Apr 2008

Just testing

Hey y’all, I’ve just upgraded this place to WordPress 2.5. It was a pretty painless process, and it appears to have gone quite smoothly. If you find any broken bits, though, please let me know.

While I’ve got your attention, let me point you towards a couple of interesting things. Firstly, if you’re in Dublin (or will be before the end of June) I recommend visiting Cut-Outs and Cut-Ups: Hans Christian Andersen and William Seward Burroughs at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It’s not a huge exhibition, but it is a fascinating one and I suspect I’ll revisit it at some point. And yes, you heard that right, William S. Burroughs and Hans Christian Andersen. Initially I thought the link between them was pretty contrived, but there’s a couple of pieces by the venerable Danish storyteller that illustrate some truly uncanny points of contact between the two.

I was also very pleased to walk into a room containing one of Brion Gysin’s original dream-machines, and finally fulfilled an ambition to see an example of Burroughs’ “shotgun art” up close and personal. It doesn’t take very long to see the entire collection, but it’s well worth checking out.

And finally… my favourite line to appear in a news report for some time can be found right at the end of this article. Obviously read the thing before checking out the punchline.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2008

Southland Tales

I’ve just finished watching Southland Tales, the second feature film from writer / director Richard Kelly. His first, Donnie Darko, is one of my favourite films from the past ten years and — despite Kelly’s protestations that it’s basically a straight piece of science-fiction — I see Donnie Darko as one of cinema’s better portrayals of schizophrenia.

Southland Tales

Southland Tales, on the other hand, is indeed — fairly unambiguously — a science-fiction flick, albeit one which is a damn sight more psychedelic than most. Thematically, it draws heavily on Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron’s millennial thriller, Strange Days, as well as the little known, and rather under-rated, Wild Palms (a TV mini-series from the early 90s that still inhabits my dreams to this day, and which has forever coloured the 60s rock classic, House of The Rising Sun… a song that’s never been the same for me since soundtracking Brad Dourif’s death in Wild Palms). While structurally, Southland Tales is an ensemble piece that owes a great deal to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (released, incidentally, the same year as Wild Palms).

The first thing to say about Southland Tales is that it’s a mess. The second thing to say is that it’s a glorious mess. A beautiful, fascinating, utterly trippy mess. Unlike Donnie Darko, which combined a wonderful visual style with some compelling and engaging characters, Southland Tales is all about the style. Which is not to suggest that it’s a case of style over substance. The substance of the film — the ideas — make for a fascinating couple of hours, but there’s no emotional engagement with the characters (though, of course, it’s difficult for me to engage with Sarah Michelle Gellar as anyone other than Buffy… one of my all-time screen heroines).

And that isn’t a complaint about the acting per se; there’s just no emotional depth to the characters they are portraying. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson does as good a job as any actor could have with his character(s). As indeed do all of the others, though it’s only Seann William Scott and — oddly enough — Justin Timberlake who are called upon to provide any kind of emotional content; which they do competently enough.

The film opens in contemporary America. We see home-movie footage of an Independence Day celebration in Texas culminating in a shot of a mushroom cloud on the horizon. It then jumps forward a handful of years. We learn that terrorists detonated two nuclear bombs in Texas that day. As a result, the entire Middle East is a war-zone and the United States has descended into near chaos; with a brutal, repressive totalitarian government barely managing to stave off outright revolution. Police sniper towers dot the city (the film is set entirely in Los Angeles) and people are gunned down with impunity if there’s even a suspicion that they might be engaged in criminal activity. We also discover that the war in the Middle East has all but dried up the supply of oil from the region and America is close to collapse.

Now, if you ask me, that there is the guts of a great film and one which Richard Kelly — based on the talent shown in Donnie Darko — could have turned into a masterpiece. But to that is added yet another thick layer of ideas… in the desperate search for an alternative energy source, America has turned to a revolutionary new technology which exploits “quantum entanglement” in the ocean currents to produce limitless electricity which can be transmitted wirelessly to any location in America. This technology, however, is having unpredictable environmental effects.

So Southland Tales tries to address both The War Against Terror and a kind of accelerated Climate Change scenario. But that’s not enough. There’s yet another strand to the plot involving a strange new drug; Fluid Karma; which comes in several flavours providing a range of different mystical experiences. And on top of that, there’s rifts in space-time, time-travel paradoxes, messianic metaphors and a meta-narrative (involving one of the characters writing a screenplay that begins to mirror the plot of the film itself).

