Sunday, March 29, 2009

Capsule Review #7: 'The Damned United'

I wouldn't say Michael Sheen is the most irritating sub-Bremner impressionist in the business. But he's in the top one.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Prefab Sprout – Bonny (Leo Zero Edit)

There’s a lot of past out there now, more than ever, but it still runs out sometimes. A little over a decade ago rap producers found themselves running out of breakbeats and stabs to sample and make tracks with and obsessive psych collectors found themselves having documented every small run freakbeat single and private press prog obscurity. Luckily for both this was the time when radio and TV stations were getting rid of their libraries of vinyl LPs which had been superseded by CD and DAT. This meant that second hand record shops and market stalls—shit, sometimes bins and skips—were suddenly overflowing with library records meant to be used as backing and theme music that were filled with heavy breaks, rough sitar, wah-wah jams and post-Radiophonic Workshop synth-spatter (well sometimes—more often they featured feeble pastoral flute instrumentals and the like). Records that went for pennies when people initially had no clue what these things were (I got a bunch of Jack Arel albums for 50p each) soon escalated in price as collector scum realised that there was a new frontier, more stuff that hadn’t been heard and assimilated.

The disco re-edit scene must be in a mined-out state similar to the psych scene by now. How many disco tracks are there left to fuck with? I’m basing this only on a hunch, but I’m pretty sure that the last three years must have seen more re-edit 12”s released than there had been in all human history up to that point. From the caveman on up. So let’s give props to Leo Zero for looking to one of the least celebrated areas of British music history for one of his recent edits. That is, Mondeo Pop. It might have been the last time white British pop would interact with soul music on its own terms without being retro or ironic, without being embarrassed or losing their nerve but any love for Mondeo Pop has been conspicuously lacking in the recent 80s revival. Lush, glossy arrangements and unashamedly clever lyrics being a little harder to knock out than yet more deadpan vox and cheap keyboard trifle.

Prefab Sprout - Bonny (Leo Zero Edit) [ysi]

The fledgling Facebook Mondeo Pop group is here.

Leo Zero also has a new blog with edits and artwork. The versions of “Moonage Daydream” there are highly recommended. And these are the available Leo Zero records at Phonica.

Here’s a couple of other edits in a similar vein too, although both of these tracks have had some recognition as ‘balearic classics’. I’m a particular fan of the 1981 geezer-ELO of “I’m Not Moving” which is actually even better without the Idjut Boys hawking thick gobs of echo across it.  Let's make it a summer anthem '09.

Phil Collins - I'm Not Moving (Idjut Boys Edit) [ysi]

Chris Rea - On the Beach (Tangoterje Edit) [ysi]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Arthur Russell – The Sleeping Bag Sessions

Since 2004, when Soul Jazz released the World of Arthur Russell compilation and Audika began reissuing albums including World of Echo and Another Thought and excavating the music that makes up Springfield and last years beautiful Love is Overtaking Me Arthur Russell’s rep has constantly grown. But it has perhaps grown-up lopsided, with Arthur’s incredible dancefloor tracks being overlooked in favour of the music that fits the image of a shy troubadour, bowing his cello and singing softly to the floor in endless recording sessions.

Partially this is because that image is one that sells and is easy to write about, but it’s as much because Arthur’s disco tracks were issued on 12”s spread across a variety of labels, some of which have been notoriously flaky about licensing their music out. Until recently, one of these was Sleeping Bag, a label actually co-started by Arthur. Taken together with the 2007 reissue of Dinosaur L’s 24→24 Music the release of the The Sleeping Bag Sessions means that all Russell’s music for the label is now easily available digitally and on CD. It’s a pity the packaging is so shoddy, with weak artwork (even if it is based on the Arthur Russell mixed 12” by Bonzo Goes To Washington) and, unforgivably, sleevenotes of only a couple of paragraphs chopped out of context from a Faith magazine article which mainly concern 24→24 Music. I don’t really need to say more than point out the font used is a variation on comic sans.

