How I love Warren Ellis...

'You're all too weird to live. Get in the car before I kill you on principle.' -- Sideways Bob


Run The Road

It's been building for a while, but the last two days especially... total immersion. When I close my eyes now, all I picture are grey skies and estates, throbbing with sci-fi bleeps and bass growls. All I hear are raw-throated MCs yabbering and shooting guns in the air. GODS! This music is so fuckin' ALIVE! The energy is overwhelming. But at the same time, the world conjured up before you is rough, mean, bleak, scary. It's like fireworks in space, the environment too hostile or uncaring to allow the spectacle to occur. With Run The Road, you're listening to ambition hitting a wall, and trying to bulldoze through it.

Why isn't this ruling the airwaves? Why aren't these MCs (bar Dizzee) superstars? Where did all of this go? Five years on, it's still at the absolute cutting edge of popular music. I want more of this raw shit, not the compromised crossover bids these artists (bar Dizzee) made with their debut albums....

ETA: the opening song of the compilation over here. Arresting, to put it mildly.



Is this book about Adrian Tomine working through his issues? Has he cast himself in the lead role and then made himself as odious as possible? I don't know, but it does look like it -- autobiography once removed.

The skill is in making Ben just likable enough (he is funny) so that you don't give up in anger, and can see why his best friend sticks with him. One of the few weaknesses of Summer Blonde was the blankness of some of the secondary characters, who often just existed to spark up dialogue in which the hero's problems are aired. With Shortcomings, Tomine has more pages to play with, and while the focus is relentlessly on Ben, the other characters get their due.

Ben is a bastard, and all of his shortcomings get listed at the end (for your easy reference!) There are hints of self awareness in his final words, and the ending is open as regards whether he will change or not. But since I (happily) share none of his hang-ups, his perfectly told story didn't really challenge me very much.

What I liked most about the book were the opening pages of each of the three chapters: all pieces of artistic expression (a film, a concert, a set of photographs), and all reacted to in different ways (disdain, fake admiration, heartbreak). It's an interesting little meditation on what art can do to us, how we unconciously react to it, and how we conciously modify that reaction. Ben has zero awareness of this process. More broadly, he has zero awareness of himself. He cannot see his shortcomings. That is his ultimate tragedy.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Very rich indeed. The entire film has been colour-timed to look sharp, gorgeous, hyper-real. Smell is impossible to capture with images and sound, and yet this film does its damned hardest. And it works. The first act or so, when our offactory genius is discovering his gift, is the film at its most arresting, right up to the beautiful / horrific climax with his first Belle Dame.

It can only go downhill from there. Dustin Hoffman shows up, unfortunately. And later, Alan Rickman comes to do his Serverus Snape thing. Thank the gods Ben Wishaw (who was brilliant in Bright Star) is there to keep us interested. He is facinating to watch -- a brilliant anti-hero. By turns endearing and disturbing. He carries the film very well.

And what a mental film it is. The ideas get progressively more twisted and surreal, and the execution scene may be too much for some to swallow. There were pangs where I started thinking "no, now this is silly", but on the whole I stayed with it. But stayed with what, exactly? What is this fable about, anyways? Honestly? It defies any interpretation I try and place on it. I get the feeling the writers seemed more interested in constructing crazy set-pieces, not worrying too much about what it will mean when you put it all together. But that feeling may just be a cover for my inability to read anything into it. You decide. All I can say is that normally, this kind of opaqueness would bug the roaring bile out of me, but with Perfume I didn't mind. The film was beautiful and very entertaining. Sometimes that's enough.


Simon Bisley

This guy painted / pencilled / scrawled out one of my favourite comics of all time -- Slaine: The Horned God. That book was just incredible, one of Pat Mills's finest. And what Simon Bisley did to it, words cannot describe.

I bought a collection of his artwork from amazon, and it arrived yesterday. I think (I don't know) it's a pretty comprehensive survey of his career. And for the ridiculous price of £10, you get non-stop awesomeness from cover to cover. Here, feast your eyes on this poorly scanned copy of Tiger Lady I found on the internet:

Now buy the book.


Ideas and power

Some notes on the conversion of Constantine:

In the third century, the Roman Empire is restructured to meet the Persian threat. The armed forces and the imperial bureaucracy grow. The Imperial office is split. The Empire becomes more intrusive and more committed to an ideological stance.

Polytheism very varied -- every region has its own religious traditions. Cults do not ask for very much: demand that respect is paid to the spirits protecting the region, that rituals are performed properly. Philosophical and moral answers are looked for elsewhere.

Christianity doesn't penetrate very far into society. But isn't (in theory) local. An Empire-wide phenomenon. One God that demands exclusive devotion. Scriptures that contain universal code of law.

Laws of the Emperor regarded as the source of all order. Christian claims to the contrary are subversive. Christian attacks on idol-worship also subversive. Emperors had to demonstrate that they are acting against 'impiety', and the Church is the obvious target. Sporadic local anti-Christian violence gives way to Empire-wide edicts in 250 and 257. Diocletian's 'Great Persecution' in 303 continues for 11 years in some parts of the eastern Empire. But the religion proves difficult to suppress.

