Monday, January 31, 2011

John Barry

So John Barry's died suddenly from a heart attack. He of such famous scores as James Bond's, Born Free, Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa. Think of a substantial emotive score indelible from your brain's melodic archive and there's a good chance he was behind it. The man was absurdly prolific, and incredibly talented at hermetically blending compositions to the tone and pace of a movie, in such a way that they effortlessly carried you through as you watched whilst at the same time making a subliminal impression. When you heard the music in isolation its origin was unmistakeable yet it was wonderfully stirring in its own right. Not many scores can do that.

There used to be (c. 1986) a sweet little restaurant called The Petit Prince in Camden, North London. Cosy and condlelit, the walls were decorated with scenes from the famous Saint-Exupery novella, and they would serve hearty chickpea and vegetable stews, fat chips with sour cream, which we'd wash down with BYO wine.

The music they played in this little eaterie was always instrumental John Barry, in the main James Bond themes. It would wierdly complement the little prince perfectly as he flew around the walls. But it also animated any dinner party injecting energy into the wine-supping, stew-slurping young arty crowd that would regularly frequent the place. With a mixture of nostalgia, sexiness, and power of association, Barry's tunes would always get blood moving through your veins and the party going.

He leant respectability and stature to anything, and anyone he accompanied. Who knows what role a film's score plays in its ultimate success, but pretty sure Broccoli had a lot to thank John Barry for. Involuntarily humming a classic Bond riff right now, I find myself instantly transported to an open-top Merc, chiffon scarf billowing as I zip along a precipitous Italian mountain highway, the riviera sun beating down. Hang on a second, there's a delicious-looking gentleman fast approaching in my rear-view... Ooh ah. I clearly need to look up my John Barry compilation and do this more often.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fingertip tapping - an iPad amateur's review

So, am now proud owner of an iPad (refer back to entry 25/11/10).

Who'd have thought a few years ago we'd spend our days screen tapping? I predict a whole new RSI epidemic as fingers attempt to tap not type. And with precision. The strain required to ensure the right letters are hit on the keyboard, the correct words cut and pasted and inserted at that precise point in the paragraph, not to mention, the tremor control required to avoid those dreaded fat-fingered erroneous 'sends', will, i predict hit new limits.

To counter this my fingers receive daily workouts on the pad because I remain convinced that the it is the future when it comes to the written word. That said, as a user i've discovered some anomalies...

Firstly when reading a newspaper, it's surprising how unsettling it is not to know, indeed feel where the publication starts and ends. On the iPad you can 'turn' pages endlessly with no idea whether you're still at the beginning, in the middle or near the end of that section, or where it sits within the paper. You are in effect all at sea with no sight of the shore, which peculiarly, seems to matter more than I thought it would.

Secondly, imagery despite its superior digital potential seems to fare worse on the pad. It gets trimmed. Case in point, Rafael Nadal modelling underwear for Armani. In the printed newspaper we got the full frontal, glistening torso, neatly-packed briefs and all. In the iPad edition of the same article, we got nadal merely waist up. As you can imagine, this was frankly disappointing for a fan such as myself.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time, but not everyone it seems is compatible with iPad, or vice versa, not even the big online hitters like facebook and e-blogger, the very same blog site that hosts this weblog. I can't post blogs via my iPad, nor can I send facebook mail. This is because the iPad keyboard frustratingly fails to appear when required, despite feverish frustrated tapping on the part of yours truly.

Somewhat irritating as the keyboard had appeared to allow me to write a lengthy message to a fb friend then resolutely refused to appear when I attempted to tap in her address. After trying several times I misfired a forceful tap, accidentally cancelled said message and had to resort to calling. Speaking to the individual for goodness sake. In this day and age. Most annoying.

Finally, it seems that the pleasure of viewing adobe flash via the iPad is denied me due to an apple/adobe 'incompatibility', presumably a euphemism for 'inability to agree terms'. That's an awful lot of website content rendered inaccessible to an avid surfer such as myself, not least an important section of the most wondrous

So, although I still heart my iPad, if apple or the app people could just resolve these little distractions I'd be utterly devoted. That's all.

Funny ha ha vs funny nah nah

Am feeling slightly uncomfortable by the current debate, the one that compares British humour to American. a debate triggered it seems by ricky gervais's compering of the 2011 golden globes.

Hmm. Was that really a valid point of reference on the part of the Brits? Was it even humour? Sure we all laughed but in a horrified, wide-eyed nervous snigger sort of way, the kind of thing you did behind your hand at school when an insolent child was rude to teacher. We responded to the sheer gall of it, not the comedy content. The whole thing resembled a medieval spite show, where the vicitims, used to glory and adulation were stripped bare, locked in stocks and humiliated, one cold soaked sponge after another. Much to the hilarity of onlookers.

Am a little ashamed if this is being held up as typically "British" humour. We're cleverer than that. So is he. This was cheap, nasty and exposed gervais as scowling, finger-pointing and just a little bit bitter about something or other. More playground bully than comic genius.

It's true, we do it alot in this country. It's a flaw of the British psyche and possibly rooted in some national malaise that the only way we can feel better about oursleves is to mock someone else.

We should stick to self-deprecating, what we do best. Or at least always did. Perhaps the debate should be not how American humour compares to British, but at what point, on a sheer laugh out loud (as opposed to snide snigger) scale, stateside comedy proper began to regularly trump us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The genius and misplaced glamour of celluloid

Firstly, should like to say, just what a genius Tim Burton is.

