Olympus Jarman

Derek Jarman, in his book Dancing Ledge, is quoted as saying: “Oh how Shakespeare would have loved cinema!”
I rather think DJ would be less sure of this if he had been to see ‘Olympus has Fallen’, the two-hour festival of mayhem and carnage starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman. This movie – a lazy, deafening rehash of Die Hard – sees North Korean terrorists storm the White House where they kidnap the President and set about triggering the self-destruct program of all the US nuclear weapons. Subtle it ain’t.
Jarman’s final testament, of course, is his film ‘Blue’, a sort of radio-play broadcast over a permanent bright blue screen. There are numerous cultural echoes here; blue movies, depression, the precious pigment used by renaissance painters to depict the Virgin’s robes, the flat blue canvases of Yves Klein. If there are no visual distractions, then viewers are forced to concentrate on the words, the grim, vulgar confessional that Jarman recites as he bids farewell to life.
‘Olympus has Fallen’ ends, naturally, with the bad guys being gruesomely slaughtered, and the President appearing on TV to reassure Our Great People that Freedom and Justice have prevailed. My head reeled under the burden of this triumphalism, and I staggered out into the early evening in search of refreshment.
Manchester had not been attacked by hordes of psychotic Asian terrorists, but as I made my way to the pub I noticed that several of the buildings around me had fallen into disuse. Instead of a rapid onslaught of destruction, a slow process of decay and neglect had crushed the life out of these nightclubs and shops. A few years ago these buildings had provided employment and amusement for hundreds of people, but now they were empty, boarded up, making no contribution to the life of the city around them. Likewise, the streets were not strewn with bloody corpses, but there must have been many talented intelligent people trapped in menial jobs…wasted potential.
But anyway, back to the cinema, where I was waiting to see ‘Olympus has Fallen’. Before the main show we were treated to trailers for forthcoming attractions, one of which turned out to be ‘White House Down’ – a brash, high-octane thriller about a terrorist siege at the White House featuring lots of explosions and gunfights. Hollywood has a history of producing pairs of competing movies together (Antz and A Bug’s Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Volcano and Dante’s Peak, The Descent and The Cave) but this marketing ploy was perverse; why tease customers with the suggestion that there may be a better version of a product they have just purchased?
Journal Entry, 22 May ’13:
Last year, when Dame Freda Mercury would have been 65, the Google logo celebrated the occasion with a playful animated action sequence. Today is the bicentenary of Richard Wagner, and Google – probably fearful of the political fallout that would follow any commemoration – has chosen to ignore the event.

Grant and Driverless

Last week I went to see John Grant in concert; it was him, together with a five-piece band performing a mix of numbers from his two solo albums, Denmark and Ghosts.
The Ritz is a small venue, and people were free to watch from the balcony or move down to the dancefloor; when Grant appeared on stage there was a burst of cheering. I was shocked at how physically big he seemed – maybe a result of having seen only a few video clips of him, alone on stage with no props to give a sense of scale. My Facebook posting, when I returned home, read:
“Just been to see John Grant at the Ritz…phwoar! Imagine one-and-a-half Jonny Wilkinsons welded together, with a magnificent baritone voice and a very hunky beard. He’s got great songwriting skills and terrific stage presence.”
I suspect that, like many of the audience, my first encounter with Grant’s music came from seeing Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend. I had glanced at one of the newspaper reviews of this film, and decided that it was probably a worthy, cliché-ridden drama. Still, when it appeared on the listings at the Cornerhouse I thought it might be worth a look.
Afterwards, I was convinced that this was one of the most important films I had ever seen; a distinct voice about two lives that were real, complex and awkward. A year later, browsing the web, I came across Tim Teeman’s review of the movie for the Times newspaper, and was horrified: in his eagerness, TT had given away some of the film’s most tender and significant plot elements.
Perhaps there should be a European Standard for film reviews and trailers…provide enough information to let people know what the film is about but withhold any details that would spoil the plot for an audience. In his book ‘Making Priscilla’ the producer Al Clark gives a witty account of how studio executives can totally misunderstand the role of a movie trailer; one of them even proposed including the critical plot twist as part of the advertising.