Not that all the tracks are straight fire. The Bonzo Goes To Washington funk-by-the-yard collaboration between George Clinton and Talking Heads Jerry Harrison has aged about as well as any other early eighties track that makes a feature of playing sampled voices up and down a keyboard. Think of those 'singing' dogs.  As politically motivated cut-up records go it’s more Paul Hardcastle than Steinski. The vocal chop-ups on the Russell mix of electro-rappers (deep breath) Sounds of JHS 126 Brooklyn are more compelling.

That hardly matters though. Even if you consider all the music that isn’t written by Arthur as bonus tracks, or don’t consider them at all, then this compilation is still crucial for the music he did write. The decentred, lurching funk of the Felix tracks, the up-close and personal mantra of “School Bell/Tree House” and the rhythmic wooze of the Walter Gibbons mix of “Go Bang!” are all as beautiful as any music ever recorded.

Sounds of JHS 126 Brooklyn - Chill Pill (Underwater Mix) [ysi]

Since it probably won’t appear anywhere legit anytime soon, here’s the bewildering 7” mix of Loose Joints “Pop Your Funk” which came out on West End in 1980. It sounds closer to Black Dice or Boredoms than to Lipps Inc.

Mix Up

It’s shameful to do two posts like this in a row but there’s a shit-tonne of excellent mixes out there at the minute so here goes:

Italians Do It Better label boss Mike Simonetti kicks it with his African Connection mix of “mostly African disco LPs and 45's mixed with some Caribbean and Jamaican tunes in there for good measure”.

Over at the always reliable FACT ex-Crosstown Rebels label boss Matt Styles jams together a “a kind of a proto-house selection, '83 hottmixx style” of mainly early-80s records.

Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve own a lot of psych records with the word 'mind' (or sometimes 'mynd') in the title and they'd like to play them for you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mix Up

Sometimes it seems all we do at Rocktimists is rep for the raw and squirming Dissident label and whatever mix they’ve currently got up online, but that’s with good reason. Resident Advisor have got a mix from label boss Andy Blake to go with a pretty interesting label profile.

I quit following dancehall about ten minutes after I started paying attention to it in, I dunno, ’05 or so coz nI just haven't got time to go after everything.  Plus it seemed to become really weak about then too.  So now once a year or so I download something like this Heat Wave mix of “over an hour of the most rowdy and x-rated Jamaican bashment from last year mixed in quickfire juggling style” and consider myself an instant expert again.

It’s the same with funky-house, follow behind someone else—in this case Grievous Angel’s “compilation of superb UK funky radio rips”—and have them apply the filter for me.

Last but not least, why not celebrate the sun peeping from behind the clouds long enough to make it worth removing a layer of clothing for with a mix of some of the greatest Mannie Fresh produced Southern rap tracks from over at Crossfaded Bacon.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview with Animal Collective's Brian Weitz (aka Geologist).

An edited version of this interview, which took place on Monday March 16th, originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post. This is the extended fanboy-friendly remix.

(Photo by Meg Rorison, reproduced under Creative Commons licensing terms.)

You’re in the middle of quite an extensive European tour. Is travel still broadening the mind, or does it all become a mind-numbing routine?

It’s a mind-numbing routine. We’ve done it more times than I can remember at this point. We settle into it pretty quickly. But there are always nice parts of the tour, for sure. I’d never been to Milan, so it was nice to play a concert and then have a day off there.

Your ninth album [Merriweather Post Pavillion] has just broken through commercially, so you must be riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Was that something you had factored in? Were you expecting it in any way?

We had a sense that people would like it, and we thought we’d made something special – but we certainly didn’t expect it to do as well as it has. I wouldn’t say it’s any more successful artistically than past ones, because all of our records are intentionally different from each other.

