Giving acrylics a chance

February 15, 2012 - Leave a Response

Having been painting with oils for over a year now I decided to branch out into acrylics, partly after seeing some impressive acrylic-based work by a friend.

The results of my first evening playing is this Pop Art style picture of a ‘Give Peace a Chance’ era John Lennon:

John Lennon

Now I went for the Pop Art look because I’d only bought two colours, but having found the medium’s ease of application and speed of drying suitable to my style (if I even have such thing, more like a habit of doing things badly in the same way) I’ll no doubt be investing in a broader pallet soon. Next week I start some painting classes at a local studio and I think they work with acrylics too.

But what I really want to know is, is ‘going acrylic’ the artistic equivalent of a folk musician ‘going electric’?

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Kindled spirit

January 27, 2012 - One Response

I have been, for over a month now, the owner of a Kindle e-reader and in that time have gone from sceptic to devotee.

I have to admit that previously the concept of e-readers, and the Kindle in particular with it’s subliminal suggestions of book-burning, dismayed me – going digital with literature seemed to be condemning small book shops to the same fate that digital music served up to the independent record store. Nottingham’s famous Selectadisc shop closed a few years ago and became an Oxfam book store, and the idea that searches and downloads could replace not only rummaging through records but also browsing bookshelves saddened me greatly.

I also, and I’m sure I put this on record in blog form somewhere, felt that an electronic device could never have the same simple charm as good old paperbacks. You couldn’t, for instance, read a Kindle in the bath. What’s more, unless the next generation of e-readers introduces this function, you can’t smell a digital book. Every bibliophile knows that the smell of a book, whether fresh from the printers or musky from age, adds to the excitement of turning its first page. And whither the cover in this age of reformatted text? Is it to become a lost art like the gatefold vinyl sleeve?

So why, with all these doubts, did I even ask for a Kindle for Christmas? The lack of any better ideas was one reason, and an undeniable curiosity was another. Plus, being involved in writing and publishing on a professional level, it seemed I should at least know about this new form of book-making, even if I didn’t like it.

My first impressions weren’t good. I was under the misapprehension that a Kindle would allow me to read in the dark, when apparently the selling point is the exact opposite – the ability to read in bright sunlight, something real books have accomplished for centuries without bragging about it!

Then I had issues with the formatting. One of my first downloads was a collection of Wordsworth poetry, but the device rendered the poems unreadable by removing all the line breaks, turning the lines into one block of text instead of stanzas. Hardly helpful.

But soon I discovered there were some very useful functions. The dictionary feature is superb, as is the ability to add notes and highlight passages for future reference. The English Lit student would love it.

However, the best feature, and the main reason I’ve come to love my Kindle in spite of its mission to destroy so many books I love in flaming oblivion, is the options for changing the size of text. So many books, especially older titles that have fallen out of copyright, are printed in such minuscule fonts for the purpose of saving paper and keeping printing costs down, that they becoming unreadable. Pre-Kindle I was halfway through Crime and Punishment but at the point of giving up because of the strain it was putting on my eyes (where it should have been my nerves feeling the strain at the protagonist’s maddening plight). Now I plan to finish Dostoyesvsky’s masterpiece on the Kindle where I can blow the words up as large as I like. (This feature also goes some way to solving the problem of reading at night as larger text is so much more comfortable in low light.)

Another plus is the ease of access to texts. For instance, I was able to download and read The Hound of the Baskervilles in one week in anticipation of the corresponding episode of Sherlock earlier this week (which turned out to be a bit rubbish, though the other two episodes were good). If I wanted to read the book on paper it would have meant a trip to a bookshop and added expense, which, though not very much in the grand scheme, may have been enough for me not to bother.

But the good news is I haven’t abandoned paper altogether. My bookshelves are still crammed and I haven’t been having any literary bonfires. I’m also still buying books; I plan to buy two or three tomorrow. My copy of the latest Ali Smith novel, another Christmas present, is sitting in my to-read pile and I don’t think my eagerness to begin it would be the same if it were just a line of text on a screen rather than a lovely, shiny new hardback.