For the past couple of years the Daily Telegraph has been singing the praises of driverless cars, which use Google technology and sat-nav to negotiate highways while you, the passenger, can relax with a gin-and-tonic and do the crossword or make those all-important phone calls about EastEnders and the X-Factor.
However, another recent news item concerned a driver who was fined for moving into a bus lane during her journey. The reason? To allow a fire engine to get past en route to an emergency. I’m not sure that a pre-programmed car would have been able to respond correctly to a situation like this.
Presumably there will be no need for police vans, fire engines or ambulances in the shiny happy future of Google-ville, since everyone will lead safe, orderly lives. And there will be no speed cameras, since vehicles will be programmed never to exceed the limits. And there will be no insurance firms, since the occupants of cars have no control over their journey and so there can’t be any mishaps due to driver error.

Toilet profanity, profane toiletries…

Journal Entry, 22 Sep ’95:
Been spending money with a vengeance – bought suit from Ciro. On Wed 13 had interview with Rocol in Swillington, heard nothing back yet so presumably no good.
Last night found message on machine from Indestructible Paints, arranged an interview for Monday 5.00.
Karate grading test in two weeks. Bought pushbike.
At work Dave Cockerill (Works Manager) treated us all to an onslaught of profanity concerning the phantom graffiti artist in the bogs.
(Notes: this ‘onslaught of profanity’ came about because the gents’ toilet walls had been decorated with lots of  abusive comments about various topics including Aston Villa and the managers at Carrs, including Dave C. He summoned us all to a meeting in the canteen and laid into us with a broad Geordie accent: ‘The steet of that toolet is a fookin’ dusgrease an’ when I find oot who’s responsible they’ll wish they were never born!’ After this he arranged for the graffiti to be removed, and had a Yale lock fitted to the toilet door, so that we were forced to approach the lab manager and ask ‘Can I have a pee please, Bob?’
Shortly before this incident, Sunderland (Dave C’s footie team) had lost to Liverpool, and one of my colleagues remarked – in a fake Geordie accent – ‘When ah feened oot who’s scored that fookin’ gaul, they’ll wish they were never born!’)

Journal Entry, 3 April ’96:
Last night went up to Derby for interview with Mason Paints (this morning at 9.00). Wandered round city looking for factory, went for pizza, went to B-and-B.
Interview – John and Mike, intensive grilling about salary/work history/industrial experience etc. Unfortunately they had received my details from two different recruitment agencies so won’t be willing to pay both.
Derby nice place – people fishing in river. Swans, geese, lit up cathedral. Horrendous one-way system.

Journal Entry, 13 Dec ’95:
At work Bob Lander rang Stu (lab manager) at home to complain about Vijay and George eating their lunch at 3 p.m. Apparently they had worked through lunch hour to complete a job.


Nowadays, I find, books tend to be cautious and equivocal, always striving to place everything in context. Not so back in 1910, when Harold Wheeler began his book:
 “There is no more marvellous story in human history than that of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French.”

He went on for thirty-two chapters, filling just over three hundred pages, giving brief dramatic outlines of the exploits of the Corsican general. Where contemporary biographers feel obliged to include numerous footnotes and appendices, Wheeler is happy to paint in bold strokes, confident that his readers would plough through the book, eagerly discussing it with friends or teachers or workmates. Perhaps during their debates, his readers would encounter new perspectives or overlooked facts, thus creating their own personal catalogue of footnotes.

Modern scholarship tends more towards books like ‘1812’ by Adam Zamoyski, a 500-page blockbuster with a huge index and lots of references, devoted to the defeat at Moscow. Even so, in his introduction, Zamoyski acknowledges that:
‘…to do justice to such a subject would take many years, and a book at least twice the length of this one….

It is reported that Pierre Boulez, champion of the avant-garde, has always refused to conduct Tchaikovsky. I wonder if this is due to the latter’s syrupy output; or could it be that the Russian’s most famous work is a celebration of Napoleon’s defeat, with the Marseillaise being dismembered by God Save the Tsar?

Even if you’re not a keen fan of Romantic history, Zamoyski’s book is an absorbing read; he mixes grand narrative with background details to create an interesting tale.