We’ve always been inspired by pop music and dance music, which are palatable styles to people. In the past, we’ve obscured those influences, and kind of hidden them – whereas on this one, before we even started writing it, we said it would be fun to try something new, and just to be a bit more direct.

Does this success increase the pressure of expectation upon you, or are you oblivious to that kind of thing?

We’ve been doing it for a while, so we’ve dealt with negative reviews and we’ve played shows to one person. We’ve been playing together since high school, so if any moments that might be considered failure were gonna have a negative impact on us, it would have happened by now.

There’s a certain pressure that you feel from the outside. Our record label [Domino] is in London, so we have this direct line to the pulse of the UK press, like NME and all this stuff. And we did before that, when we were on FatCat – we’ve always had record labels based in the UK. So whenever we show up in London, the phone starts ringing from the label and from our booking agent, and so that place seems to be where we feel the most pressure.

But at same time, it’s really easy to just to take a step back and say: we’ve been doing this for so long, this is just another show. We can just section ourselves off and let the rest of the people worry about how many photo passes need to be given out, and that kind of stuff. I mean, we have a tour manager now, and people that can help us isolate ourselves from those sorts of things.

With a lot of bands that start with an experimental approach, success can lead to a pressure to round off the sharp edges. Could anything threaten your freedom to do whatever you please with the next project?

I think we’re totally free. Domino never asks for anything specific from us. They never ask to come into the studio; they never ask to hear what we’re working on. There certainly wouldn’t be any pressure from anybody else besides ourselves.

Again, I think when you’ve got a group of guys who have been playing together for fifteen years, they generally know. For the majority of that time, we were not releasing records – or we were releasing records to a very small amount of people and not making any money off it – yet we continued to do it, and so I think the foundation is pretty strong for integrity and doing what we want to do. The next project is already pretty far along, and I have to say that the sharp edges are probably even more extreme on it that they have been for a lot of the past records.

Are you sticking to your technique of touring the new material now, and refining it on tour?

No, actually. We’re doing something completely new. The next project is going to be a DVD, or a film. It’s the four of us, and a director that we’re friends with, and we’ve been creating this sort of visual album – which is how we’re thinking of it.

We’ve been trying to create it simultaneously, where we shoot visual things and we compose original music. We’re trying to do it where we pass it back and forth between each other – so that the visuals influence that we write, and then what we end up writing influences how the visuals are edited together, and how they’re cut. We’re pretty far along in the process, and it takes a while.

It’s not gonna be on Domino or a record label like that; we’re working with a small music DVD production company. We had to fund it ourselves, so the process is slowed down a little bit.

But it’s a kind of thing that’s never gonna be performed live, so we really want the visuals and the music to stay locked together. I’m sure that with the technology today, people are gonna extract the audio and it’s gonna be online. It’s gonna be this thing that very few people actually go out to a film festival and see, or purchase the DVD. But I dunno, maybe nowadays DVDs and visual things are passed around freely on the Internet?

There was an extraordinary pre-release hysteria, centred around your fans’ attempts to get leaked copies of your current album. Didn’t somebody actually hack into your own personal e-mail account?

They created a fake e-mail. We looked into it a little bit. We’re not exactly sure what happened, but I guess it’s not that hard to create a fake e-mail address, or something that just happens to look like an original one. It wasn’t actually mine; it was the band’s e-mail account, but the letter was signed as if it was from me.

An extraordinary volume of words have been written about you recently, particularly on the Internet. It feels like you’re the band that launched a thousand blog posts, and it almost makes me feel like I need some sort of post-doctoral qualification in Animal Collective Studies, before I can even start to discuss the work. Do you keep tabs on all of that? Does it mystify you, or does it interest you?

It’s better not to look at it, whether it’s positive or negative. If you open yourself up to reading positive stuff about you on the Internet, and if you place a value on it, then you also have to place a value on the negative stuff – and for all you know, it’s an 11-year old kid sitting at his parents’ computer.

