March 8th, 2014
A video triptych by Finnish artist Salla Tykkä, The Palace comprises of three short films – Victoria, Airs Above the Ground, and Giant – that de-naturalise their subjects in a series of increasingly overwhelming ways. The contrasts upon which these pieces have been built risk obviousness, but if the slow, immersive quality of Tykkä’s visuals doesn’t quite break down this objection on its own, the steady accumulation and alteration of meaning that accrues through the progression from subject to subject ensures that this is not merely a prolonged statement of the obvious.
An Amazonian plant transported to England and named in honour a British monarch, the Victoria lily is for Tykkä a symbol of the spoiler of colonialism and Empire. Despite textual cues to this extent, Victoria is the most traditionally beautiful of the pieces in The Palace. Perhaps this is intentional – it is, after all, the entrance to this piece.
For the duration of this video, we watch the lily writhe through a time-lapse ballet of its life cycle, all to the strains of suitably “stirring” classical music. Does the ghostly choreography of the lily’s movements, its abundant grace emphasised by the editing, cause us to question the sequence of events that has brought this beauty to our attention? Perhaps, but as the lily’s colour shifts from white to pink its status as a “natural” spectacle is also subtly reinforced by the piece, the viewer reassured that they are watching something do what it was always meant to do.
March 7th, 2014
- Trying out those samples is a bit like consenting to get poked in the eye repeatedly by a robot with a fistful of multi-coloured sticks, but I found it bearable on the short term and despite the fact that I’m a quick reader the upper speed there was definitely quicker than mine.
- Its effectiveness for prolonged use seems highly dubious for a variety of reasons that our good friend Andrew Hickey has already outlined behind closed doors at Mindless HQ – it’s not necessarily faster than some people’s extant reading speed, the stream of flashing red letters seems like a sure route to a headache, and their method of delivery ignores the fact that writing is composed and consumed in units separate from the individual word. Plus there’s also the fact that whole project seems not to take into the account the existence of blinking – I did a genuine lol when Andrew pointed this out to me.
- HOWEVER! I’m actually pretty fascinated by the thing for what it seems to me to be: a way to take in writing that is fundamentally different from the process of “reading” as we currently understand it.
- Without wishing to downplay the many differences between ebooks and their traditional counterparts, Spritz seems to me to be an order apart from both books and their digital equivalents in terms of the experience it suggests.
- The fact that Spritz takes the progression of time out of your hands/rendered it non-collaborative is not just a quirk but a ground-up realignment of the reading process. To state it plainly: Spritz obliterates the idea of the page or paragraph as constructed units, elides the difference between description and dialogue, and renders obsolete any other techniques the author may have used to arrange their chosen words.
- This process echoes and amplifies the experience of reading comics on a smartphone by dictating the amount of time you spend on any given linguistic unit while also limiting the context in which this encounter takes place. In both instances the compositional unity of the page is obscured, but this new(ish) method of reading comics preserves the reader’s input as to the flow and narrative density of time.
- Mister Attack described the experience as being like downloading a file instead of reading and he’s not wrong. There’s a slightly dated Matrix-porn aspect to what we can see of this app, a fetishisation of the idea that you too can learn kung-fu in twenty minutes without ever getting off the couch!
- What Spritz represents is a reduction of writing to communication – the writerly aspects of composition are only effective here inasmuch as they were already striving for the effect of information overload.
- There’s a potential for further reduction implicit in this first one, namely the reduction of language to mere commodity, to be valued purely in terms of the volume in which it is consumed – for extra marks, compare and contrast this with the different values words accrue by virtue of their usefulness to search engines.
- Spritz therefore seems most suited to the brute rush of “necessary” information to my eyes; certainly, anything that requires thought, reflection and inflection would prompt a bracing disengagement from the system. This encompasses both works of fiction and non-fiction, of course – neither having a monopoly on allusion or complexity or forward rushing exposition.
- All of this calls to mind the passages of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction where he claims that new forms develop to achieve effects that old forms have been straining in vain towards - photography achieved things that realist painting was striving towards just by existing, film made easy effects that Dadaist art and poetry had been thrashing out at in defiance of the traditional values, etc.
- Bearing that idea in mind, is there a possible application of Spritz‘ effects in fiction? Can we imagine it as an extension or fulfilment of any existing forms? I can see an endpoint to/heightening of hysterical realism that would be possible using this form that exceeds the possibilities for reading, but many other styles of writing - from Emily Dickinson to Toni Morrison by way of Alan Garner - would be rendered aggravating or just plain useless here.