The Kindle hasn’t revolutionised the way I read, and I don’t think I have been reading any more since I got it, but it has removed some of the hang-ups caused by tiny text or a paperback spine that just won’t stay folded or a bookmark slipped from between the pages, so maybe it has made reading a little more enjoyable. The novelty factor could wear off soon though, so maybe to say I am a devotee of the Kindle is going a bit far, but I’ve definitely gone from being a Kindle atheist to a Kindle agnostic.

Albums of the Year 2011

December 24, 2011 - Leave a Response

Emmy the Great – Virtue

Second record full of character and swagger.

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

A song writer reaching full blossom, soaring, powerful country tunes.

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Joyful, whimsical set of country numbers.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Full of atmosphere, great musicianship and fantastic songwriting.

Fionn Regan – 100 Acres of Sycamore

Back to his best with carefully crafted, delicate odes.

Bella Hardy – Songs Lost and Stolen

Fantastic story-telling album sung superbly.

Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo

Oddly brilliant and brilliantly odd, the man is an unsung hero of our times.

Vaccines – What Did You Expect?

Punchy, punky stuff with witty lyrics.

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

Another great record from our Frank, typical heady blend of the political and personal.

Mirrors – Lights and Offerings

Superb set of Kraftwerk aping songs, every track is a gem.

Tom Waits – Bad as Me

Haven’t actually heard this all the way through yet, but what I’ve heard has been brillo-pads and, it being Tom Waits, the rest of it is bound to be likewise.

Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler – This Is Christmas

Only Scrooge could not like this, proving you can write good songs about Christmas!

Joe Strummer in oil pastels

December 8, 2011 - Leave a Response

Joe Strummer oil pastel

Followers of my old blog (I say that as if the phrase deserves a plural, I’m convinced there was only me) will know that I recently bought some oil pastels and began experimenting by doing portraits of outspoken, quiff-sporting pop stars. After a fairly successful Morrissey, a few weekends ago I moved onto the legend that is Joe Strummer, based on this photo of him in a shiny leather jacket.

Next up in the series? Not sure. Ian Dury had something of a quiff didn’t he..?

Out of this world

December 5, 2011 - Leave a Response

Plan 9 from Outer SpaceIn the era of viral marketing and media buzz it can be hard to find a film that lives up to the hype, but Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space certainly does that. Everything you’ve heard about it is true – every scene, almost every shot, is an utter disaster with baffling dialogue, awkward performances, shoddy sets, bizarre editing and, of course, some of the worst special effects ever put to use.

The film famously features Bela Lugosi, despite the fact he died before production even began. We see the Dracula star in vampire get-up walking around a graveyard (scenes shot for an earlier, unrelated Wood project) before being replaced in later scenes by a chiropractor (yes, really) bearing no physical resemblance to him, a fact the stand-in tries in vain to disguise by holding his cape in front of his face.

All this was covered in the Tim Burton biopic, but what is even more remarkable is that this farcical, inexplicable mess of a film actually has a serious message to put across – the eponymous Plan 9, it turns out, aims to save mankind and the rest of the universe from atomic self-destruction (with an army of human zombies, naturally).

What Ed Wood lacked in directorial talent he clearly made up for in ambition and imagination, though some would call that delusion. Maybe so, but then almost all of us have these bizarre ideas from time to time, ideas for creative projects or businesses or just ways to have a good time, ideas we are convinced are the product of genius but others have nothing but scorn for, ideas that we might spend our entire lives trying to bring to fruition or dismiss in an instant.

Ed Wood had an idea that a vampire-zombie-alien motion picture could be a force for good, could perhaps bring about nuclear disarmament and new era of peace on earth. And yes, we can’t help but laugh at it now, at both the intention and the end result, but I bet we’ve all had notions just as misguided and lamentable as the one behind this film at one time or another. The difference is, while our ‘Plan 9’s very rarely get off the ground, Mr Wood made a career out of his. For that, if nothing else, he can be admired.