With the Internet, you have to remember that a lot of these people aren’t even really qualified to discuss us, in my opinion. Like when we get on stage and Dave, who’s Avey Tare, is singing 80% of the song – but people still refer to him as Panda Bear, because they think that Panda Bear is the lead singer, because he’s put out a solo record. It just reminds us that there’s so many intricate things about our band that people still don’t understand, because they’ve put together an idea of our band from these little snippets that they’ve read.

On the Internet, there’s never any fact checking. Nobody knows if anything’s correct, even on our Wikipedia page. There was a rumour going around that Noah [aka Panda Bear] had gone to school with Tupac; it was on Wikpedia.

There is a mysterious, open-ended quality to your music, which can lend itself to people looking for stuff that isn’t there. Is there a temptation for people to over-analyse your work, when they should just ride with it and feel it?

It’s up to them, but I think in general we would prefer people just to feel our music. We’ve never been into very cerebral music ourselves. When we got into experimental music, we responded to things that felt like they were made from some kind of visceral inspiration – or where we had more creative reactions, like imagining little films in our heads. Then we were delving more into experimental music, and finding that there was a huge academic, sort of university side to it. It really turned us off, because to us it was not fun to interact with music in a super-cerebral way.

So we definitely don’t intend for our music to be taken that way. And I know it does for some people, and that’s fine – but it’s not what we intend.

Some people like a song to tell a story, or they like to be able to grasp its precise meaning within the first two or three listens. Because that’s not really the way your music works, some people will see it as “difficult” music – which makes them feel they’ve got to put the work in, to get that kind of meaning out.

It is intentionally confusing a little bit, just because we like confusing music. We like listening to music ourselves that can be somewhat disorienting. But it’s not intended to be completely difficult, or completely obscure.

All those things that are in there – like mystery, or some kind of confusing nature – are there more for enjoyment, because we’re hoping that people will relate to music the way that we do. We’re not there to cause over-analysis. But again, it’s not a negative thing.

How much importance should we place on the word “collective” in your band’s name? Does it describe the way you work?

There’s no Communist manifesto. We don’t all live together and take turns cooking breakfast and stuff like that. Some people think that there’s a reference to some sort of hippie commune thing, and that we believe in some idealist form of collective living. It really has nothing to do with it.

We didn’t even really want to use that word, back in the day. We were not going to have a band name. We would just write which of the four of us played on the record, or something like that.

We came up with Animal Collective when it was the four of us, because it was just too many names to write down. Like when we were going on tour: you can’t tell a club to write this on a chalkboard or a poster. So we said, we’ll just call it Animal Collective because the “collective” implies that it’s a rotating line-up of four people.

FatCat asked that we use that on all of our records, so that there could be an umbrella name for people to find us in record stores. And we were like: well, we’ve already used this on once on a tour when it was all four of us, so let’s just take what we did that time. Now we use it as an umbrella name for whatever combination of us play on a record, and I suppose that still means something. With this record there’s only three of us, whereas the past few records have been all four of us – and now the next thing will be all four of us again.

So Josh, the fourth member, is going to come back on board?

Yeah – like I say, we’re already pretty far along into the process of the next thing. The seeds of it started before we even recorded Strawberry Jam.

Does the Animal Collective creative process only start when you are physically in the room together, or do you work separately and pool your ideas?

None of us live together. Noah lives in Lisbon, I live in DC, Dave lives in New York, and Josh lives in Baltimore. So we have to schedule time to get to work on music – and that time is usually limited, because we’ll have some things going on in our personal lives that are equally, if not more, important than the music. So everybody usually has to do a lot of individual work at home. We have to talk a lot over the phone, or e-mail when we’re gonna get together and actually write and work on stuff.

Is that an egalitarian process? Do you have to consciously sublimate your egos, or are you fighting like hell to get your personal ideas accepted?

No, we’re all pretty good at keeping our egos in check. You always have to make more than you think you’ll need, in terms of ideas, because not every single thing you come up with will be in sync with somebody else’s ideas.

