Talking Movies

March 20, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Just in the nick of time!

I almost didn’t notice it but the Horror Channel are re-running The Time Tunnel from the very beginning in their Sci-Fi Zone. I for one shall be tuning in at 12pm tomorrow for a triple bill. Irwin Allen’s 1960s shows were re-run in the late 1980s and early 1990s on Channel 4 and Sky One and I have very fond memories of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and The Time Tunnel. Having been highly impressed in the last few years by re-runs of The AvengersThe Man From UNCLE, and The Invaders I’ll be interested to see how this stands up. In particular when I was originally watching the show I was totally unaware that Lee Meriwether, who played scientist Dr Ann MacGregor, was Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie. And if you think a triple-bill on a Saturday afternoon is overdoing it then I merely say you can’t excuse yourself on the basis that you possibly have anything else to do at this particular moment in time.

Who fears to take The Strokes Test?

Back in January Stephen Errity sent me on Evan Rytlewski’s provocative tweet about what he called The Strokes Test: Would people still care about this band if their best album did not exist?  It is meant to knock out The Strokes but it also gravely endangers Nirvana, because of their tragically truncated discography. Pixies survive the test because if you get into an argument over whether Surfer Rosa or Doolittle should go then you are still left with either Surfer Rosa or Dootlittle to place beside Bossa Nova and Trompe le Monde. Talking Heads survive the test in style because if you get into a spat over Fear of Music, Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, or Little Creatures as their best album you are still left with three great albums and several more to boot. A similar embarrassment of riches occurs for The Beatles. But, and here’s a nagging thought, what about The Beach Boys? Absent Pet Sounds from their discography and what remains?

And normal service has been resumed…

We are a week into the social distancing shuttering of the country and yet the government won’t admit what we all know – a more perfect lockdown is coming. The universities have abandoned the 2019/20 academic year; it’s over, classes, exams, something something online, don’t bother coming back to campus, have a good summer, see you in the autumn, maybe. The schools patently will be told to stay out until the Easter holidays begin, and then, sure why not take off all of April, and well, you know, May is kind of freewheeling into the end of the year anyway so who really needs it. Yet officially everything is still just on the mother of all pauses until March 29th. Are we supposed to take that seriously? Are we meant to believe all pubs and cinemas, cafes and theatres will re-open on that day and we all breathe a sigh of relief that we shut down that pesky coronavirus good? How does it help to keep the citizens of the country engaged in an idiotic guessing game? When will the actual status red lockdown begin? March 30th? April 1st? What is the point of Leo Varadkar embarrassing himself and us by going on national television on St Patrick’s Day to plagiarise Winston Churchill? You do not become a statesman for our time by appropriating a resonant phrase from a statesman from another state at another time anymore than I would become Dan Rather by ending all these posts with the single word – Courage. Yet Varadkar decided to tell us what we already knew about the coronavirus, fail to elaborate on economic aids for people thrown out of work, and did not announce a lockdown – which one would have thought the only reason for such a state of the nation address. Instead he told us the Emergency was ‘likely’ to continue past March 29th. Good to know.

October 14, 2019

From the Archives: Control

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) becomes the singer for a band he quickly renames Joy Division. The band’s popularity explodes but Curtis becomes suicidal as he develops epilepsy and his marriage to Deborah (Samantha Morton) disintegrates because of his affair with groupie Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara)…

Anton Corbijn’s decision to film in black and white gives Control an unexpected quality. It depicts England in 1973 as almost identical to the society portrayed in the early 1960s kitchen-sink dramas like A Kind of Loving. We see Ian Curtis bored out of his mind in chemistry class in school, doing volunteer social work and, best of all, reciting Wordsworth poems to anyone who’ll listen when not moodily lying on his bed listening to Bowie records. All of which makes Curtis a very relatable figure. But of course this isn’t a kitchen sink drama despite the acute observation of period, at times in the first hour this also feels (to bounce comic book parlance) like we’re watching the Origin Myth of a musical superhero. Interpol are the most prominent of a number of current bands whose sound descends from Joy Division’s trailblazing sound and Curtis’ peculiar vocals in particular. It’s the odd mixture of these two approaches, realistic and mythic, that make the film so individual. A virtuoso long take following Curtis to work (wearing a coat with ‘Hate’ painted on the back) to the strains of Joy Division emphasises the dual life he leads as his normal life is spent working in the Employment Exchange placing people with disabilities into jobs.

