘experts’ but keep an open dialogue with them based on the strength of our solidarity.

It’s going be a very long and difficult struggle, Comrades, but we have to start somewhere and that somewhere is in the here and now, in your local community and workplace. We have a world to win!

News From The Future

Back in early 2008 I meet a character who claimed she could travel in time. She told me that in 2013 we would see the most savage restructuring of society in the UK and throughout Europe for the benefit of big business and the rich since the days of Maggie Thatcher. Incredible a fringe group of middle class woolly jumper wearers called The Liberal Democrats had a small role to play. Nah, I scoffed to this crazy leftist time traveller who had probably been watching too much Dr Who-don’t exaggerate I said, they surely use more subtle methods, etc, etc, the nice Lib-Dems, pull the other one…

TNI Report: Using the Crisis to Entrench Neoliberalism-here 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

CD's From My Collection: With Love: A Pot Of Flowers: Various Artists (1967)

A compilation album originally issued in 1967 showcasing the bands on San Francisco label Mainstream. You are in jangle/fuzz heaven here, introducing the pop/garage side of the legendary SF music scene.

CD's From My Collection: Popol Vuh: Hosianna Mantra (1972)

Combining perfectly classical chamber music (piano/vocals), some eastern elements and lead electric guitar (no bass or drums), Hosianna Mantra is stunningly beautiful. Traditionally melodic without discords or heavy volume this album was made for bliss. 

CD's from my Collection: King Crimson: Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973)

King Crimson from this album onward are in my opinion the best of the UK progressive rock bands from the 70's. Dynamic, heavy but sophisticated with quiet/loud musical textures and influenced by jazz rather then orchestral classical music. Prog-metal originated here, even post-rock is indebted.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Blu-Ray From My Collection: Let The Right One In, Directed By Tomas Alfredson (2008)

From allmovie by Rovi: "Pre-adolescent angst has rarely been as eerie or unsettlingly honest as it is in director Tomas Alfredson's stylish, psychologically complex tale of friendship between a tormented schoolboy and his new neighbour -- a reclusive 12-year-old girl who isn't exactly what she appears to be. Adapted from the popular novel by author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, Let the Right One In is one of those rare genre films that uses fantasy not as a means to its own ends, but as a springboard to exploring topical issues and mature themes that might come off as clichéd if explored within the restraining confines of a real-world setting. What we get, instead, is a thoughtfully plotted adult fable that builds quiet momentum while winding toward a true stunner of a climax that will literally leave you breathless."

DVD's From My Collection: The Fog, Directed by John Carpenter (1980)

From allmovie by Rovi: "Similar in style to his Halloween, director John Carpenter's The Fog makes for a sturdy, if unspectacular companion piece to the 1978 horror classic. Reteaming with many of that film's principals, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Carpenter and co-producer/screenwriter Debra Hill attempt to fashion a ghost story with a menacing edge. As in Halloween, The Fog's strengths are courtesy of gut-wrenching chase scenes that capture the director's ability to create suspense, atmosphere, and some wonderful jolts. Carpenter's eerie, pulsing score also helps to ratchet up the tension level. Where the picture weakens is in the script, which lacks punch, relies on numerous horror clichés, and features one-dimensional characters. The cast's performances are decent and Carpenter's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau is fine in the lead role, but Jamie Lee Curtis is wasted in a secondary part that helped cement her early reputation as a "scream queen." John Houseman, in a prelude to his later work in Ghost Story, turns in a wonderfully chilling cameo as a salty storyteller."

DVD's From My Collection: The Wicker Man, Directed By Robin Hardy (1973)

Ftom Rotten Tomatoes Website: "A righteous police officer investigating the disappearance of a young girl comes into conflict with the unusual residents of a secluded Scottish isle in this unsettling, intelligent chiller. Brought to the island of Summerisle by an anonymous letter, Edward Woodward's constable is surprised to discover that the island's population suspiciously denies the missing girl's very existence. Even more shocking, at least to the traditionally pious law office, the island is ruled by a libertarian society organized around pagan rituals. Repelled by the open acceptance of sexuality, nature worship, and even witchcraft, the officer takes an antagonistic attitude towards the people and their leader, an eccentric but charming English lord (Christopher Lee). The officer's unease intensifies as he continues his investigation, slowly coming to fear that the girl's disappearance may be linked in a particularly horrifying manner to an upcoming public festival. Anthony Shaffer's meticulously crafted screenplay creates a thoroughly convincing alternative society, building tension through slow discovery and indirect suggestion and making the terrifying climax all the more effective. Performances are also perfectly tuned, with Woodward suitably priggish as the investigator and horror icon Lee delivering one of his most accomplished performances as Lord Summerisle. Little noticed during its original theatrical run due to studio edits and a limited release, the film's intelligence and uncanny tone has since attracted a devoted cult following."