- I still don’t actually think this will work, but if it did work what would it do? The immediate possibilities seem depressing – bullshit “e-learning” initiatives, a constant stream of data flickering into your eye at work, “DO YOU SUBMIT TO THIS PROGRAMME?”, etc. Still, eternal optimist that I am I keep coming back to Benjamin and his attempt to imagine a radical potential in cinema. Given his efforts to imagine the automated flow of film being broadcast to a distracted public as a potential engine for communal agitation, the question occurs – is there any such potential in the Spritz app? Given that it has been developed for wankers’ glasses and e-readers and is therefore primarily an enclosed, solitary form of distraction, the most likely answer is “probably not” but I would greatly enjoy being proved wrong on that point, because the idea of there being yet another channel for commercial noise to filter through into my life without it adding much of anything is too fucking tedious to bear.
With thanks to Brother Bobsy, Mister Attack, Andrew “Andre Whickey” Hickey, Ad Mindless, Amypoodle, Cormac, Taters, and Kip Manley, all of whom helped me focus my thoughts on this topic via twitter and email.
March 6th, 2014
Wow, all that German dialogue was annoying, wasn’t it? As an experiment in formalist pass-agging, it’s classic Moore of course, but my German reading is max schrecklich so I had to scurry off to the internet for a translation and- OH!
…Yeah fair play, you got me there you bearded, crabby old bastard. There I go, running off to lean on the old god’s hippocampus again, without even an editorial assistant to do it for me! Genius. I think a lot of people don’t pick up on the humour in Alan Moore’s work, actually?
Handled the French and most of the English bits OK though, so, y’know, integrity there. Feel like the word ‘hypocrite’ should make an appearance now, though we don’t really need it… hold on to the first four letters of it though, because we’ll be using them for real in a minute.
This arrived in the comic shop with much less fanfare than your average doodlebug, but as soon as Gary sent up the siren I goosestepped down the hill to fetch it quicksmart. Got it home and more or less enjoyed it – it was straightforward, no-nonsense/lots of nonsense, pretty much alright.
Except for the Xmen stuff, the so-and-so superhero is married to so-and-so superhero’s cousin’s brother-in-law stuff, I could do without all that. These Victorian superheroes with big cars – like, their big car is the superpower – they’d died out quite naturally by the middle of the last century, which was OK. Bringing them back, trying to give them a dignity and relevance beyond their sell by - just can’t really see why this is any less wank than any other variety of steampunk: Dave McKean and Jeremy Clarkson polishing the cogs on their beaver hats, compulsively checking their gold atomic pocket watches.
There’s the copyright issues (old and new) of course, but the James Bond, shit the Harry Potter workarounds for that were more elegant and welcome: Forcing an alternative contemporaneity into the template, deliberately not using characters from the pop lit of the day embuggers the entire LOEG scheme. The world isn’t a reflection of the popular imagination of the era under examination, it’s just another partial and arbitrary superhero playground where everything is up for fudging.
Fudge, fudge like:
Fudge! Wouldn’t it have been more dramatic for Broad Arrow Jack to have run out of ammo at that point, instead of throwing his guns away? His death becomes entirely his own fault, borne of an internal flaw (sadism – specifically sadism against women in this, the only instance we have to go on, but let’s not because ooh contentious) that comes out of nowhere without illuminating theme, plot or character at all, merely shows itself as invasive and undisguised storytelling, ruddy great fudgey ringed fingerprints all over it.
Fudge! She just happens to blow up that nearby area of town at just that exact moment?
Fudge! Kevin O’Neill already always does German expressionism – it’s redundant and underwhelming when he does it here.
Fudge! The sleepers shot the robot because she just happened to shoot Caligari at exactly the right point of his very convenient sentence? That’s not good, that’s just fudge, man – please stop getting all this fudge on the rather few pages of my comic, what I paid ten pounds for.
This review will end shortly. Before it does, if you could imagine Alan Moore’s face crudely photoshopped over Peter Lorre’s and mine over all the faces of the jurors in the old distillery? It’d save a few minutes, thanks.
And finally, you’ll be glad to hear, the last bit- Always have a bit of a callback in your Alan Moore reviews, it’s clever. HYPO, remember? The last comic read before this one (Saturday afternoon, Rudgate Ruby Mild, lovely stuff) was The Hypo by Noah van Sciver. It does very interesting things with history and fiction indeed, and features a frighteningly potent depiction of mental illness, and you’d be better off spending the money you’d otherwise spend on Roses of Berlin on this.