As I say; it’s a mess. But it’s a spectacular mess. Southland Tales is as far from the mundane mainstream as you’re likely to get and I salute Kelly for that much at least. It is — as mentioned previously — a very psychedelic film in places. Had it been released in the early 90s during my heavy-duty acid days, it would have utterly delighted me. Like Wild Palms, it would — I warrant — still linger in my dreams. With a clear head, however, it’s a rather unsatisfactory film overall. It never quite descends into sheer silliness, but it comes far too close for comfort and the Repo Man-esque allusions close to the end merely serve to damage Southland Tales by comparison. Whereas Alex Cox’s classic took a single concept and created a mythology with it, Kelly’s film takes a dozen concepts — each perfectly fine on its own — and fails to adequately explore any of them.

Overall though, Southland Tales is definitely worth a watch if you’re at all interested in non-mainstream cinema. It’s funny in places, always lovely to look at, and occasionally very very good indeed. The use of music — as with Donnie Darko — is quite wonderful. A track by The Killers (which I don’t actually think is a great song) becomes a bizarre hallucinogenic trip experienced by Justin Timberlake’s wounded and psychotic war veteran, while a line from Jane’s Addiction’s Three Days is turned into a kind of prophetic, mystical mantra.

Whatever you do, don’t watch this film expecting anything close to the quality of Donnie Darko. But don’t miss it either. As a piece of odd psychedelia it’s up there with The Monkee’s Head. As a feature film, it’s a complete mess.

10 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Film reviews

Apr 2008

The Lisbon Treaty – 6 questions

You all know the drill by now. Some abstract general principle gets illustrated by what is ostensibly a fairly innocuous news item. Predictable? I prefer the word “reliable” myself.

Anyways, in this case it may seem like you’re getting a blog post about European politics, but the point I want to make goes far beyond the Brussels bureacracy. I have to say though, that European politics can be a tricky topic for me. I’m extremely ambivalent about the whole thing and if I’m not careful that can come across as self-contradictory, as opposed to nuanced (anyone else notice the upsurge in things being “nuanced” since the Archbishop episode? No? Only me then). On the one hand, my first instinct — and with very good reason — is always to be suspicious of the undertakings of politicians. On the other hand, I’m very much in favour of “the spirit” of the European project.

And I think, therein lies the central problem. The undertakings of politicians is what happens when we try to structure the spirit as word. It’s an unpleasant spectacle, and it ends up being destructive for society as a whole. That said, I believe we’re smart enough to work out a way of not doing it anymore. And I’m serious about that by the way.

Chances are, though, we won’t get that done by June. That means the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty will almost certainly go ahead. Which, to be honest, I’m having great difficulty understanding. And I’d be more than grateful if any reader could clear up my confusion.

My confusion exists on a whole bunch of levels. So bear with me as I try to disentangle them and lay them before you in a discrete manner, as opposed to the Escher-designed gordian knot made entirely of pan-dimensional moebius strips in which they currently exist.

Firstly, a rather simple query. I’ve been told by two separate people (neither of whom are generally given to conspiracy theory or unreliable flights of fancy) that the European parliament has actually voted to ignore the result of the Irish referendum should it be in the negative. However, I cannot find any verification for this. Does anyone know the full story?

Secondly, if that’s not the case and an Irish “No” vote will sink the treaty, how can that possibly be described as even vaguely democratic (which is surely the whole point of a referendum)? The expanded EC has approximately 460 million citizens. Ireland is the only nation holding a popular vote on the Lisbon Treaty, with all of the other nations planning (as of now) to ratify it through parliament. Ireland has a population of a little over 4 million people, of whom roughly 3 million are eligible to vote. So even if there’s a massive turnout (an unlikely 90%, say) and a large majority of them cast a “No” vote (an unlikely landslide, with 75% against the treaty), it still means that a treaty ratified by every other state (representing 456 million people) will be overturned by the decision of 2 million Irish citizens. And in reality, if the Irish do vote “No”, it’ll be a much closer vote based on a much smaller turnout. It could be as few as 1.2 or 1.3 million people who scupper the treaty.

It’s stretching the definition way beyond breaking point to describe that as “democratic”.

Thirdly, if we Irish vote to reject the treaty, then what happens? The “Yes” campaign paint a dire picture of Europe grinding to a halt. Or else of Ireland becoming marginalised, perhaps even forced out of the European political system (which would be a singularly difficult process for the nation, given our total economic integration with the continent up to and including our adoption of the common currency). The “No” campaign insist that nothing of the sort would occur and that Ireland can sink the treaty with little or no negative consequences. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between, but given the complete inability of the political classes to offer a balanced view, it’s very difficult to know exactly where — in between — the truth lies.

Fourthly, what the hell does the treaty really propose? The “Yes” campaigners insist that it’s all about tidying up current European legislation and that, in fact, it’ll have little or no impact upon individual nations. If that were true, then why on earth is a referendum required? Why can’t this all be done in the European parliament in the same way that national parliaments are capable (in theory) of handling such irrelevant bureaucratic issues internally? The “No” campaigners, on the other hand, insist that this is nothing less than a complete abdication of national sovereignty. Here in Ireland, we will lose our valued neutrality. More than that, we will be transferring huge amounts of power to Brussels and away from our own parliament. But if that were the case, then why do the vast majority of Irish politicians support it? These are not people whose natural tendency is to loosen their grip on the reins of power.