His normal life, because of his deep empathy with the people he helps, seems a sight more heroic than his band life especially when he dishonourably succumbs to cliché and cheats on his wife Deborah (Samantha Morton) with Belgian groupie Annik Honore (Alexandra Maria Lara). The life of Joy Division, unlike the portrayal of The Doors by Oliver Stone, is made to seem a lot of fun. The actors warmly flesh out their thinly written roles of nervous guitarist Bernard Sumner and boring drummer Stephen Morris while Joe Anderson, who was so good in last week’s musical release Across the Universe, is wonderful as Hooky the sardonic bass player. Craig Parkinson is an utter joy as the recently deceased Tony Wilson, the flamboyant music mogul who signs Joy Division’s contract with his own blood to prove his dedication while Toby Kebbell hoovers up many of the film’s best lines as their sarky manager Rob Gretton.

Sam Riley channels Ian Curtis with frightening intensity, especially in the thrilling concert scenes. There is though an unsettling resemblance to the similarly motivated Kurt Cobain for the final 30 minutes as Curtis wallows in self-pity, neglects his responsibilities to his infant daughter, and uses his epilepsy as an excuse for suicide. Anton Corbijn deserves high praise for refusing to romanticise the suicide as being some final artistic gesture and for injecting such emotional realism into rock mythology.

4/5

February 28, 2019

Nirvana: 10 Songs

About a Girl

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Come As You Are

Lithium

On a Plain

Scentless Apprentice

Heart-Shaped Box

Dumb

All Apologies

You Know You’re Right

May 10, 2011

Scary Covers and Super Creeps

The time has come for this blog’s first foray into music criticism, to bitch about a bad cover version of ‘Creep’…

I never saw the trailer for The Social Network that was sound-tracked by Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ being performed by an angelic sounding choir, but I’ve heard it raved over ever since. However I’ve just seen an all-female choir, led by a male conductor and accompanied by a male pianist, perform what appears to be that self-same version on Conan and I disliked it enough to really think hard about just why I didn’t love it as I apparently ought to… I mean, I’m a fan of Tori Amos, I like Radiohead, and I loved The Social Network; so when all these elements combine in this cover version it should be the perfect storm of stuff I really dig, no? No, as it turns out.

This version no doubt works brilliantly in the truncated setting of a trailer as background music to a montage of Sorkin’s most biting dialogue and Fincher’s coolest shots, but, stripped of such distraction and heard at full length, it’s a disaster. ‘Creep’ is an anthem of self-loathing, and I can’t help but feel it loses something when your visual frame is seeing it being performed by a choir of pretty women rather than underscoring the wincing misadventures of a jerk. Moreover ‘Creep’ is a grunge anthem. Listen to how it works; soft verse, loud chorus, soft verse, loud chorus, very loud (where the guitars get ever more frenzied as Yorke’s vocals soar), very soft verse and chorus (for the collapse into utter self-loathing); it’s an incredibly dramatic dynamic that is a major part of what makes the song so exhilarating, yet it is completely obliterated by the choir’s version, which, apart from a sotto voce whispered delivery during the final chorus, renders all the verses and choruses with the exact same level of intensity. Equally lacking is the contrast between Yorke’s verses and his sky-scraping ‘She is running out the door’ break; there is nothing remarkable about a female choir hitting those high notes which he invests with such tortured grace. But such monotony of volume and range destroys the song.

It’s as if the people behind this cover saw a chance to ‘do a Tori Amos’; which in their understanding simply meant take a grunge song, mute it, put it on piano with female vocals and wow everyone. But it doesn’t work, because that’s not what Tori Amos does. Amos is too innately theatrical to ever consider performing a song in such a monotonous fashion as this ‘Creep’. Her version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is an emotional threnody, while her rendition of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ buckles with restrained emotion threatening to burst through. Put simply Amos is incapable of singing without feeling, whereas the choral version of ‘Creep’, while being technically flawless, is almost entirely lacking in feeling.

Oddly enough there’s a phrase for just this sort of thing. Once more, with feeling…

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