Archives for category: Writing

 

this is a track (can never bring myself to use the word “composition” though that is exactly what this is) i’ve been working on for quite a while .. it’s off an album that i’ve been wanting to release for over 365 days now, i just can’t bring myself to put it up for free download. dignity means more to me than exposure; for the moment at least – it waxes and wanes. (if anyone’s curious about my stance on free downloads- ask me)

the title, “such a thing a home”, comes from something i wrote a few years ago when living in London. Coupled with the fact I’d been working on this track on and off over what i’d class as some of the most transitional and (emo alert) seemingly “home-less” moments of my life – i just thought the name worked. so these were the words, they’ve remained unseen until now. they don’t define me in the way they once did:

___

When i was a boy the universe was mine to roam – everything was new; no boundaries, no phobias, 

just puddles and crayons waiting for me to splash and scribble over the person that I’d be.

 

 Someday I might meet the things in life I’ve feared the most and on that day I’ll say –

“please don’t leave. you’re all I have to make me feel alive now I’ve let everything I once loved just waste away.”

 

 or someday I might go- back to the park behind my house, and on that day I’ll sit on the bench beside the lake

and watch the birds as they land on the water, wondering why I’ve missed this for so many years.

 

 now i’m still a boy- but I don’t want the universe. A little box would do if i could live in it with you-

just listening to the world pass by our window wondering how we could call such a thing a home.. such a thing a “home”…

___

[so i finally got round to recording this on video the other day at a friend’s house.. this was the first time i’d sat at a piano since my last EP “together” was recorded back in April (an occasion on which i had also not played the piano for over 3 months.. worrying trend emerging) . If you think you can hear some muffled swearing at the start of the video that’s because you can – i was getting increasingly annoyed at not being able to remember my own music and subsequently messing up every take. apart from this one]

For much of the past century, class consciousness has been at the centre of Britain’s film output. Developing the style dubbed by commentators and critics as ‘British Realism’, our filmmakers seem continually preoccupied with class division and its inherent anxieties. But more than ever, realism seems to have very little to do with it, as what began with such kitchen-sink masterpieces as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has now been reduced to one-dimensional and clichéd depictions of life on ‘the other side of the tracks’  Tom Slater

This essay has stemmed from a frustration at the seemingly relentless on-screen portrayal (within independent British cinema) of Britain as the impoverished grey shithole it isn’t.

My aversion is not to films set in gritty environments or to eye-opening, thought provoking works which deal with and comment on brutal and culturally relevant themes, in other words- social realist cinema (e.g. La Haine)- it is to the trend for British film-makers to tell progressively more pornographically explicit stories of poverty and deprivation for the sole purpose of arousing an audience often fiscally and geographically detached from the circumstances and locations they depict.

Tyrannosaur tells the story of Joseph, an enraged unemployed alcoholic who, when not decapitating pitbulls, throwing bricks through windows or taking his baseball bat on excursions to the local pub finds the time to form a relationship with charity shop volunteer Hannah – herself a victim of domestic violence and marital rape. Sure, other stuff happens, and I did actually quite enjoy the film, but it left a bitter taste which has only soured with time.

It is not that I deny the potential authenticity of such circumstances – (our planet is after all more than capable of creating them) it’s just that I begin to question their credibility when they are portrayed so monopolistically as the only stories capable of emerging from working class communities (See Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, Shane Meadows’ back catalogue [as engaging and insightful as his work is, it is still overwhelmingly bleak in its portrayal of the working class] and Danny Dyer’s CV for just a few further examples). The implication that an entire section of society exists in an impoverished realm of violence and addiction is neither creatively stimulating nor socially constructive; in a post-modern, culturally diverse country is it really acceptable to confine people to such painfully stereotypical caricatures?