We’ve also gotten into the habit of sending little demos; recording stuff at home, and then using the Internet to send it to people. For Merriweather and for this visual project, that’s been a huge part of the creative process. Then if people don’t like it, the idea can die a really quick death – so your ego doesn’t even have time to get attached to it.

Having played together for such a length of time, you must have developed an instinctive, unspoken rapport – so that when you’re going off in a spontaneous direction on stage, you instinctively know where you’re all going.

Yes, we’re pretty good. We work pretty quick and pretty intuitively with each other at this point. Merriweather was kind of the same, when Josh decided he didn’t want to go on tour after we finished Strawberry Jam.

We weren’t even sure we were ready; we wanted to write new material, but we weren’t sure exactly how the process would start. Then Josh said: I don’t want to go on this next tour, and then we only had a month from finishing Strawberry Jam to the tour starting, and Dave and Noah and I were like: we’ve got to get together for a couple of weeks.

So everybody worked really hard at home for a couple of weeks, and then we’d get together for a couple of weeks. Then we wrote something like eight or nine of the songs for the record, just within those two weeks, before going on tour with them live. That was probably the fastest we’ve ever worked, but it just came together really intuitively. A lot of serendipity was involved, in terms of everybody being on the same page without being in the same room.

Are the songs are still evolving and going off in different directions on stage, or are you more scored and scripted these days?

There definitely is a script to the songs, for sure. We’re performing them in the same manner that they are on the records. There are open-ended moments in the set – like how we get into a song can change from night to night.

The middle of Guys Eyes has a pretty open-ended middle passage, where there’s no set length of time, and what people do in there is not really scripted so much. The beginning of Brother Sport is different, and we go in a different direction with it than we do on the record. So things are changing a bit, but we’ve always liked things to be different between the studio and the live show anyway.

I’ve spent a long time staring at the front cover of your album, so can you tell me what’s on that purple image that lies behind the green beans?

I don’t know, actually! Dave [Portner, aka Avey Tare] and our friend Rob who helps us with our graphic design did it, and they showed it to Noah and me. And we said: that looks cool. But I’ve never actually asked what they put behind it.

I heard Noah ask Dave once, and he said: oh, it was just a picture. So you’ll have to ask Dave if you see him, and I don’t know where he is at the moment.

It’s good you retain the sense of mystery, even within the band members…

Dave does a lot of the visual artwork, and we usually never ask him where he found something, or what he did to it to get it to look like that. The same also goes with Noah’s lyrics. We don’t really ask each other what people are singing about.

Mike Atkinson.
I do more of this sort of thing here.
...Read more

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tommy James and the Shondells – Cellophane Symphony

Ah, the internet. There’s always someone marking out every piece of territory before you even set off. How can we big up unmoored one-off “Cellophane Symphony” by Tommy James and the Shondells more incisively than this description:
As a joke, Tommy begins his proto-prog bloater with a few notes of an actual symphony. Har har. For a second, I thought I wasn't listening to shit. The title track is staggeringly bad drone, refusing all resolution and wielding a Moog like its own justification.
That would sell it to me, stat.

I’ve no clue why “Cellophane Symphony” exists. A ten-minute long instrumental opening title-track to an LP is a, uh, lateral move for the bubblegum poppers behind “Hanky Panky”, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mony Mony” and early vocoder jam “Crimson & Clover”. If “Cellophane Symphony” is an attempt at psychedelia it’s remarkably free of histrionics and heavy artillery—there’s none of the bloooze-bore authenticity via guitar jerk that clogged Woodstock here. Instead it’s light and airy, floating on a bass riff that’s like a Black Sabbath that took helium instead of valium and brown ale. The drums are reined in and content to mark time with constant slow-mo fills whilst the organ and guitar circle each other warily. The aforementioned Moog does what it does best, throwing out little galaxies of spacedust across everything else.