Monday, 25 February 2013

CD's From My Collection: God Speed You Black Emperor: Allelujah Don't Bend Ascend (2012)

"Godspeed’s tracks always started out quiet and swelled to raging climaxes, and that’s more or less what they do here too. But here, there’s more going on. Little melodic figures disappear and return. Loud bits flare up and die out before their time. And even the quiet drone moments enrapture; they’re not just the parts you have to get through to reach the catharsis. The two longer songs are different, too. “Mladic” goes for crushing quasi-Middle Eastern groove, and there’s a metallic fuzz-stomp to some of the earth-moving segments. Here and there, the guitars even vaguely recall Dick Dale surf-guitar runs. “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” by contrast, is all heart-bursting beauty, even at its loudest. It’s moments of suffocating prettiness don’t just arrive and leave; they keep coming in waves, everything building into everything else. Those two pieces, and the shorter drones that surround them, unfold based on their own internal logic. It’s hard to imagine a group of musicians sitting around and writing this music. It seems more like something they were lucky enough to pull from the air." From Stereogum

CD's From My Collection: Goat: World Music (2012)

"Over nine pulsating tracks, Goat embark on a kaleidoscopic rollercoaster tour of Afrobeat, Latin disco, post punk, kraut drone and rampant acid rock. It's as if Spacemen 3 ate Funkadelic's Maggot Brain and a random Fela Kuti album – whole – before projectile vomiting a riot of rhythm and psychedelic noise." From The Quietus

CD's From My Collection: Berberian Sound Studio: Original Soundtrack by Broadcast.

"Completed by Keenan's partner, James Cargill, the soundtrack's 39 short pieces offer a partial index of Broadcast's various styles. Like their 1997 track Message from Home, the theme to the giallo itself, The Equestrian Vortex, is filled with harpsichord and tumbling, jazzy drums that recall the Pentangle's Terry Cox. The North Downs Dimension and Collatina Is Coming feature a flute – or some arcane piece of electronic equipment that sounds like a flute – playing a heartbreaking descending melody that conjures up, as Broadcast tracks so often did, a kind of rainy, mid-afternoon melancholy. The assemblage of bells and organ on Theresa, Lark of Ascension is simultaneously wistfully pastoral and oddly unsettling. Found Scalded, Found Drowned and Mark of the Devil are fragments of pulsing, icy electronics." From The Guardian review.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Books: Memoirs Of A Revolutionary By Victor Serge

A beautifully written epic of the tragic failure of revolution in the 20th Century. Victor Serge saw it all; a young anarchist in poverty stricken but vibrant Paris before WW1, then involved in an aborted syndicalist uprising in Barcelona, before going to Russia in 1919 and joining the Bolsheviks. Here on in Serge is a personal witness of the disintegration of the dreams of the revolution, as the regime becomes increasingly despotic, ending in the final totalitarian nightmare of Stalin's rule and the apocalypse of WW2. This is not a dry or detached tome but written by a masterful writer; you are right there living this turbulent period in history-the exhilaration, the hopes, the anger, the fears and the despair. It's also for those wishing to understand the defeat and failure of the 20th Century revolutionary left. The impact of this disaster is still being felt today.

Although John Grey is no leftist his review of the book in the New Statesman is still basically correct and worth a read here. His despairing conclusion, very much in tune with his philosophy, that all Utopian dreams are doomed to failure, I believe is wrong. Ordinary working people through their everyday struggles against oppression can achieve wonderful things, if only briefly-The Paris Commune, The early pre-Bolshevik Russian Soviets, the Spanish collectives of 1936 and countless other revolts and uprisings right up to Tahir Square, Egypt.