March 5th, 2014
Having spent 2011 and 2012 listening to so much new, free hip-hop that I almost lost track of who I was and where I laid my head (in case you were wondering: a man who writes about comics on the internet; Glasgow), I made a decision early at the start of 2013 to cut back a bit. While this means that someone like the Bottie Beast is probably better placed to give you an overview of what’s going on with hip-hop right at this point in 2014, it also means that I’ve had a decent amount of time to really dig into the albums and songs I did check out over the past few years.
With an album like Ab-Soul’s Control System, it’s just as well that I had time to spare because otherwise I might not have got my head around how good it really is.
As the member of the Black Hippy crew who does the most to live up to the back half of that description, Ab-Soul risks being obscured by some of the more traditionally appealing rappers in his posse. Schoolboy Q’s perfectly titled Habits and Contradictions provided an early warning that the current era was going to belong to the TDE crew, and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city received so much praise that it kicked off a discussion about what rap fans mean when they label something a classic.
Still, now that the smoke has started to clear – well, shit, as I type this Q’s Oxymoron is currently setting fire to my speakers but let’s deal with that in a separate post – it’s Control System that’s stayed with me. Ab’s too stoned and too subtle to make an album full of straight bangers, but there’s something about the raw fluidity of his rhymes that just gets to me. The way he can get stuck on a series of punishing homonyms for most of a verse before switching his flow up to effortlessly hit series of breathlessly off-kilter punchlines suggests the movement of a mind that’s still in the process of making itself up. This sits in stark-contrast to Lamar’s ever-more impressive verbal gymnastics: the power of good kid, m.A.A.d. city lies in the fact that it always seems like Kendrick knows what he’s doing, while the genius of Control System is that it makes you feel like you’re thinking these thoughts for the first time every time.
March 5th, 2014
Harvey Pekar’s and Joseph Remnant – Cleveland
It’s hard to think of this as anything other than epitaph, given its status as a posthumous release, but the question remains, is this a memorial for the man or the city he lived in? Neither, as it happens - Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a book full of and about life, with both the city and its people being given ample space to breath on every page.
Pekar’s Cleveland has traditionally been an overbearingly crowded place, with even the most casual walks around town populated with an abundance of word balloons, thought bubbles and interjecting faces that threatened to black out the sky. That abundance of words and opinions is still present in this book, but even when the text is at its densest it’s always carefully contained at the top of the panel, leaving the environments depicted underneath gloriously un-squashed.
The city and denizens of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland are every bit as rich with opinion and story here as they ever were, but I can imagine some people finding the first half of the book a little bit plain, filled as it is with broad historical overview rather than the crooked, close quarters detail at which Pekar has always excelled. Pekar’s generosity and his sense of interest manifest themselves differently in the first stretch of this narrative, where they are implicit in the amount of space city and artist are given to establish themselves in concert with each other.
Remnant – his name far too apt for the job - renders Cleveland with an adherence to architectural detail that echoes the work of Eddie Campbell and his assistants in From Hell:
Here, as in that great book, buildings have a life of their own on the page – part of the environment Pekar and co exist in, but rendered with a solidity that rises above mere background detail:
Let us think of these places as being real; perhaps they are! Remnant’s background players have a similarly suggestive definition to them. Sometimes they add a lot to a simple scene – take the bit players in these panels for example:
The guy in the front of the first panel looks like he wants to cudgel himself to death rather than keep on contributing to Cleveland’s economic well-being, while the guy behind the ballot box in the second frame doesn’t look best pleased to feature in this particular historic moment.
Pekar’s history of Cleveland takes up the first forty or so pages, and while it draws a generally progresses in a straight line it does jump back and forth a bit on its way to the present. This detailed tour through the city would be enough to make Cleveland a quiet pleasure, but things gets a lot louder when Pekar arrives on page 42, breaking the story in half as he does so.
From this point onward, the reader is in the more familiar position, walking and talking with Harvey as he makes his way through the city he lives in:
It’s not all entirely straightforward though - certain details and anecdotes repeat themselves, sometimes with new details sometimes almost verbatim, forcing to reader to ponder whether these are stylistic choices or examples of wonky editing.
Take the story about how John T. Zubal’s used bookstore used to be a Hostess Bakery for example. On page 51 we’re told that “Even now, years after John acquired it, it’s possible to eat the Twinkie filling safely. It was all chemicals and didn’t deteriorate.” This story recurs again 44 pages later, prompted by its appearence on a TV show hosted by Antony Bourdain. On this occasion we’re told that the Twikie filling “had been there 10 or 15 years, but the the stuff was all chemicals and didn’t rot after all that time. It was still edible, and Bourdain tasted it on the show.”