Tommy James and the Shondells – Cellophane Symphony [ysi]

The Blue Wang Report

When Sick Mouthy wrote a piece on Watchmen that mentioned Billy ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s digital blue wang I was unprepared for the amount of random Googler action that those simple words would bring. There are a lot of people out there searching for this guy's dick using a word that only a twelve-year-old or cretin would:
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Just imagine the hits Rocktimists might have got if Mouthy hadn’t missed the opportunity to work Billy Crudup’s blue penis, Billy Crudup’s blue dick, Billy Crudup’s blue cock, Billy Crudup’s blue balls or Billy Crudup’s blue pussy in there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review #1: Luke Haines - Bad Vibes

A degree less intelligent and cutting than it thinks it is—the consistency with the rest of Haines oeuvre is a victory for the auteur theory.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Capsule Review #6: 'The Class'

This film certainly 'makes the grade'. Coaxing some 'grade-a' performances from his cast, Laurent Cantet confirms that he is in the 'top stream' of filmmakers working today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mix Up

Currently rocking to:

Rocktimist fave Ali Renault (as part of his Heartbreak duo) has a mix up at Allez-Allez that spans from the League Unlimited Orchestra version of “Things That Dreams Are Made Of” to murdering black metal dimwits Burzum. Burzum have a songtitle that translates as “The Lonesome Mourning of Frigg”. It probably sounds better in the original Norwegian.

Urb have a mix from kosmische-trance dude Alex Moulton whose Exodus was my third fave album of 2008.

Roman “Alter Ego” Flügel has a sorta deep house mix that tries to capture “an entire night in a 50min mix” over at House is a Feeling.

Lastly, the latest mystery mix at the ever reliable DJ History is Afacan Sound System unleashing a load of ultra-obscure Turkish psych and disco tracks. This is the cheeky direct download link.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Billy Crudup's Digital Blue Wang

Hello again.

I went to university in Northampton, pretty much by accident. (I think I thought it was near Southampton, and therefore closer to Devon. It’s not.) Alan Moore, legendary beardo comic guru, lives in Northampton. (So does Jo Whiley; I used to see her in a surf shop by friend worked in. A surf shop, in Northampton. The most landlocked town in England pretty much.) I doubt there’s much significance in this.

I didn’t read Watchmen until well after I’d finished university and fled back to Devon in a hurry, though. Which is kind of irritating, because my degree was Popular Culture with Philosophy, and while we did a module on popular erotic literature, which included a guest lecture by a Black Lace writer who lived opposite campus, none of our lecturers had the foresight to say “oh, Alan Moore, the most famous man in comics who isn’t a fascist called Frank; let’s get HIM to give a lecture, or at least use his proximity to inspire an interesting module”.

But I did read Watchmen nevertheless, several years ago. And I enjoyed it. I wasn’t madly blown away by it; I’m no fanboy. I just like comics a bit, and superheroes in particular (especially those of a little more human disposition – where’s the drama in an invulnerable flying alien with super-strength and laser-eyes?), and a little bit more thought and character than outsiders generally reckon the genre to have. As you probably know (well, hopefully know), I quite like that Dark Knight film.

I reread Watchmen recently, in anticipation of Zack Snyder’s film. I didn’t get all the way through, however, because memories of the stupid ending (a device halfway between those used more fruitfully in The Incredibles and Akira) started surfacing. But I did do that thing of skipping backwards through pages, studying past frames, noticing references, picking up clues, reading the news cuttings and other supplementary intertextual MacGuffins that give context to the world and emotional background to the characters. I’d be interested to know how many other people who’ve read Watchmen have read it as closely. I know that my own reading would be seen as remarkably shallow by many, not least Zack Snyder.