Please see the Wiki entry for Victor Serge here         

Friday, 1 February 2013

DVD's From My Collection: Ghost Stories For Christmas: The Definitive Collection

The Wiki entry for the BBC's Ghost Stories For Christmas

From BFI Screenonline about Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968): "A masterpiece of economical horror that remains every bit as chilling as the day it was first broadcast, this was the first, and arguably the best, of the M.R. James adaptations that peppered BBC schedules during the late 1960s and '70s, and an advance warning of a new tradition of Christmas ghost stories.
Some James purists have been less enthusiastic, upset perhaps by director Jonathan Miller's complaint, in an otherwise respectful piece in Radio Times, that James' dialogue was "ludicrously stilted", but also by the other liberties Miller takes with the much-loved story, from pruning its title - originally 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' - to recasting its protagonist, Professor Parker, as a bumbling, self-satisfied old academic so detached from everyday life that he struggles with even the most basic interaction with others.
A graver offence for some, perhaps, is the way that Miller introduces an element of ambiguity as to the truth of the Professor's supernatural experience - what we may be witnessing, he dares to suggest, is not a literal haunting but a clever mind teetering into madness. All the same, Miller's adaptation is not only genuinely unnerving but, in fact, remarkably faithful to the spirit of James, and the theme of an arrogant, self-absorbed intellectual being harshly punished for his dabbling in things better left alone is entirely Jamesian.
Absorbing the lessons of Val Lewton's legendary team at RKO Studios in the early 1940s - responsible for such low budget genre classics as Cat People (1942) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943) - Miller uses suggestion rather than direct representation, and builds and sustains an eerie atmosphere with a diverse array of stylistic devices - exaggerated sound and lighting effects, high and low camera angles, disorienting extreme close-ups, teasingly obstructing our view with trees, railings or other objects. The ghostly manifestations, particularly the Professor's dream/hallucination on the beach, conjure terror from the minimum of special effects.
As the unfortunate Professor, Michael Hordern - whose career more than once entered James territory - is glorious, with each line on his multi-furrowed face used to expressive effect. The drama's success owes much, too, to the gorgeous black and white photography of Dick Bush, whose previous credits included Peter Watkins' Culloden (BBC, tx. 15/12/1964) and Miller's own extraordinary Alice in Wonderland (BBC, tx. 28/12/1966)."

CD's From My Collection: The Association: The Complete Warner Bros & Valiant Singles Collection: 1965-1971 (Double CD)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Books: The Year Of Dreaming Dangerously by Slavoj Zizek

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously is the Hegelian/Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek's look at the explosive year of 2011.  It's a thought provoking albeit difficult read that frustratingly for some branches away from its ostensibly topic. But if you know anything about Zizek you realise he has the bigger philosophical picture in mind and has no interest in journalistic accounts or concrete economic analysis-if you want that it is best to read Paul Mason's book on the same subject. I have neither the time (nor the ability to be honest) to do an in-depth review of The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, so instead here is a lengthy quote from Joe Kennedy's review of the book. He subtracts from the dense prose, Zizek's critique of the liberal managerial middle classes, their nostalgia for social democracy and their absorption into the all-encompassing capitalist system-a subject very close to my heart.

"Milner’s work describes a class which emerged in late capitalism, fulfilling a similar structural role to the factory owners of the industrial era without actually controlling the means of production. This class is not solely, or even predominantly, constituted of people (such as bankers or other financial sector workers) who would tend to affiliate themselves politically with (broadly) conservative interests, but of those whose labour allows them to persist in identifying, at least on paper, with emancipatory causes. Academics provide the obvious example here, but it wouldn’t take long to come up with a long list of other professions–particularly in the swelling charity sector– that could be identified using Milner’s rubric. As the means of production are concentrated in the hands of an increasingly smaller group, those paid a surplus-wage become absolutely instrumental to the maintenance of economic hierarchy. Žižek explains:

The evaluative procedure that qualifies some workers to receive a surplus-wage is, of course, an arbitrary mechanism of power and ideology, with no serious link to actual competence–or, as Milner puts it, the necessity of the surplus-wage is not economic, but political: to maintain a “middle class” for the purpose of social stability. The arbitrariness of the social hierarchy is not a mistake, but its whole point, for the arbitrariness of evaluation plays a role homologous to the arbitrariness of market success.

On these terms, academics, journalists and charity workers may imagine themselves as working to undermine capitalist “stability” while all the while being, even in the grip of radical belief, the key agents of stabilisation. With this in mind, Žižek looks at the British tuition fee protests as an example of a rebellion which experienced itself as radical but was, at its core, a demonstration for the preservation of extant structures of power: “not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to a proletarian status.” What was demanded was not a levelling-out, but a defence of the means (the surplus-waged bourgeoisie put in place by the relatively arbitrary mechanism of the degree system) by which post-Fordist capitalism continues to operate.*

This point is liable to provoke some dissonance amongst those who both see its logic and recognise themselves amongst those being targeted. It’s slightly tempting to kick against Žižek for having the temerity to call out the egalitarian pretensions of his audience in this way, but there’s little getting around it: more than ever before, capitalism relies on that section of the middle class who habitually imagine themselves as in opposition to it. Furthermore, it’s this faith that one is part of the solution rather than of the problem which further entrenches the system, as dissenting energy is invested in tactical goals which turn out to contribute nothing to the radical strategic objective. For Žižek, social democracy of the kind achieved in much of Europe after the Second World War is dead, although its image is kept alive as a red herring which causes discontent to attach itself to partial goals (such as the removal of tuition fees) incapable of elevating themselves into a consistent list of radical demands which could act as a catalyst for systemic change.

