Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Pride comes before, after and during the fall.

So that's 13 days since writing that I would write every day. It would have been simple as it is now to sign on and churn out 400 words. That did not happen. I think one of the biggest problems that probably a lot of writers fear admitting to is fear of damaging one's own pride. It's a fear that the internet age of journalism forces you into conquering through a kind of exposure therapy.

However as any psychology student would know the efficacy of exposure therapy is limited in that it fails to tap into the root causes of why the person is fearful of their phobia. If they are able to conquer that one particular fear, it might not be too long before some other irrational anxiety fits in its place. Even if that kind of work is successful, the conqueringcan still be massively painful.

The terror this poor dude's put through is incomparable to the sort of mild peturbation that some would-be bloggers face. Anyone who has aspired to be a writer and was brought up on the social history of modern literati might prefer to see themselves as a pained, attic-dweller stabbing their thoughts through ink and paper. The internet denies you this.

Not only does it deny you this delusion that you'll only publish what you feel is of quality for print, it harasses you with news that millions of others are providing dense and thoughtful copy every minute, of every day.

The act of writing is solipsistic. There is your writing, then others' writing - it's your job to be better or more interesting than anyone else. When you start writing however you think that you are the best no matter the level of your talent. Why else would you be an author in the first place? In a world where scientists battle disease, engineers build machines of industry and teachers educate the fragile, what other reason could you concede that writing be a worthwhile profession unless you were brilliant.

With encouragement from your friends and family you can sit with the pride that you are "a writer". You're a good writer at that, so why really join in with this cycle of  hashing reservoirs of garbage and posting it to some irrelevant host. Why lower yourself like that?

The truth is, writing breeds arrogance. Not only does it attract arrogant people but as you receive more encouragement the harder it is to concede that you need to keep up to the scrupulous demands that this career asks of you. Everyone else seems below you and that you'd only need to present one of your rough drafts to their finest work to annihilate them as competition.

It's absolute bullshit. I don't consider myself as the best or even a very good writer. I do know however how long I've been writing and the opinion of my skills. I can sit comfortably with that. What I don't like knowing is how bad I can be. I have cringed at some of the excruciatingly bad work I've produced over the past ten years or so. There's nothing worse knowing that you can be bad. That you shouldn't be as proud as you feel. A blog will make you feel like that all the time. That's exactly why I started but also why it's been thirteen days since I wrote anything. That and laziness - of course that's a topic for another day.

I think my New Years Resolution was something dumb like listen to a record every day or learn who I am. 50 days in I've finally got a real one. I'm going to file some bad copy. It might not be every day but I'm going to kill this pride bug and learn how much I can suck.

Might have hit on a concept for this blog, finally then. Come here for some terrible writing.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What a drag - I have to write.

            Turns out that I need to write at least 400 words every day in order to keep my mind from moulding into rot while I struggle to find a job as  trainee reporter or something. In all honesty, the idea of blogging has never appealed to me. I’m driven by deadlines and often the enthusiasm of the team that I’m working with on a particular project. While freelancers the world over have to motivate themselves to come up with extraordinary pitches all the time, what’s the engine fueling the bloggers? 

            A lot of people like to hear their own voice clattering through their skull and that’s an honourable hobby. I’d be lying if I said I didn't look back through my writing with the occasional pang of pride ricocheting around me. That is not the problem. I think bloggers for whatever reason love writing but, crucially, they have the discipline to sit in front of a computer and slog out their ideas everyday, no matter how scrappy those ideas might be.

 I have two problems here. Firstly, I don’t particularly enjoy writing. I have obsessive interests in other areas of culture that have brought me, in my own obsession, to write about them. Whether it be a piece of music, a film or a story that’s set my senses on fire, I don’t usually like the relationship to end once the credits roll or the last track plays. I’ve formed an attachment to that thing in the time I spent with it and feel much like I would with a new partner. I want to express my adoration to others: “I’d love you to meet them” “They’ve taught me so much” “I never knew I could be this happy.” Just because you can’t sleep with it shouldn’t mean that you’re partnership isn’t any less intimate in its own way.

I can’t unfortunately spend my career waxing off at strangers without a pittance behind me. Writing is the conduit to this. As much as I therefore appreciate that there is an opportunity for spoilt cretins to natter on about whatever four star masterpiece they caught up with on a 241 Wednesday, it means I have to write. I have to do a lot of writing, which for a while I thought I enjoyed. But inhabiting your own thoughts for so long feels simultaneously meditative and destructive. Anyway I’ve written 400 words now which feels pretty good. I guess I’ll do the same tomorrow picking up where we left off then.