Snyder was an interesting choice of director. A self-confessed fanboy of the comic, he’s no Nolan, or Cuaron, or Del Toro, but he’s leagues ahead of, say, Paul W. Anderson, who perhaps could be seen as Snyder’s most analoguous contemporary. Except that where Snyder picks acclaimed comicbooks to bring to the movies, Anderson picks computer games. Clever.

I really liked Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, which I saw in the cinema. I’ve not seen 300 but I’m not really a Frank Miller fan and haven’t read it either. But there was no way I was going to miss Watchmen. Not after seeing the trailer last summer. (I should note that Moore refuses to have anything to do with film adaptations of his comics, to the extent that he claims he sim[ply shall not see Watchmen the movie.)

So I went on Saturday afternoon with my girlfriend and another friend, who is the closest thing I have to a fellow comicbook geek, except that neither of us is that into comics, and he has a doctorate in the representation of women in Victorian literature rather than in the representation of giant world-ending alien pseudo-squids in DC comics. I saw both The Dark Knight and Batman Begins in his company, too. (And X-Men: The Last Stand, but the less said about that the better.)

And you know what? All three of us walked out of the cinema at ten past four having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; maybe it was the cheesecake brownie Ben & Jerry’s, or simply the giddy indulgence of seeing a film at a time when you can walk out into daylight.

But I think it was the film.

No, it wasn’t perfect. But the comic isn’t flawless either; the ending, as intimated, is pretty pants. Well, not the ending per se, but the final, explosive, “so this is what it was all for” culmination. The most notable thing about Snyder’s film is that they rewrote that final explosive culmination, and in doing so vastly improved upon the original. (If you didn’t know, the original ends with a giant world-ending alien pseudo-squid uniting the Cold Warring USA and USSR in peace and love. No, really.) I wont say what the new version is. But it works. And makes MUCH more sense, too.

So, a list of quick positives…

1. Dan Dreiberg, aka Niteowl, was played by the creepy paedo guy from Hard Candy, and he was terrific. It really was as if the character had walked off the page and onto the set.
2. The Dr Manhattan effects were great (with the possible exception of the wang), particularly the illuminated dust floating in his aura. (For those who don’t know, Dr Manhattan is an atomised physicist who reunites his molecules at a sub-atomic level and in doing so becomes… well, pretty much omnipotent. And blue. So powerful is he that he parades around naked, like a Greek god made of radioactive sapphire.)
3. All the effects were great, actually, and the set & costume design were faithful enough to the source material to give anyone with a decent familiarity to it several gasp-inducing moments of déjà vu that were really quite enjoyable.
4. The sex scene was the funniest, most awesome sex scene since the one in Team America; Wold Police-

Actually, yes, the sex scene. How you react to that scene says a lot about your understanding of what this film is trying to achieve, I think.

The original Watchmen isn’t just a comic; it’s a commentary upon the comic genre, a satire and a parody of it, and also a love-letter to it. The characters are deliberate archetypes taken to extremes, the universe a fully-defined alternative reality that posits superheroes as “costumed adventurers” out for justice with just masks and martial training rather than laser-eyes and mutant regeneration factors (Dr Manhatten very obviously excepted). I’m assuming you know it’s set in 1985, that Nixon is still in, that a giant radioactive blue god won Vietnam for the USA, that nuclear terror pervades the whole of society, that “costumed adventurers” have been outlawed (hello The Incredibles, again), that someone is plotting to save the world by making everyone think it nearly ended, etc, etc, etc…

But it’s not really about that. It’s about… misanthropy, and violence, and the nature of humanity, and the way we experience time, and sexual deviance, and the justification of bigger-picture politics, and the nature of altruism, and many, many other things, most important of all being comicbooks as a genre, as an artform, in and of themselves.

So Snyder’s film cannot deliver the same experience as reading the book. It cannot have all the appended press cuttings and book extracts and so on. You cannot flick back a few pages and study the graffiti scrawled on a wall in that one panel where the guy with the “end of the world” placard appears. It cannot be a commentary upon and a satire of comicbooks. But it can be a comment upon and a satire of comicbook films. Because, you know, we’ve had a few of those recently, and far more people seem to watch the films than read the comics.