Constantine wins the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, and says his success is due to the protection of the God of the Christians. Why? Perhaps the faith fitted well with the new shape of the Empire -- more bureaucratic and integrated than before. The regional differences in religious tradition could prove divisive. Christianity wasn't regional. Based in the cities and had wealthy, educated and commited followers. It was a good pick for a new, unified, Imperial faith?

Council of Nicea called by Constantine in 325 to straighten out divergent practices. Uniformity was the key. Around 200 bishops attend, but the Emperor has the final say. Arianism condemned. However Constantine fetched Arius back from exile in 328, and had two other councils in 335 declare him an orthodox Christian.

Emperors liked Arianism because it limited Christ's role to that of another prophet, and allowed Emperors to assume an equal status -- living prophets directing the course of their church. Anti-Arian ideologies were formulated partly as a reaction against such interventionism. Carried the day at Nicea, but there would be a lot of centre-local conflict over it in future centuries. See here.


Fun Home

You know what, autobiography has to be honest. You have to rip your guts out to do it right. That's why Fun Home is so powerful. I loved it very very much.

Was particularly impressed with the perfect way Bechdel evokes the fun-eral atmosphere within her family. You could breathe it. I didn't think the detached, self-analysing tone was distant or unfeeling. That's what growing up in such an environment would feel like. And the reference-heavy narration didn't obfuscate. As Bechdel says herself -- that's the only way she could make sense of her family. In such arctic conditions, literature would be the only source of answers and solace.

And in any case, the book teaches you how to read as you read it -- spotting patterns, similarities, contrasts. Making comparisons. Creating binaries. Building a matrix of meaning out of those binaries. I approach literature in a similar obsessive-compulsive way (see here). On a baseline level, reading can be about crafting these satisfying little logical systems to make you feel in control, enlightened, better.

And wasn't the cartooning great? The mood and attitude of the characters was communicated with an immediacy words cannot keep up with. With one panel, Bechdel can say everything.

And, of course, it's all about growing up -- freeing yourself from the straitjacket of home and family, and creating your own identity. I didn't know much about most of the authors referenced (Wilde, Fitzgerald, Proust among others), but the riff on Joyce at the end completely captivated me. Yes! This is Bechdel's Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses rolled into one. With pictures! I can't ask for anything more.



Word is bond, when I was 12, James Cameron was my favourite director. I'm mean, come ON! Have you SEEN True Lies? That movie rocked, man! And Titanic, when (SPOILERZ!!!) Leo died? Total weepfest. And the old lady with the jewels and the ocean... I mean, that shit was DEEP!

I'm a little older now, but I don't think James Cameron has grown up with me. In the interviews I've read, he has talked about how Avatar is a demonstration of the tools now available to filmmakers (basically the ones seen in Lord of the Rings. In fact, Cameron used the same CGI company). But he also stresses how those tools mean nothing if your story isn't solid. Now, if you're 12, Avatar's story is probably solid enough (COOL SPLOSINZ!!!). But, like I said, I'm a little older now.

The contradiction of an anti-capitalist, tree-hugging theme in what is a tech-obsessed, Hollywood money-spinner may strike you as rather charming. Personally, while I see that hearts were in their right places, I am by nature a grouchy motherfucker and found it annoying. Or rather, not good enough. This is the thing. When you have this good vs. evil clash at the heart of your story, setting up the good side is very easy. Everyone can dream of utopia. What makes these stories interesting (always! ALWAYS! May I say again... ALWAYS!) is the evil side. The bad guys make the whole thing work. This is where you need to be intelligent. This is where you can challenge your audience. This is where you can make them think, not only "oh, this is nice", but "hey, why aren't we here".

Cameron just gives us an Apocalypse Now caricature, except without the disturbing humour. I'm not gonna slam the actor, because for what it was, he did a pretty great job. But I needed a zinger. When the fireballs went up, he needed to quietly mutter something like "pretty bang bang", so that we get it. We like the explosions. He likes them too! THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH US! I'm not expecting Hurt Locker level characterization here, but there had to be something more than just straight-up beefy badass.

Villains engage with an audience in a way heroes can't. They are always cooler. They are always more fun. Michelle Rodriguez (ohmystars!) is the only goody with any spark (not just hotness, I swear), and she loses all of it when she inexplicably joins the righteous. She didn't sign up for this, apparently... (DIDN'T YOU??) The most captivating character on screen was the business boss, played by the ever wonderful Giovanni Ribisi. I've only seen him playing gormless fools or tech-heads, so seeing him play the man in charge was a surprise. And he was funny being the dumb capitalist. I LIKED this guy, so much more than our actual hero. I wanted to see HIM go on a journey of discovery. Instead, we only got flashes of doubt, and a scene of humiliation at the end. Nothing. BOOORING!

All this lecturing aside, the 3D thing. Again, probably about 12 the last time I went to see a 3D film, and it was at the IMAX in the Science Museum. I found it pretty impressive, but that may have just been the astronauts and spaceships (I watched a documentary, it being a cinema in a museum, after all). Watching Avatar now, the effect of the 3D was, to put it kindly, subtle. It didn't notably enhance the depth of the picture. And the bits flying towards you didn't thrill once you got used to it. Worse, the floaty stuff in the forground could actually distract attention away from a scene. And the glasses dampen the brightness of the image (also, dorky and uncomfortable). So the 3D was either unnoticable or irritating. Not a revolution in cinema. Very much a gimmick.