On the one hand – one could argue stereotypes, despite being creatively vapid outlets of generalised prejudice, are never completely unfounded. It would be wholly innaccurate to paint a utopian picture of an integrated, fully functional working class Britain where the rise of gang culture and the absence of father figures and male role models are not inextricably linked, where housing estates are bastions of social cohesion and safety, and where unemployment and welfare dependency are not the issues they are. But, conversely – is zooming in obsessively on this one section of the picture really that helpful? Does doing so actually achieve anything more than the objectification and subsequent dehumanising of the people within its frame?

Horror stories have always centered around humanity’s anxieties and fears. The object of that fear would traditionally take on the form of a monster, a physical projection of a particular societal or human insecurity (Dracula, Frankenstien etc) that would usually afford the people it was terrorising an opportunity to group together around a shared fear. At times, the monster evolves and relocates, shedding its alien skin and coming far closer to home – often resembling one of “us” (Psycho, Silence of the Lambs etc). Post war western cinema has slowly come to reflect this transition, bringing the monster nearer and nearer to every day life, effectively turning the camera on itself.

However, in portraying working class Britain in such an unswervingly bleak light, the film-makers who are doing so are inadvertently adhering to archaic and archetypal horror conventions; portraying a depersonalised, homogenised working class- its people and its locations as an exclusively dangerous, alien culture.

Films potentially intended to provide social commentary or domestic insight instead mutate into patronising, middle class tourist postcards of (not-so) foreign lands. From the perspective of entertainment and commerce this fits- it is entertaining to experience something different to our own surroundings. Entertainment equates to money, so I understand completely why this tradition is perpetuated. (Presumably this is why The Jeremy Kyle Show exists too)

But on a social level – if an audience is repeatedly told its neighbours are different, dangerous and to be feared then it follows logically that, even if initially only on a subconscious level, it will begin to distance itself from them. Conversely, if a subject (perhaps “object” would be more fitting) is only ever told it is one thing and is incapable of being anything else then those prophecies spoken over it will eventually begin to fulfil themselves (see the objectification of girls within rap culture over the last three decades). I appreciate this is an extreme extrapolation of current circumstances but what we potentially can end up with is a progressively more fragmented society consisting of individuals who think their neighbours are unapproachable, and isolated communities who think the rest of society wants nothing to do with them. Not a great prospect.

The same could be said of the application of the “chav” label to anyone seen wearing a tracksuit coming out of a tower block. A person’s fashion choices begin to define them and soon every act of anti-social behaviour ever committed by anyone similarly attired or spoken is attributed to them too. Imagine if everyone who adorned a suit and lived in Hampstead was branded an immoral banker and held responsible for the state of the global economy, people would see through the lunacy of such a generalisation straight away. Funny how it not only persists but is actually perpetuated by mainstream media in this context.

Joe Cornish’s film Attack The Block is an insightful social commentary masquerading as a sci-fi horror. In the film a group of teenagers must work together with the woman they recently mugged (alongside other community members) to protect themselves and their Brixton estate from a localised invasion of extra terrestrials.

Cornish initially presents the boys, stereotypically accurate, as an anonymous gang of hooded youths with no apparent identity of their own – yet as the film progresses and the hoods come down we begin to see credible and unique characters develop, gaining profound and subtle insights into the underlying factors that have contributed to their present states; the absence of fathers, the influence of older male gang members and the subsequent lure of drugs and easy money. At no point are these contributing factors either glamorised or didactically spoon-fed to the viewer – they are just presented- without commentary or embellishment. The aliens, themselves brilliant visual metaphors for the plethora of socio-economic/race/class issues that drive communities apart, are eventually defeated by the group coming together and working as a unit. Their sixteen year old leader- the aptly named Moses, in a final act of selflessness, brings about not just the emancipation of his people from their brief subjugation but also the freedom from the oppressors in his own life. Attack The Block points towards a colllective social exodus from the prejudiced mentalities and divisive stereotypes that enslave and in doing so paves the way for other film-makers to tackle culturally relevant issues in ways that illuminate but do not exacerbate the very things they seek to expose. 