Of cars and chocolate bars

November 22, 2011 - One Response

To the untrained eye this might look like any old chocolate bar, but to me it has been a symbol of failure and humiliation, tormenting me every time I opened the fridge for most of this year. I bought it on a cold, rainy day, not dissimilar to this, back in April – it was to be my breakfast on the day of my driving test.

Or, as it turned out, the first of my four driving tests. In the event I was too nervous to eat anything so ended up bringing the ironically named Star Bar home with me after picking up a serious fault for undue hesitation at a mini roundabout. And I vowed I wasn’t going to eat it until I passed.

Seven months on, three tests later, and I’m finally able to get that monkey off my back – and more importantly get that chocolate bar out of the fridge. I am now a fully fledged member of the driving classes, albeit one without a car.

In fact I not only don’t have a car, I also don’t really have the need for one either as I work about 30 seconds away from a bus stop where I can catch a lift straight past my house. And then there’s the money thing, which means after a year of driving most weeks with my instructor I’m probably now not going to put foot to pedal for a long while, by which time I’ll no doubt have forgotten everything he taught me.

But that’s not important – what is important is that I never have to go through the ordeal of a driving test again, and furthermore I no longer have to endure the daily taunts of that chocolate bar reminding me of the stupid things I did to fail the first three tests, not to mention the money I wasted by doing so.

I honestly thought I was as crap as I’ve ever been on today’s test and I’m still not entirely certain I won’t get a phone call from the DSA informing me that a terrible mistake has been made, but now the Star Bar is gone things don’t seem so bad – the knot in my stomach created by multiple driving tests has gone, replaced only with cramps caused by eating chocolate so far past its sell-by date…

Moving

November 21, 2011 - Leave a Response

Blogging on Tumblr was a bit like being one of those people who hang around with friends much younger than themselves, fun but also a little on the creepy side. It’s a shame because the site really is a delight to use, by the far the smoothest blogging platform I’ve tried, but I am not a teenager and must accept that it’s time to move into the more grown-up world of WordPress.

I have migrated some of the posts from the old site and I’ll leave the old ‘Dollars’ blog online for prosperity. Once I get the categories and pages sorted out on here it will be business as usual, so you can expect weeks of inactivity, 500-word moans on the subject of insomnia and art works of dubious quality to appear here very soon!

Film reviews: Odds and sods…

November 17, 2011 - Leave a Response

As I haven’t posted anything here for a while, here are some miscellaneous short movie reviews of a load of random stuff I’ve been watching lately…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Razor-sharp, brutal and fast-moving thriller as a disgraced journalist and traumatised computer hacker investigate a string of 40-year-old murders. Depraved men carry out sadistic fantasies on vulnerable woman before meeting their match in the eponymous Lisbeth, a talented but violent misfit.

4/5

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Suitably sweaty and detached adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, hampered by some stilted performances but well shot and reflecting the growing sense of disgust experienced in the book.

3/5

Shall We Dance (1937)

Ginger Rogers likes to-may-toes and Fred Astaire likes to-mah-toes in this far-fetched farce where two entertainers marry each other to scotch rumours that they are already married. Eric Blore gets the funniest lines as the flustered hotelier who winds up in a jail he can’t pronounce the name of.

3/5

Coffee And Cigarettes (2003)

Jim Jarmusch serves up coffee, cigarettes and baffling dialogue to an ensemble cast. The increasingly surreal appearances of major stars playing versions (and relatives) of themselves is the main interest here, with Steve Coogan, Alfred Molina and members of the Wu-Tang Clan stealing the show.

2/5

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Lars Von Triar takes the Dogme 95 principles and subverts them in this heartbreaking modern musical. Great performance and songs from Björk.

4/5

Patriot Games (1992)

Attempts to be an intellectual thriller but never gets around to explaining either the hero or the villains’ motivations to any satisfying depth. Some imaginative scenes and interesting presentational tricks, but lacks convincing drive.

3/5

I have another coincidence

October 19, 2011 - Leave a Response

to share, which is as meaningless as the last one and may well just be a way of showing off at the ‘high brow’ stuff I’m into, but varying degrees of pointlessness and pretentiousness are what keep this blog going.