Here's some relevant content:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Provided as part of a column piece for my trainee journalism course (this bonus addition contains features unseen in the original):

           Public discourse over the use of cocaine hit a peak this week, as reports suggested that the UK’s crave for the class A may soon die down. Consumption has peaked as purity drops close to 30% and prices bump up just shy of £70 per gram. Alongside these figures, a plummet in the use of tobacco and cannabis amongst schoolchildren has made reliable evidence to support Britain’s fight against narcotics. 

            This type of bean counting may assuage concerns that we have become a society lost to intoxicants but there has been little worthwhile discussion recently regarding current UK drug policy. MPs continue to bicker over whether legalisation provides a valid alternative as has been seen in Portugal and certain parts of the U.S. Conservative party members in particular remain determined to oppose any type of move toward a free market approach– when quizzed recently by the Daily Mail over whether backbenchers would support more leniency,
Charles Walker MP made the erudite evaluation that: “drugs kill people, so they should not be legal.” 

Charles Walker - Buzzin'
         In turn, dealers attempting to circumvent classification laws are now reportedly resorting to selling unmarked powders on the street known as “bubble” which invite users to take even more risks than ever before.

            As the Home Secretary faces fresh criticism for allegedly manipulating drug-seizure figures, perhaps now is the time to reconsider our outlook on the culture as a whole. If politicians remain stubborn towards de-criminalization, it might only unleash a far more subversive menace.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Road: Film in the Gaps

           Not wishing to appear irrelevant but a review of a novel from 2006 and a film from 2008 is just that. An earnest compare 'n' contrast piece on one of the finest books I've ever read and it's cinematic counterpart.

                Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road" sits amongst a canon of Armageddon science fiction that uses it’s setting as an empty stage for its heroes. Crucially, the world the author sets The Road in is not one of growth. For as far as we can see, fire has destroyed the living and continues to isolate the remnants of society. McCarthy describes neither the circumstances of this destruction or any lessons learnt from it. Instead the novel’s two protagonists, known loosely as Man and Boy, are the lone guiding light through this wizened and charred landscape.  Their relationship blossoms in spite of their desperate circumstances, as they head towards the sea and perhaps a simpler life.

                The audience roots for this delicate bond to survive the perils of poverty and cannibalism and that the resilience of their struggle might bring back their old world. The road they walk is a Conradesque allegory exploring the winding depths of morality the characters are plunged into; a unique set of physical and theological challenges they must succumb to or overcome.  Perhaps the pace of this journey is set by a man who is taking the time to question the decision he’s made throughout his life. In this scenario The Road may have been McCarthy’s cruel and charred path through life but the Boy keeps him journeying towards a salvation that he has not met. Whilst McCarthy paints a world that’s rotten and burnt, the steady pace of the father son story balances the gloominess, inspiring (or manipulating) you to believe that these two characters can find a safe home.

                By comparison, John Hillcott’s The Proposition makes a likely pairing with subject material of The Road. Both are framed against barren environments littered with vicious gangs and inhospitable terrain. Both join a protagonist battling between what they must do to live and the bonds of blood they are shackled to. Hillcott took the task of transforming The Proposition intensely harrowing story into something a film with bewitching beauty and a dim glimmer of optimism throughout.

                Hilcott still had to make the central relationship as convincing and intricate on screen as it McCarthy had done through the thoughts and mediations of Man and Boy. Viggo Mortensen has perfected the act of playing “the man with no name” in Eastern Promises and A History of Violence. His sunken, defeated expression and a shaky, wandering gaze throughout the film allows the few moments where he can sit and talk in comfort with Boy to be so tender.

                The narrative direction does change dramatically in the film, drawing focus to the marriage of Man and his wife before the end of their world. These scenes offer us context to understand Man’s reluctance to give in to the elements but it does suggest his struggle is a fight against his past and not one to protect Boy. In addition, the design, direction and choreography of the larger set pieces (the basement, the bunker) are thrilling but the quieter moments of theology and interaction between Man, Boy and the other travellers are dealt with rapidly and without reappraisal. In the novel, these rare glimpses of a wider society allow McCarthy to widen and shrink the gap between the two protagonists yet this remains overlooked in the film.
           The cinematography does manage to capture McCarthy’s vision of a scolding red sky and dim grey daylight; the ominous mountainous valleys the characters edge through makes their progress seem meagre. Long time Hillcott collaborator, Nick Cave, joins Warren Ellis to score the soundtrack which lulls from simple piano inerludes to the groaning of a string quartet. This is where the film succeeds; encapsulating a sense of a cruel desertion and dread that’s mirrored by the strength of Man and Boy’s affection (exemplified by Mortensen  and McPhee’s performances).