My intention was never to write an essay on class –  but the honest truth is that film-making is still a predominantly middle class industry. Subsequently I find it of no coincidence that our films swing violently between upper class fairytales (Notting Hill, Four Weddings) and working class nightmares .. in reality – there is grime and gold in both worlds and I firmly believe that is where the stories lie.

In the significantly more eloquent words of the original Will.I.Am:

.. The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together .. 

Here’s to well told, imaginative stories, regardless of their setting.

 

 

today i experienced one of the most eye-opening, disturbing, life-affirming and depressing films i’ve seen..

Ray Kurzweil is a modern day genius/techno-prophet – inventor of many many things technological and proponent of the exponential increase in the integration of human intelligence with artificial intelligence.. basically, what he sees as the inevitable fusion of man and machine.

Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man, a feature length documentary, centers around Kurzweil’s reluctance to accept the inevitability of death and the existential implications of the potential integration of artificial intelligence to the human body he speaks of – to prolong, or ultimately, render obsolete, our own mortality..

The film expands on Ray’s worldview by providing intimate insights into both his technological accomplishments and the adolescent experiences which have undeniably shaped his inventions and thought processes, in particular – the loss of his father to heart disease at a young age. What’s so inspiring and moving about the film is seeing Kurzweil’s zest for life, his commitment to health and wellbeing, his yearning for eternity – the subject matter very quickly transcends technological advancement and cuts into the core of what it means to be human; what it means to live..

Ptolemy does a spectacular job of impartially balancing the scientific with the spiritual and (quite rightly) intertwining the two – Kurzweil’s technoprophecies are criticised, destructively and constructively, by fellow scientists and contemporary thinkers..

Ray’s utopian fantasies are counterbalanced by dystopian nightmares and every now and then a patch of middle ground speaks up and reassures the viewer.. It’s a genuinely fascinating film, the content of which i’d argue every human alive right now should be aware of.

On a personal note – i struggled massively with some of Kurzweil’s ideas. I mean – what he ultimately hints at at is the artificial perfection of our flawed “old software” – our genetic makeup – in doing so – pointing to the deification of the human race – a species capable of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence..  one of his final quotes in the film was – “does God exist? not yet” //

I’m just as up for immortality as the next guy, i do believe that we’re hard-wired to crave it (and it’s source) but i don’t know, i’m just not that up for sharing my soul on some pseudo-celestial facebook and being perpetually reincarnated as a PC,

ok, maybe as a mac.

no.

;]

“he has set eternity in the heart of mankind” Ecclesiastes 3:11

oh.. and here are some photo collages i did after the film ..

 

what follows is an essay i’ve just finished writing on one of my favourite films and the interplay between sight and sound within it. i’ve watched the film about six times this last week alone and made meticulous notes on it’s soundtrack but sadly, this being a 1000 word limited essay, i can’t really go into anywhere near the amount of detail i’d like to.. but anyway, here goes

____________________

Tony Takitani was a short story written by Haruki Murakami, first published in The New Yorker in April 2002. Written in Murakami’s signature, almost screenplay-like style, it deals primarily with themes of solitude, loneliness and ultimately – the fine line between the two.

Tony Takitani grows up motherless and to all intents and purposes – via a fractured and distant relationship with Shozaburo – fatherless. At school he is outcasted for his Western name and pursues his love of illustration – an emotionally detached, sterile love of it.

He grows up to become a sought after and wealthy illustrator within the advertising industry. His life is portrayed as solitary and simple, his interactions minimal and his relationships non-existent. Yet this melancholy equilibrium he has accepted as his identity is shattered when he meets and falls in love with a younger woman at his workplace. They eventually marry, his solitude subsides but her fashion addiction ends up killing her and Tony is alone, again- except this time with a haunting awareness of what the warmer alternative is like.