Watched Alice in Wonderland last night (on dvd, yes, yes, I know, yawn, I finally got round to it a year after everyone else, whatever). I was gobsmacked! The animation, the CG, the glorious intense colour palette that made each and every still a visual masterpiece, the film was pure magical escapism which did justice to any child's wildest imagination, and certainly reignited mine. It took my breath away. And this was on the small screen. I can only imagine the adrenalin rush I'd have got in the cinema.

It demonstrated just what an art form film can be - the way in which each scene is staged, set, acted and illuminated. The pace, the colour, the costume, the drama, the infinite attention to detail. For anyone looking for great examples of direction this is it. Can't quite understand why Burton wasn't universally revered for it.

I'm usually the first out the cinema when the credits roll but curious to see just who, what and how many were responsible for this marathan feat, I stayed slumped on the sofa squinting as the names came up one after another, faster and faster. Five minutes later they were still rolling, the cast and crew now running to thousands.

Struck me just what's involved in putting a film together these days and how the vast majority of contributors get little, indeed minute, credit that flashes by at such a rate you miss it. Seems to me that the acting - the big slow names at the top, those we all bow down to, glorify and throw awards at - is the easy bit.

It is also, and I know from experience, death-defyingly dull. As an extra, you show up at 6am on a film set, get made up and wardrobed, then sit around all day waiting for a scene or scenes, in which you are required to act as wallpaper. In my case walk along a 20 yard stretch of high street pavement.
"Is that it?" I exclaimed, obviously only there because I was a wannabe thesp and thought it could be my chance to be discovered. "Should i erm, do anything, like pause, look hurried, or harried maybe? Perhaps glance in a shop window? Would you like me to express in any way?"
"No, just walk along the pavement," said busy production assistant, barely looking at me.
We did three takes, each of which took about 30 seconds, and for the rest of a day were all holed up in a bare miserable make shift room with access to teas and coffees, waiting to be called again. We weren't. 6am-8pm sitting around doing nothing in silly unseasonal costumes for £60. There is NOTHING glamourous about film-making.

Which brings me full circle, because in this makeshift caf, sitting for a while at the next table was Mrs Burton, la Bonham Carter herself along with Catherine Tate, and I, bored insane from staring at the table, could hear every word of her conversation, the only mildly interesting part of the day. She chattered away in her plummy, spirited screen manner about subjects relating to sleep, insomnia and snoring - the details of which I couldn't possibly reveal - until she too was called to do her 30 second take, several times, under a handheld shower, until dusk and crap weather meant filming had to cease.

Even your a-list film stars aren't spared the tedium. They just get paid better for it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Death's random scattergun

Attended friend's funeral. Breast cancer. It had permeated her system like a relentless, creeping poison, such that the last five years had been an accelerating succession of ectomies - extraction after extraction in an attempt, futile, to get ahead, cut it off, cut it out.

She 'spoke' at her funeral, having written her own eulogy, firstly apologising for not lasting the course, thanking her family and friends for all the love they'd given and shown her, and finally, attempting to cheer us all up.

We questioned afterwards why it's always the good that die young, leaving the bad to go on hurting and hating. And it occurred to me that life's a battlefield. We all start in the same place, running for the other side, dodging the bullets from some random scattergun.

There are sprinters, the ground gainers, whose purpose is single-minded - a frantic full pelt, looking straight ahead, trampling those in their path... And there are dawdlers, dilly-dalliers, who slow to turn their face to the sun, feel lush turf under their feet, and grab the warm outstretched hands of others. Lovers of life, easy targets.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Opera karaoke

So, new year, new take on karaoke. Opera arias.

Be quite funny don't you think? Can't claim to be an opera buff but know the odd tune, and it was as I was driving home one dusky evening through the countryside that I thought, I know, just for fun I'll switch to radio 3. And I am very glad I did, as i had one of the most exhilarating, soul-stirring drives of my life.

Violetta, soprano, you know, beautiful courtesan in La Traviata, had just began sempre libera, one of a handful of arias I recognise and as I zipped down empty country lanes, under leafy arches of low hanging branches, watching owls fly across my path (not making it up, tis true) I sang along. At the top of my voice. By 'top', read volume and range. Very cathartic, and quite hilarious, and of course something that one should only ever attempt in a sound-sealed capsule, like a car, or possibly a bathroom, with pelting power shower. Unless of course drunk and amongst friends also very drunk. Hence the idea for opera karaoke.
(Ref: anna netrebko sempre libra)

Well, it's great to sing while under the influence. You always sound better pickled, and an inebriated audience will always show utmost appreciation. Recalling that great Mel Brooks riff about how the leading cause of death amongst jews is down to their insistence on singing Dancing in the Dark at parties. They eat too much, they drink too much then proceed to belt out the ol' favourite always starting in the wrong key. One that's too high. As the song rises in pitch so the strain to reach the notes becomes overwhelming, ultimately resulting, at pitch pinnacle, in stroke or cardiac arrest.

When in party mood, however life-threatening, the urge to sing is irresistible, and tired of the old karaoke playlists - elvis, abba, beatles yadda yadda, we need something more, well, challenging. Work that voice.

Opera karaoke, soprano singstar, the quite obvious gap in the market. What every sozzled soiree's crying out for.