Friday, January 30, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
A lot of people haven't heard of it and it took it thirty four years to go gold, but in my opinion Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is the best pop music record ever to have been made by an Irishman/woman or group. Although most of the songs were written in Cambridge, Massachusetts and it was recorded in New York, this is an album all about growing up in 1950's Belfast. Nostalgia wafts from every groove as words and harmonies take us to a city of record shops, greasy cafes, bread vans, trains, shipyards and tight knit neighbourhoods filled with the craic. Using a group of session musicians who were given free rein to improvise over a song collection about Van Morrison's working class boyhood this unlikely ensemble (no one even knows who the flute player was) produced a masterpiece which won't be repeated in this era of synth musicians who are all manufactured in a lab somewhere in North Bergen, New Jersey. If you think Irish music lurks in the interface between Enya, U2 and the Clancy Brothers or - God save us - Westlife then you need a brand new Venn Diagram that includes The Waterboys, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian (actually they're Scottish) who were all heavily influenced by Astral Weeks. Not convinced? Elvis Costello thinks its one of the greatest albums of all time as do Mojo Magazine, Q Magazine and Rolling Stone
The emotional highlight of Astral Weeks is Madame George. A 10 minute song about a West Belfast drag queen who runs a shabeen. The only free version I found was this one to the right. Van is not firing on all cylinders here (he's 60 something) but it gives you an idea. (I tried to get rid of the letters on the screen but the record company put them up there for some silly anti piracy reason. The eejits.)
Saturday, January 24, 2009
1989 Driving Miss Daisy - static, dull, pointless, patronising, now that Obama’s President let’s pretend this film doesn’t exist.
1990 Dances With Wolves - overblown cowboy epic about a white man learning the ways of mystical Indians. President Laura Roslin plays the love interest. Horrible from start to finish (at least I think so, because I walked out).
1991 Silence of the Lambs - campy horror flick, that depends on an incredible coincidence for the plot to work. Jody Foster is twitchy, Sir Anthony is so far over the top he’s in the troposphere.
1992 Unforgiven - ok, this is a good film.
1993 Schindler’s List - can’t get past everyvun speaking like ziss all ze time.
1994 Forrest Gump - the worst film ever made by human hand.
1995 Braveheart - a close second.
1996 The English Patient - ok it’s a tie for second place.
1997 Titantic - the ship going down was cool, the love story was ridiculous, nice understated performance from the iceberg.
1998 Shakespeare in Love - it had Ben Affleck in it.
1999 American Beauty - straight to video things-aren’t-great-in-the-suburbs rubbish.
2000 Gladiator - superb for the first twenty minutes then long winded, ponderous, oafish and dull.
2001 A Beautiful Mind - like Harvey but not good.
2002 Chicago - we all thought the age of the great screen musical was dead. We were right.
2003 The Return of the King - worst movie in the trilogy. The ending goes on for two hours. Hobbits weeping everywhere. Even geeked out supernerds were looking at their watches. (Yes, I mean me)
2004 Million Dollar Baby - Hokey, simple, false and predictable. People who live in trailers are scum is the subtext of this film. BTW Yeats wrote in English.
2005 Crash - finally JG Ballard gets the respect he deserv- oh it’s the other Crash? Yeah that was awful. Looked like it was cooked up in the Oscar bait shop.
2006 The Departed - Scorsese’s worst film. I can do a better Boston accent than almost everyone in this cast and I cannot do a Boston accent. Memo to Mr. S. this is your third film about a working class Irish protagonist and we’ve never seen a pint of Guinness. Stick to what you know.
2007 No Country For Old Men - the hero gets killed off screen, and Kelly Macdonald doesn’t talk Glaswegian but I quite enjoyed the movie.
2008 Benjamin Button ? - if you liked Forrest Gump you’ll love Button. Not Scott Fitzgerald's shining moment either.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Andrew Wyeth's obituaries used terms like "middlebrow," "second rate," "dull" etc. Slate Magazine even called him a "con man." He was the antithesis of Andy Warhol and the New York hep cats. Art critics hated the fact that he lived in rural Pennsylvania and painted largely pastoral landscapes, "rejecting the twentieth century." But a closer look reveals something odd about these landscapes, something off putting, something creepy. Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling has talked about "slipstream fiction," i.e. fiction set in the real world but a real world in which everything is slightly off kilter. That's what Wyeth's pictures are to me with odd people and a hyper minimalist subject matter (as in Wind From The Sea above). This isn't a celebration of nature, this is nature after a catastrophe that has left only a few human survivors wandering around, dazed. Wyeth was popular with the general public and conservative Presidents so of course he was ridiculed by the intelligentsia, but to me his pictures (like Robert Frost's poems) are crafted in the architecture of weirdness. The perceptive Mark Rothko said of Wyeth, "his paintings are about the pursuit of strangeness," and that I think will be the final word, not the sneering from the supposedly cool crowd who wrote the obits.
Ciaran Carson has won most of the major UK poetry prizes for his work over the last thirty years but he's largely unknown. He lives a quiet life on the Antrim Road in Belfast but he grew up in the turbulent Falls Road area. The Guardian's interview with him reveals a man more interested in the shape and sound of words than in ideologies. How a poem is made, Carson says, is just as important as what it says. Carson's work includes such masterworks as Belfast Confetti and The Irish For No as well as an award winning translation of Dante's Inferno and yet he is not as well known as Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney or Late Review critic Tom Paulin all of whom were at Queens University with Carson in the early 70's. Ciaran Carson's problem as John Banville sees it in The Guardian is that he made the singular error of not migrating from insular Belfast to cosmopolitan Dublin. I don't know about that, if he'd gone South he would have moved in a different set, had different influences and perhaps fame would have hurt him. Perhaps not. Still Carson seems happy enough where he is and I wouldn't trade any of his Belfast poems for any productons that might have come from living in Malahide or a year in Berkeley or Princeton.
So what is cool to me? Cool to me is an artist doing his own thing, following his own muse and not giving a damn what other people are doing or saying about him. Of course how I exclude Bono and Chris Martin from this definition I have no idea.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Nearly 40 years after its initial release the New York Times has finally realised that there's a pretty good movie out there called Get Carter (though this Copernican discovery is only made in a blog posting.)The Grey Lady is not the quickest to catch on to cultural trends but I suppose its better late than never. Get Carter is, of course, a cultural icon in the UK and always makes the top ten in lists of Britain's greatest movies. Roger Ebert was one of the few critics who appreciated Get Carter back in 1971. In his review he notes the superlative direction, the grittiness of the story, Caine's great acting but above all the film's wonderful sense of style. Here's a typical scene. Enjoy...
Paul Hewson aka as "Bono" has joined the New York Times editorial page. This is how his first article begins: (BTW I'm not being satirical this is really it)
Once upon a couple of weeks ago ...I’m in a crush in a Dublin pub around New Year’s. Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed. Malt joy and ginger despair are all in the queue to be served on this, the quarter-of-a-millennium mark since Arthur Guinness first put velvety blackness in a pint glass.
It goes on like that for 800 words. Move over Mr. McCourt there's a new professional Irishman in town. The NYT has this on page 1 today and there's even a link where you can hear Bono reading the column out loud. I haven't listened to it yet because I will be hearing a loop of it for all eternity in the iPod Satan gives me in hell.