In 2003 Jun Ichikawa adapted Murakami’s story.

____________________

Ichikawa began his career as a director in television advertising. While his immersion in that industry enabled him to skillfully compress narrative into short time spans (something which would prove useful on his transition to cinema) he also expressed frustration at its effect on some of his earlier work in film – he considered his cuts “too short and fast”, with “no room [for the audience] to breathe or relax”.

His visual interpretation of Marukami’s text displays not only a solid and sympathetic understanding of the themes raised in it but an implementation of the slower pacing whose absence he lamented in his earlier work. His use of sound and music – both in their presence and absence, elevates the extent to which his interpretation engages the viewer and encourages interaction.

Sets are kept minimal throughout and share a common absence of clutter. In doing so the director is able to emphasise the emotional detachment and simplicity with which Tony Takitani views and experiences his world. Colour palettes are desaturated and cool – stripped of the warmth one would usually imagine in domestic and social surroundings. The consistency of the desaturated imagery present throughout the film serves to remind us that this is just how Tony Takitani’s life is – there is no overwhelming presence of colour which is snatched away, instead just an omnipresent detachment from it, a perpetual state of solitude – even within the less solitary parts of the film.

Tracking shots slowly moving to the right, fading through black, mimicking the progressive narrative style of a storyboard – something which Ichikawa has presumably drawn from his own background and used to immerse the viewer in Tony Takitani’s world – where one un-cluttered, desaturated interaction with life moves seamlessly on to the next.

In terms of Ichikawa’s photography – the overwhelming majority of shots involving people are limited to long shots and medium close ups. He maintains an emotional distance between us and the characters and between the characters themselves. It is during a brief scene in which Tony is getting to know his future wife that the audience sees the only extreme close up of the film. Ichikawa subtly draws attention to this experience being the most intimate and personal of the protagonist’s life, yet even at this pinnacle of emotional connection the camera still only faces the back (occasionally- the side) of her head –  the scene is subsequently imbued with a sense of distance and foreboding – that, as lovely as this moment is- it, and the companionship it brings, will not last. This is accentuated hugely by Ryuchi Sakamoto’s recurring minimal piano composition, “solitude”, playing throughout this entire scene. Using predominantly minor progressions and solitary notes he mirrors the protagonist’s melancholy and isolated state. A key theme running throughout Marukami’s original story is Tony Takitani’s inability to escape his own solitude; in collaborating with Sakamoto, Jun Ichikawa has skillfully interpreted this sense of inescapability.

After the death of Tony’s wife, Ichikawa cuts the music that the audience has, by this stage, grown used to. In removing the melodies that have accompanied the protagonist’s solitude throughout the film an even greater sense of loss is achieved – that Tony has lost not just his wife but even the identity he had before meeting her.

A shot of Tony lying fetal, back to camera, in the empty room his wife’s clothes once populated, mirrors his father’s physical and emotional posture whilst imprisoned in solitary confinement (prior to Tony’s birth). Through drawing attention to their shared experience of dire circumstances Ichikawa has caused the protagonist and his estranged father to inadvertently (and somewhat metaphysically) achieve a level of proximity and relationship neither were capable of during their time together.

He sympathetically restores order to the characters’ universe before finally pushing Tony into new equilibrium – in a final scene absent from the original story Ichikawa has Tony ring up the woman he hired (briefly) earlier in the film to wear his dead wife’s clothes and perform chores around the house to ease the pain of her absence. Tony hangs up before the former assistant can answer, but the message is clear – for the first time in his life he is uncomfortable with his own solitude. The film ends with a cut to black and the prolonged reintroduction of Sakamoto’s main theme. Regardless of his future, for now – Tony is once again alone.

____________________

Instrumental music, in allowing the listener to contribute their own thought processes and emotions to the composition and not merely dictating a suggested response, can create (and non-invasively serenade) visual landscapes to an extent which lyrical music often cannot. Conversely, film, in it’s purest form- as silent moving image, is capable of conveying narrative at times more effectively than it’s spoken counterpart.