So anyway, last week I listened to a radio documentary by comedian David Schneider comparing the vastly different traditions of Yiddish comedy in America and the UK (the point being that in this country we don’t seem to have one, though more Jewish comedy is emerging into the mainstream).

In that programme, representing the States, were played clips from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Well having not seen the former and it being while since I watched any of the latter I decided to add both DVDs to my postal rental list.

Two seminal comedies written by and starring Jewish funny men, both with a strong Jewish slant in the content, and they both arrived on my doormat on the same day.

Now nothing strange in that as I ordered them at the same time, but the interesting part is that the second episode of the first series of Curb Your Enthusiasm features a storyline involving a concert by Paul Simon – and who should pop up with an acting role in Annie Hall but Paul Simon!

Holy coincidence, Batman! Turns out Paul Simon is Jewish himself, and maybe my knowledge of Hebrew culture is so poor that I don’t realise it is mandatory to feature him in your work if you are a Jewish comedy writer, but even so it still required me to watch that exact film and that exact episode to make the connection.

Now I honestly don’t believe there is some kind of cosmic force at work here, but just to be on the safe side I’m going to listen to some Simon & Garfunkel – the fates may be pushing me that direction for a higher purpose beyond my mortal comprehension, or I might just be using it as an imaginative excuse to put on some great songs, but either, everyone’s a winner right?

But wait, it gets even stranger…

After writing the Batman line above I was trying to find a Hebrew or Yiddish word for ‘Holy’ to use as a joke, but in the end gave up as I was bound to fail badly in getting the right translation. But in my research I found this guide to the word ‘Kadash’… check out the bottom quote from the old testament. Where have I heard that ‘Holy, Holy Holy’ bit before? Why, where else but in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, the subject of my last blog about coincidences! I daren’t put anything else into Google for fear of uncovering even more coincidences and convincing myself it means something after all. I think this is the way cults get started…

One of the many things

October 17, 2011 - Leave a Response

I love about being a culture junkie is discovering all the interwoven threads of thought and cross-reference running between the different art forms. It’s no coincidence that my two favourite bands ever, The Smiths and Manic Street Preachers, both have lyrics littered with literary and cinematic references. (And the same can be said a lesser extent of my other great love, The Clash.)

But while Morrissey, Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards’ respective lyrics offer up many gateways to discover great works, there is also the kind of inter-textual quotation in song-writing that leaps out at you at the most unexpected moments. Kate Bush’s homage to Joyce in ‘The Sensual World’, for instance, is so wonderful that her breathy ‘yes’ refrain lifted directly from Molly Bloom’s erotic monologue in Ulysses doesn’t seem in the least bit second hand. And watching Much Ado About Nothing for the first time (the Kenneth Branagh film version) the other night has made me appreciate Mumford & Sons’ ‘Sigh No More’ and its borrowed lines on a new level.

Another example of this came tonight when film and poetry collided in brilliant coincidence. At the weekend I watched Howl, an evocation of Allen Ginsberg seminal poem of the same name in which biographical re-enactments are juxtaposed with vivid animation to bring new visual meaning to the text. The film is at its most coherent during the poem’s second part when Ginsberg talks about ‘Moloch’, a monstrous embodiment of the industrial age, represented in the movie as a gigantic factory looming over the city and swallowing up people through its gaping jaw-like entrance. Well by pure chance tonight I decided to watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis (which is freely available on LoveFilm) and what do I see in the opening twenty minutes but an enormous piece of demonic machinery opening its jaws to inhale hapless workers? The main character, witnessing this horror, stumbles and screams ‘Moloch!’

I could have gone for years without making that connection, but as it happens the two works (one a direct influence on the other, I now read) both arrived in my awareness within the space of 24 hours. Does it really mean anything? Apart from increasing my understanding of Ginsberg’s use of this Moloch daemon, no not really – brilliant coincidence, yes, but coincidence all the same. Still, there comes a great satisfaction in fitting together even the smallest pieces of the vast, impossible jigsaw that is our culture.