           At its heart, the novel is a symbolic treatise of a man’s worth in the tough guy tradition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. As such, the film could not have matched the melancholic rhythm of the novel without boring it's audience. Nonetheless the speed at which The Road has to move as a film, leaves it at odds with that graceful flow of its counterpart, stumbling a few steps behind.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Love Letters Straight From Your Heart

Having just purchased The Straight Story and spending this evening listening to Angelo Badalamenti on repeat, I found no better excuse to post a personal profile of David Lynch that I wrote a while ago . I think about this sensational human being for 20% of my day, each day.

                “A swathe of curled black hair, a veil of cigarette smoke, pulling a pensive frown or an impish grin; perhaps the reason that David Lynch is seen as such a fine director is that he paints himself with the same nervous energy as his most famous characters. There’s more than a touch of madness to his craft and his films can be as disturbing as they are entrancing. His tight control of the camera and his pastiche style are the guardrails you hold on to as Lynch walks you through his murky yet dazzling world.
                His debut, Eraserhead, despite being over two decades old, remains as achingly complex and uniquely terrifying today as it was on its release. Eraserhead’s foundations would lead him to direct modern classics like Mullholland Drive, Inland Empire & Blue Velvet. Lynch often describes the development of his art like fishing; a patient, quiet process where magic springs at you in the blink of an eye. His films arguably mirror his thinking too. In a solemn, grey sea, Lynch is the Blue Marlin thrashing against the waves; a rare, inspiring flash of brilliance that will set your sails in its pursuit, like Ahab for his whale.”


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Neo "Noire"

There's been a great deal of press coverage about attempting to define what L.A. Noire is. Released by Rockstar and following the tremendous Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire reaches deep into the language of film noir and noir literature.

It highlights what up until now has been "the shame of gaming". No matter how far an enthusiast would argue that gaming is digital art, offering an immersive experience far beyond (or at least different to) the realm of novels or cinema, publishers and artists have taken little time to make games beautiful or inspiring. Earnest discussion about why this hasn't been worked towards as goal for industry has in part created some of the most widely praised independent games of the past decade (Braid, Minecraft, Limbo, Amnesia, And Yet It Moves).

L.A. Noire is no doubt the most expensive attempt at cornering this market of "quality gaming" which seems a bit of a fallacy. By making exception to the fact that L.A. Noire is a remarkable acheivement simply for being intelligent you in turn dismiss video games as a medium of doltish, low brow culture. Unfortunately, there is a broad dirth of content that is vapid, sour, offensive, bland and, most importantly, willfully moronic without a touch of irony.

This perception shouldn't limit your medium's potential and this is exactly what L.A. Noire overcomes. It has a far greater appeal by presenting a video game as a framework to hang a set of artistic ideals and unique storytelling principles from. Whilst the breakthroughs in hardware and technical performance have catapulted forward what the industry can do in terms of raw power, it's taken longer for us to discuss what you can do with a narrative when you control the pacing.

L.A. Noire never in fact felt like a video game. Performances from Aaron Staton, Adam Harrington & Andrew Connolly were brought alive by motion capture and harnessed with a bleak and layered storyline. Cinematic as it may be the ability to direct those people you empathised with and believed in helped further explore the depths of guilt, anxiety and judgement that those characters felt. If you failed to bring a case in or stepped out of line, it's the audience that's made to feel ashamed of their decisions. I wouldn't suggest that the opportunity to feel worse coming away from L.A. Noire is something to look forward to but the lingering attachment to what you have just been a part of  is a hallmark of any truly immersive and brilliant art. It's a testament to not only what the designers and developers should be aiming towards but it also addresses to what purpose games exist.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Leaning on Jesus

A short post to describe one of the finest films I've ever seen. Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum and based on the David Grubb novel, it is in equal measure terrifying, wild, murky and enchanting. The story follows two children pursued by a villanious preacher man, who looks set to steal the money that their father robbed before he got thrown in the can. The film is at times a chase thriller and proto horror whilst also a debate of how one seperates religious devotion from cult worship. Robert Mitchum's Rev Harry Powell quotes scripture and gospel with a bellowing solemnity but his eyes, wide and motionless, reveal his empty pleas as false. He is a complex and haunting presence, more a hypnotist than a healer.

The cinematography and direction traces a blood line from Lynch style noir. Wide pan shots of angular rooms & dark vistas, the eery tension of a wholesome town dismantled by a lurking demon and an entire cast of characters that teeter on the brink of madness - it will strike a chord with fans of Inland Empire and Eraserhead.

 Mesmeric in so much as you're never quite sure what you're seeing is real, especially given how modern the film was and still is;  it's a crying shame as well that child performances have rarely matched the quality of Sally Jane Bruce and Billy Chapin either. A dominating, shocking and gorgeous film.

Thanks Katie