Fifthly, why on earth is it so difficult to unearth objective and balanced information on this issue? I understand that many people must have a vested interest in either a “Yes” or a “No” vote. But are there no honest commentators? Nobody willing to explain — in relatively simple terms — exactly what impact this treaty will have on my life, and their own? I’m not suggesting that the issue isn’t complex, or that it should be “dumbed-down”, but the text of the treaty itself is absurdly opaque and basically unintelligible (and I speak as someone who regularly reads dense academic papers written by over-intellectual neurotics who haven’t interacted with the real world in 40 years). Why, exactly, should I vote “Yes” (or “No”) to Lisbon?

Sixthly, given all of the above — and the fact that most voters won’t even make the limited attempts that I’ve made to better understand this treaty — who on earth believes that a popular vote is a suitable manner of deciding whether or not to adopt Lisbon?

Like much of modern politics, this whole thing has got an air of the surreal about it.

25 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2008

Hey Boy, Hey Boy

Hallo again. It’s been a wee while.

I just painted my house and replaced the CPU in my PC. Those two apparently unconnected facts actually resolve themselves into a single reason for why I’ve not been online much lately. Oh, and I’ve been spending lots of time staring out the window and trying to decide between the two thesis topics that I’d whittled it down to. In the end I’ve decided to go for the Freudian analysis of modern civilisation, rather than the “psychosis as cultural construct” idea. I’ll be hammering out a final title in the coming weeks, but that’s really just a case of tweaking words; right now I’m basking in the relief at finally making the decision and the knowledge that I can focus my research at last.

As a demonstration of just how distracted I’ve been by that looming decision, I only noticed this morning that the tickets blu-tacked to the side of my bookshelf (to see The Ting Tings) were for last Saturday. Bugger! Still, that’s a minor irritation, all things considered, when compared with the blessed relief.

Speaking of music, two tickets to see Leonard Cohen arrived in the mail this morning. As did a ticket to see Prince. The two concerts are on successive evenings in June which will present an incongruous juxtaposition, but one I’m looking forward to. I also considered buying a ticket for Glastonbury upon hearing they’d not sold out yet, but two things stopped me… firstly the fact that it might not be the best time to spend a week wrecked — thesis-wise… and secondly the ludicrous faff with the ticketing system. Next year, for sure though. I mentioned this to someone (that I was considering going) and they shook their head and complained “it’s a fairly dire line-up this year, though”. Hmmm… I had to point out the fact that (a) you don’t go to Glastonbury based on who is playing, you go because it’s Glastonbury; and (b) on paper, certainly it may not be the most exciting line-up the king of all festivals has seen, but if you can’t find a couple of days worth of music out of this lot, then you’re just not a music fan.

As I say though, next year……

The American Astronaut

Keeping with the music(al) theme, my dear friend Mahalia sent me the movie “The American Astronaut” on DVD many moons ago. I never got round to watching it, but have picked it up and thought about it on several occasions. Then I got pointed to the following video on Youbiquitube which makes me think I’ll be watching the entire film very soon…

And finally… “From the blogs”

It’s perhaps a little hurtful to note that the blogosphere continued on without me, almost as if my presence wasn’t an integral part of the rich tapestry of the world wide web net. Worth reading (or at least glancing at the first paragraph and thinking “huh?”) are:

di leo da liar (Merrick at Bristling Badger on the recent exposé of an inflitrator within the Climate Change action group, Plane Stupid)

HEF (Harry Hutton at Chase Me Ladies, I’m in The Cavalry… celebrates Hugh Hefner’s 82nd birthday in his inimitable style)

Binge drinking: bottling it again (Justin at Chicken Yoghurt is characteristically spot-on with his sharp précis of exactly why increasing the cost of booze by a token amount is unlikely to have much of an impact on a national alcohol problem)

Vote Boris: kill a child (Pigdogfucker at… er… Pigdogfucker on why, despite everything, voting for Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral elections is still the best option for anyone who isn’t a git)

Frank Wilson – Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
(Merrick — again — but this time at Dust on the Stylus, his wonderfully written music blog, offers an mp3 download of a glorious Motown track that I’d not encountered before. I’ve been playing it constantly ever since, though)

Dick Cheney and the Precautionary Principle (Rochenko at Smokewriting provides an analysis of US policy and concludes that the neo-conservative tendency have introduced “the precautionary principle” as a siginificant factor in setting that policy. It’s a good piece, though as I pointed out in the comments over there, I’m not sure it’s telling the whole story) best make up brushes test

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Media » Video