Glitches like this make it clear that the history you’re reading the by-product of a slightly dysfunctional, human memory. The title says it all, I guess – this is Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, and its most striking details and points of interest are therefore likely to be the ones that kept Harvey coming back after all those years.
Reading through the book again, I’m struck by the way that Pekar’s trademark hunched stride seems to be shared by all of the denizens of his Cleveland. More than his particular outlook on life, with Remnant’s help Pekar gives everyone in this book – even the baseball stars – something of his physical manner:
It’s no wonder the people of this town stoop so much, given the amount of history that’s piled up on them – history that is here present in almost every panel in the form of Pekar’s narration. The buildings may stand un-bothered by the running commentary, but Remnant’s human characters show evidence of this strange gravity in their every motion.
Sometimes it’s as though the barely contained agitation of Robert Crumb’s illustrations has been pushed downward into the characters’ feet by the weight of Pekar’s words:
Rather than adding up to a portrait of a defeated man or a defeated city, however, this adds to the sense of defiance that runs through the book. Pekar is plenty familiar with the many economic and social problems that have effected in the city, and he’s careful to qualify his more optimistic impulses while filling the reader in on these issues, but that optimism is still there. It’s not for nothing that the book open’s with Pekar telling the reader that he’s “had plenty of good days.”
The book ends on a vision of a Cleveland free of people, free of Pekar, free of life:
The trick is to remember that they’re not in here for a reason. They’re out there, in the world, struggling against the weight of their own stories one footstep at a time.
March 3rd, 2014
IT IS HAPPENING…AGAIN…
IT IS HAPPENING …AGAIN…
…oh and didn’t we all have the most super time when Lolly and Quincent drove down to the coast and we all got monstrously drunk on cucumber gin and then Freddy got his todger rammed into the knot of an oak tree and we all roared with laughter as the poor blighter had to be yanked like the rope in a ruddy tug o’ war and then Barrance and Hoighty turned up with that dreadful spiv Mussie Cribbins and we had to endure bloody hours of stories about the halcyon russet flecked autumn days at St Pepworth’s before Tabitha stood up announced that she was going for a swim and threw herself out the blooming window straight onto Otto and Spinks who’d passed out earlier after gorging themselves on the pork pies and drinking all the spiked ginger beer…and then we all climbed into Wimper’s beaten up old banger and piled back to the old digs for one last round of saucy tennis and then the whole glorious mess of a weekend came tumbling to a close. Eventually it was just Lolly, Tabs and me, Disembodied Squiffybot X-15735 passed out in the bath together snoozing away and dreaming of less hideous times. Times when we’d all gather, freshly bathed, in front of Gramps’ warming fire, the radiograph tuned into the happy droning tones…of SILENCE!
<ITEM> A simply super time is had as we dart through this week’s admin, with only the briefest dalliance with diversion in the form of a consideration of Potsy Webber, Ralph Malph, and Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels.
<ITEM> Glad tidings abound as Gary Lactus & The Beast Must Die take a leisurely sojourn into the glades of the Reviewniverse, taking in the sights, smells and tastes of such fine delicaces as Deadly Class, Black Science, Three, Revenge, jonathan Woss, Vandroid, Dazed & Confused, The Wake, Mega Force, Mike Beck, Wolverine & The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Sergio Aragones’ Funnies, Hawkeye, Mighty Avengers, Superior Spiderman, Lois Lane, MIND MGMT and Walking Dead.
<ITEM> Time for a quick recommendation of both Inside No.9 and Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, then it’s all over, bar the ROFLing….
….and then Dancy dropped by to let us know that his Aunie’s house was going to be free for the week, and the whole ruddy palaver started again…
US Naomi Campbell Face
February 28th, 2014
The first thing I think of whenever I see the cover for Darwyn Cooke‘s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter…
…is this page from Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli and Richmond Lewis’ Batman – Year One:
February 27th, 2014
February 27th, 2014
During a heated bit of trolling at Mindless HQ, Brother Bobsy expressed his incredulity that “anyone watches US TV drama expecting it to be somehow better than TJ Hooker (which at least had Shatner and Locklear in it).”
Curious little Mindless that I am, I decided to expose his statements on the overwhelming silliness of American TV drama to the True Facts contained within my might brane…
Properly Good American TV Dramas:
- The Wire - Or ‘How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us’ part 2. Like David Peace’s best work – his GB84 tells part 1 of this story, of course – The Wire ends up feeling even more mythological for its reliance on things ripped from the real. If season five presses its argument home too hard then it’s a testament to the strength of the show that it’s details remain as crooked and cryptic and free even at the point where the system is finally completed.