As ever, Žižek links nostalgia for the economic and infrastructural achievements of social democracy with the way in which post-war socialism’s surviving offspring, identity politics, is still the primary occupation of many on the left. In The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, he positions this analysis within the context of a liberal atheism which puts “culture” in the place of religion, substituting the demands of universalist belief systems with those of a dogma of disavowal:

Culture is […] the dominant ideological topic of the “enlightened” liberals whose politics is focused on the fight against sexism, racism, and fundamentalism, and for multicultural tolerance. The key question is thus: why has “culture” emerged as our central life-world category? With regard to religion, we no longer “really believe”, we simply follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores as part of our respect for the “lifestyle” of the community to which we belong […] “I don’t really believe in it, it’s just part of my culture” seems to be the predominant mode of the disavowed or displaced belief characteristic of our times. Perhaps, then, the “non-fundamentalist” notion of “culture” as distinguished from “real” religion, art, and so on, is in its very core the name for the field of disowned or impersonal beliefs–”culture” as the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without “taking them seriously”.

It is interesting to note here how Žižek opposes “culture” and real “art”, a distinction which points towards the way the “salaried bourgeoisie” are, in Anglophone countries at least, the primary consumers of novels, poetry, films, and plays which might in some senses be called post-aesthetic. The latter-day middlebrow is not the preserve of the conservative middle class but of those who see “culture” as its own justification, the practice which guarantees for “tolerance” and against “fundamentalism” but sets out no external truth-conditions of its own. A slightly off-the-wall, but pertinent, example, might be the twenty-first century British obsession with stand-up comedy, which might be regarded as the genre par excellence of the surplus-waged. Linking nearly all the comedians adored by the liberal left is a general scepticism about belief, a position which might be called nihilistic (were that term not to imply some notion of commitment and following through). The politics–such as they are–of the stand-ups tend to hinge on ridiculing straw men (the British Conservative Party) and lampooning the religious universalism of reactionary Christians, particularly those who form the primary constituency of the US Republicans.

By fighting–or laughing at–the intolerance of some forms of universalism while refusing to “take seriously” or lay claim to any definable, non-partial political principles the surplus-wage class undermines the emancipatory values it perceives itself as sharing. Žižek’s argument in The Year of Living Dangerously is for a new universalism which abandons the fetishisation of a now-impossible social democracy. He glimpses intimations of its spirit in the (to him) genuinely “evental” Arab Spring and, more problematically, last summer’s UK riots. Without either validating these claims or subjecting them to the standard sophistic quibbling about the intellectual left’s appropriation of civil unrest, it is clear that Žižek is coming closer to an authoritative mapping of the contradictions which early twenty-first century socialist politics struggles to resolve."

* Zizek (and Kennedy) ignores the involvement of students from the further education collages and the youth from London's estates, especially on the 9th December 2010 tuition fees demo.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Best Novels Read In 2012

1: The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (2009)

A sprawling 'family saga' like novel set in the years between 1895 to 1919. A.S. Byatt of course is a Booker Prize winning author and literary top-gun so more to The Children's Book then my opening sentence would suggest. The writing is beautiful and like all good historically set novels you live and breath the era. Sometimes the information contained within the pages from art of the period to politics reads like a history lesson and slows the narrative down but otherwise the book drew me on to its tragic ending. The cover is equally as beautiful, stunning in fact-something you can't get with a Kindle!

2: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville (2007)

3: Thieving Fear by Ramsey Campbell (2009)

Ramsey Campbell is one of my favourite authors...Thieving Fear is another eerily unsettling excursion into progressively accumulating dread as the four protagonists of the novel are literally infected by their worst nightmares by an un-dead Victorian occultist.

The Best CD's Released/Re-issued in 2012 (and 2011)

1: Swans: The Seer (Double CD)

2: Acid Mothers Temple: Son of Bitches Brew

3: Om: Advaitic Songs

4: Julia Holter: Ekstasis

5: UFOmammut: Omo-Opus Primum/Oro-Opus Alter

6: My Bloody Valentine: EP's 1988-1991 (Double CD)

7: Ulver: Childhood's End

8: Six Organs of Admittance: Ascent

9: Bob Mould: Silver Age

10: Small Faces: Small Faces/Small Faces 3rd Album (Deluxe Editions)

The Best Films & DVD/Blu-Ray Re-issues of 2012 (and 2011)

1: Berberian Sound Studio, Directed By Peter Strickland (2012)

2: Harakiri, Directed By Masaki Kobayashi (1962)

3: The Skin I Live In, Directed By Pedro Almodovar (2011)

4: Mary and Max, Directed By Adam Elliot (2009)

5: House of Tolerance, Directed By Bertrand Bonello (2011)

6: The Devils, Directed By Ken Russell (1971)

7: Drive, Directed By Nicholas Winding Refn (2011)

8: Treacle Jr, Directed By Jamie Thraves (2011)

9: Island of Lost Souls, Directed By Erle C. Kenton (1932)

10: Submarine, Directed by Richard Ayoade (2010)