And so Snyder transposes from comicbook to film, and it nearly works; Ozymandias’ suit has nipples, a clear reference to George Clooney’s lampooned Batman costume. Niteowl’s suite even more closely resembles Batman’s than it did before. Both Silk Spectre costumes reveal as much real flesh as Jim Lee’s figure-hugging illustrations ever did, and in doing so become remarkably unsexy; cellulite and camel toes not really doing either incarnation favours.

But it’s not just comicbook films that are referenced and satirised; Lena’s appearance on the soundtrack transforms a cod-romantic dinner scene between Dan and Laurie into a Pretty in Pink moment. Hendrix’s use for the flight from Mars echoes Marwood’s drunken awakening on the motorway in Withnail. And that sex scene… the flamethrower / orgasm synchronicity, the Leonard Cohen hideousness of the soundtrack, the cheesy, sleazy camera angles, the clichéd climax faces; John Connor’s conception in The Terminator has nothing on this for sublime, laugh-out-loud (and completely deliberate, on Snyder’s part) bathos, two uptight ex-heroes who can’t get turned on until they’ve dolled up like latex gimps and pummelled a ne’er-do-well or five.

Critics of the film seem to orbit around the point that Snyder, as fanboy, is too faithful to the source; that you cannot understand the film without attending undergraduate seminars on the comic; that he is so obsessed with recreating the aesthetic that he loses the depth. Some will cite Nixon’s prosthetic nose, but this isn’t a Ron Howard biopic; it’s a comicbook film with a giant blue naked atomic god as one of the main characters, for goodness sake. If you want po-faced realism go and see The Reader. If you want total cartoon hijinks go and see Bolt.

I could go on, but overstaying a welcome is never a good idea.

I’m not saying Watchmen is a terrific film; I’m saying it’s a very solid one, a fantastic addition to the superhero / comicbook oeuvre, far better than most but not quite the Citizen Kane of the genre that people wanted. Is it as good as the book? Is cheesecake brownie ice cream as good as either a cheesecake or a brownie? I can’t wait for the Watchmen DVD. And I never liked Citizen Kane much anyway.
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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Set Text

Except what we have here is not a text, it's what everyone has been waiting for—Aussie rock critics lined up firing-squad style discussing the pop issues of the day. It’s bangers and mash the whole way.

Start Beef IV

Fuck these guys.

Clubhouse – Do It Again

Unlike most Rocktimists readers (bar that one guy who lives in Iran) I don’t spin out my days in some city centre nu-media pod where MP3s of trend-setting groups like Crystal Antlers, Crystal Castles and Crystal Stilts are playlisted from a central server. Instead I work in a rail depot where the order of the day is Capital Gold in the morning and Planet Rock in the afternoon, with a bit of Smooth if someone really wants to mix things up.

If you drew a Venn diagram of the music those stations play there’d be the slim total of two groups in the centre where the circles crossover—bands played by all three stations—and both of them great; Fleetwood Mac (‘70s US version) and Steely Dan. The other day Planet Rock played Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and by about the third minute in (when the solos start) everyone in the room had quieted down and was nodding their head. It was one of those small, perfect moments.

So in celebration here’s a version of “Do It Again”. It’s not the original, as there’s surely a very good chance that you’ve all got it (and it’s not hard to find if you haven’t) but a version that Planet Rock would never play that crasses up the songs undercarriage with the beat and bassline from “Billie Jean”. It’s Italian, from ’83 and by a group that had later releases on Pete Waterman’s label PWL and omnivorous Italo-pop kingpins ZYX. One of the members takes responsibility for at least 32 other aliases. This is maxed-out production-line mersh as it should be done.

Clubhouse – Do It Again (Medley with Billie Jean) [ysi]

Monday, March 02, 2009

Capsule Review #5: 'The International'

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