Lyrics and dialogue, as conducive to an audience’s engagement with a story as they can admittedly be, can also be just as obstructive; what is spoken can often diminish (or, at worst- negate) the impact of that which would be best left un-said. Endless as it’s narrative is, life (alongside much of the art inspired by it) doesn’t require perpetual narration. The most engaging and emotive stories are those which allow an audience to contribute their own story to a narrative without weakening or diluting the actual story being told. In his adaptation of Tony Takitani, and through his sensitive inclusion and exclusion of aural and visual information, Ichikawa fully affirms this.

/

” it’s… a snail shell! ” replied Khalil,

lifting it to the sky as an athlete would a trophy-  shards of innocence and naivety delicately falling among his guilt stained words..

Ghazala gasped, hesitantly smiling, her eyes illuminated as he lowered it again and wrapped it in her hands- finding a shell at this altitude was virtually unheard of..

it’s contours reminded her of grandmother’s knuckles– of how they perched unblemished, above neglected, work-worn fingers, blissfully oblivious to the suffering beneath.. 

potters and craftsmen would travel for days to bring them back..

it was cold to touch, she giggled as she would when crossing the stream barefoot at the start of spring..

It felt strangely familiar in her soft grip .. and she looked at Khalil in a new way, a way that he had always hoped would become familiar.

//

Given their scarcity her father would never let his shell out of his sight or possession  ..

sometimes, usually in the winter while the gardens and fields slept, Ghazala would accompany Abdullah on journeys down into the towns – two mules laden with baskets of freshly fired pottery trudging along beside them..

She would watch through tired eyes as he would stay awake slowly polishing asymmetric bowls long into the night, and then- as covertly as he had drawn the shell he would conceal it and tell her to sleep; which she would, eventually.

Snail shells were to ceramicists what salt was to cooks, Abdullah’s was vital to his trade-  form preceded function in the towns and villages beneath and an uneven, earthy bowl had no place in a proper kitchen.. he never understood how such a seemingly mundane tool- a mere vehicle for superior craftsmanship- could hold so much worth to a child and his excessive, yet justified protectiveness of his shell only served to cement and elevate it’s near mythical status in Ghazala’s mind..

She had always longed for a shell of her own and Khalil had always longed for Ghazala.. he had made myth reality, for her.

They walked back into the village together; timid hopes cautiously rising as the summer sun reluctantly set..  auras interlocked, she kissed him on the cheek and whispered goodnight to him as he turned, still facing her, to walk home.

///

Abdullah was a simple man- monochromatically so..

When he returned later that night, exhausted and deflated, with hungry mules and packed baskets of unsold pottery from the towns below- it was only natural to assume that the shell lying on Ghazala’s pillow, lightly tangled in her moonlit hair, was in fact his. It was only natural to punish her..

Her tears softened the impact of his assumptions, making her eyes glisten like distant constellations as her face gradually adopted the hues of the cold starry sky above.

Across the village the roar of unseasonal thunder briefly woke Khalil – it was as if pots were being shattered against the ground he thought to himself, yawning..

 

He could have told him that he saw it fall

or he could keep it and see her eyes brighten..

____

[this is a short story i wrote for a book a friend is working on.. she sent around images she’d collected from a museum in Oxford and asked people to write something inspired by the image they’d received. My photo was of a snail shell recovered from an archeological dig in Algeria- snail shells were used to polish pottery .. .. i think i’d quite like to convert the story into a short film some day]

[the painting is something i did last year.. “crumpled woman”- acrylic on paper]

ok so i wrote all the previous post very late last night (11/10) and have had nearly a day to reflect on it all:

had a very interesting session on Narrative Compression today in which (among other things) Todorov’s take on narrative structure was introduced to us.. essentially-

Equilibrium > Disruption > Resolution > Restored Order > New Equilibrium

I had a bit of an epiphany (oi oi) whilst sitting there – if a formula non-invasively sets parameters as opposed to merely dictating a set/predefined route i don’t think i’d have an issue with it ..