- The Sopranos - Embodies everything that’s annoying about so much popular serious drama, with its faux cinematic stories about serious men hurting each other (some of them are quite ugly, THEY DO CRIME!) but nevertheless stays far ahead of its peers by allowing visuals, plot lines, and actors as much focus as they demand.
- Mad Men - All the strengths of the Sopranos divorced from the macho genre weaknesses, plus this show deals with the protagonist problem that is inherent to this type of TV show more confidently than some of the reactions might have you believe.
- Twin Peaks - Half of this is admittedly not so good, but the best stuff is still excellent at a lot of things that the rest of the shows on this list have approached only tentatively.
- The first three episodes of the third season of Battlestar Galactica - Watch the first two series so you get the full impact of this story, which represents the point where the American military imagination somehow manages to conceive of itself in the Al Qaeda position. Watch the rest of it if you want: it’s neither as good as it threatens to be nor as bad as its worst episodes might suggest. The board game is still totally amazing though!
- Gilmore Girls - One of the few successful uses of the chatty American dialogue style, probably because it aspires to pseudo-Shakespearean fencing instead of pseudo-Shakespearean posturing. Horrific warning signs such as “quirky,” “offbeat,” and “irreverent” somehow manage to stick without turning everything they touch to shite for a change. Also one of the few American TV shows to display and awareness of and willingness to investigate ideas of class, how money effects relationships, etc. You will all disagree with me about this one but I am not wrong.
- Girls - Generation Vice on autocritique, manages to be both massively cringey and genuinely empathetic at the same time; an exceptionally strong show, if narrow.
- Generation Kill - Girls for boys.
- Breaking Bad - Starts slow but builds to a sustained tension high before tipping all the way over into wonky Batman logic. Limited re-watch potential, but fuck me was it good, awful fun for a while there! (Richard Cooper makes a case for the first four seasons being Properly Good here.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Yeah yeah yeah, but fuck it, I don’t even give a toss about Joss Whedon anymore but this is the best adaptation of that Stan Lee/Chris Claremont style of self-aware soap opera to the screen, screw yer Marvel movies and yer Agents of S.H.I.T.E.. Shame the last couple of seasons are a bit duff though, eh?
- The Corner - Somehow manages to be both more didactic and more anecdotal than The Wire, but it’s good even if it does feel like the materials for a modern myth than the real thing.
- Dollhouse - see Plok for the why of this.
- Dexter and True Blood - these shows are both full of high nonsense from the word go, but I’ve actually got more time for the increasingly absurd and unstable True Blood these days. I couldn’t pretend that it was good but it’s a fun train wreck that I can watch without worrying about my girlfriend’s enjoyment levels so we fuck with it every now and then just to make sure everyone’s entertained (basically, she just wants to bone Alcide).
- Treme, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, True Detective, The Shield - actually I’ve seen a bit of SFU but I’d need to watch it again to get a sense for how good it is. Never watched more than a minute of the rest but they have their enthusiasts, so.
February 25th, 2014
It must be strange to be in Mogwai, and to read reviews that chastise you for sounding too much and not enough like yourself. It’s a familiar pattern, but then Mogwai are a familiar band these days. Perhaps that’s the problem: when they started out with the ten minute songs and the Blur: Are Shite t-shirts and the Bucky rage they were easier to idolise. Eight albums in, they’re a more difficult journalistic proposition. As comfortable noise merchants, opinionated men who are adamant that their music carries no pre-determined meaning, purveyors of defiantly mainstream art rock, what exactly are we supposed to make of Mogwai in 2014?
These concerns seem relevant in blog posts and in music magazines, but in the context of January’s show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall they seemed utterly meaningless, even absurd. It’s an observation that’s tired enough to seem trite by now, but Mogwai are one of those bands who you really need to see live in order to fully appreciate. 2010′s Special Moves is an excellent simulation of the band’s live dynamics that doubles as a testament to the quality of their later work, but even played at an absurdly high volume it never threatens to capture Mogwai’s true range.
There’s something in the grain of Mogwai’s live show that’s never quite made it onto their records. It’s in that washed out, trebley guitar sound that starts out sounding like an inner ear itch and then grows until it batters you bodily. The physical impact of this noise would be near-impossible to recreate without the help of plush PAs like the one in the Concert Hall, but you can hear an echo of it Mogwai’s quieter recorded moments – it haunts Happy Songs for Happy People and provides the undercurrent of barely controlled rage in their soundtrack to Douglas Gordon’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, for example. You can hear it on Rave Tapes too, but what was merely a whispered rumour on the album version of opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’ is screamed loud enough to ruin hairlines and destroy reputations in concert.