[e.g. “its advisable to stay on the earthy side of a cliff” is a perfectly acceptable formula in my eyes, it allows for freedom of movement but at the same time advises against something which could result in death.. similarly with Todorov’s structure, just substitute “movement” for “expression” and “death” for “cinematic turd“]

however, i think this whole thing is entirely subjective – it’s up to the recipient of said formula to make this distinction..

as my production group embarks on its first short film – i’m very wary of us constructing a narrative to satisfy (or perhaps – appease) Todorov’s framework .. instead i hope that we can just successfully communicate an engaging story to an audience beyond those involved_ every good story in the history of the art inadvertently ticks those boxes; in communities whose only tool for recording information was or is the brain a story would have to rely exclusively on the quality of it’s content to survive through generations.. i think we have far too much to hide behind in cinema/storytelling nowadays [as well as being gimmicky  (subject to context) – 3D, green screen, and any other overused post production tool is unfortunately probably just covering up for an absence of original or engaging narrative.. anyway, this has evolved into a far broader monologue than intended.. i’ll save some of this for the next 3 years ] ..

oh oh oh before i go –

this short film (Balint Kenyeres’ Before Dawn) is a real treat.. great example of a conventional narrative being communicated in a completely unconventional and original way [the youTube video beneath is just a clip, click the link above for the full film ]..

what happens when the thing you used to retreat to becomes the thing you have to retreat from .. ?

it’s the horrifying possibilities raised by that exact question that made me determined to not study music.. something that’s so central to my identity – i don’t think i could bear being told how to do it , what to do / not do..

anyway, i think – given film’s slightly further removed location from the core of my being, i can possibly just about handle some formal education.. but i fear the curse of the formula. rules and creativity don’t mix too well for me..

a formula is a useful thing for getting somewhere; navigating your way around it, finding your way safely out – it satisfies that innate human need to tidy, to box, to chart, to make sense of the unknown – ultimately to bring order to chaos .. and there is definitely a place for all that .. maps, laws of physics, microwave pasta instructions..

but in the context of creativity – i firmly believe the formula is evil and restrictive:

  • it assumes a common identity, that what has worked for one will work for all –
  • it suppresses individuality and encourages stagnant, robotic, lifeless crap ..
  • it attempts to quantify the immeasurable.. success is relative and subjective, yet the formula says otherwise
  • it forsakes the scenery, carves a dual carriageway through the infinite and encourages us to use it ..
  • it says “no” to “yes

..

the lingering smell of cremated pitta fills my room…

£4.5omething toaster from Sainsbreeze failed to eject for the last time tonight.. piece of failure is going home in the morning..  ‘home’ to some back-of-store restricted area where fellow pieces of failure lie in purgatorial wait for DHL (or equivalent courier) and subsequent judgement on arrival at their maker’s courts,

temples of consumerism must have graveyards too..  mass, unmarked graves brimming with poundland LED torches interspersed among the tombs of fallen, self-righteous self-checkout machines, or something like that..

no eulogy for the damned.

had to make do with crackerbread & humous in the end..

65% my Rs

so yeah, i have a wordpress..

following complications at birth a hideously ugly text-heavy piece of cyberturd was abandoned on my virtual doorstep.. i had no choice but to take it in (having been coerced by my film school to adopt) .. anyway, i’ve cleaned it up, sawn off it’s warts, given it some colour hugs – poor thing was so cold and bland .. and actually, having just whinged about all this- i’ve slowly grown to love it.. so here is my beloved little ugly duckling, all clean and minimal and ready to be unleashed on the world..

speaking of ugly duckling– they’re playing Norwich Arts Centre soon, i think i have to go