Thursday, May 30, 2013

Just back from watching the new Great Gatsby film by Baz Luhrman. It's difficult to convey just how banal it is from start to finish - and I say this as someone who admires his Romeo & Juliet.

At about the hour and half mark it suddenly struck me: it is Power Point cinema. And bad Power Point at that. The type of moronic presentation you sit through where someone mentions France and a Google image of the Eiffel Tower is displayed with PARIS written in over large type to then tumble down the screen as the photo warps and spins out of frame.

It is quite suffocating to watch. Everything is signalled, underscored, confirmed, rammed in front of your face. There is no hint of Fitzgerald's subtlety of plotting, suggestion and mystery. The ambiguity as to who was driving is lost amid images of Myrtle's body turning in the air after impact (slo-mo, of course) and her ravaged chest. (Fitzgerald never presents the accident head on, we piece it together via the newspaper account, Tom's tearful reaction and Gatsby's inadvertent betrayal of confidence).

Did Luhrman even attempt to do justice to the novel? You wonder whether - like a lazy student - he went by someone else's notes cribbed off the Internet. But hey! who says the film has to be faithful to the book? Coppola took liberties with Heart of Darkness and delivered Apocalypse Now.

Sadly, Luhrman's Gatsby doesn't even deliver a good film. I started counting shot duration - in places barely a second. And this isn't to deliver suspense but to present a conversation. Why such manic cross cutting? To what end? Other than in the belief that cinema audiences cannot be expected to dwell on a shot for more than a split second? Cinema for the ADHD generation? I tried to establish the logic for camera angles but gave up - from above, below, side on, close up, pan ... each used seemingly indiscriminately. Or simply to keep us amused.

And that's what's so ghastly - especially in a film at least tenuously connected to a novel such as The Great Gatsby. Doesn't Luhrman realise that Fitzgerald is depicting a society that is amusing itself to death partly to obliterate the horrors of a war that has passed and partly to avert its eyes to what is to come? Where's any sense of underlying horror?

So ... maybe that's the point? Luhrman has delivered a deliberately hollow film? We're to read it ironically? Yet at no point do you sense any distaste for the garish society and its vulgarity. Rather, the film seems entirely complicit with such a world. Luhrman's lighting creates a morbid hyper-reality plastifying human beings and natural settings. The actors are toy-like (di Caprio is truly awful - as if auditioning after having mugged up on a few Redford scenes). In the hands of Tim Burton this could be interesting, here it just seems embarrassing. The scene in the hotel shows how poorly Luhrman can handle any subtlety of emotion - not surprisingly he distorts the original text and has Gatsby explode with anger. Shouting, screaming, banging, bashing - this kind of toddler emotional range Luhrman can handle well. Could anyone on set say with any conviction that the scene was 'in the can'? Really?

What Luhrman can't even begin to do is to convey the sadness, the longing, the ache, that fills the novel. That although Gatsby is an amalgam of other people's stories there is that driving desire, that yearning that is impossible to fulfil (and always will be) and a grand - if absurdly unrealistic - dream. Cue shot of a night sky plus a comet blazing across - just in case you couldn't grasp the idea.

More disturbing still - but also why this might be an important film despite itself - is the way Luhrman employs cliches. However - as Baudrillard observed back in the 1980s - we have entered the age of the simulacrum. Pointless to ask where a particular image is from or to what it alludes - as such we're dealing with the cliche of the cliche. And this is the aesthetic (if it can be called such) of the pop video and the advertising promo. Thus 'jazz' is now signalled by a black guy tipping backwards while lifting his saxophone skywards. Wasn't that in ... ? Yes and no. For it was perhaps that advert that was borrowing from ... but who cares? Daisy and Gatsby practice golf swings on a jetty but you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a sequence from a Building Society commercial or a family planning promo. The sequence of Gatsby as a soldier is laughable, the scenes of working class Americans patronising in their cinematically hygienic grubbiness. (Does Luhrman grasp the whole point of the ash grey landscape and the Wilson's? Doubtful, for the music that accompanies the discovery that Daisy was in fact Myrtle's killer is a 'cue sad feeling' track implying we should feel sorry for ... yes, Daisy. Crass directing indeed). It's mildly amusing spotting the number of self-references Luhrman includes (eg lifts from Romeo and Juliet) until you think what's the point? Just another gimmick and typical of such a self-regarding film. (That's something else you feel: the constant presence of the director - how the film-maker obtrudes upon his film).

The verdict? As an interpretation of the novel it brings nothing to light and, worse still, mangles and distorts the original. As an independent work of cinema it is crude and overblown. As a cultural object of this, the second decade of the 21st Century, it is perhaps uncomfortably revealing: the extent to which we have been dulled visually and emotionally; the way in which our sense of time and space and duration have been horribly contracted (notice a Luhrman signature device: the Google earth-style vertiginous zoom in or out); the way we seem pleased with so little, that cinema has come to this, relinquishing any social, aesthetic, or critical role and solely concerned with box-office returns. I suppose it will fill a good two hours on a transatlantic flight - isn't that the point, after all? Go on, say it: it helps to pass the time - what Gatsby, of course, never wanted to accept.

What are Daisy's first words in the novel? "I'm p-p-paralysed with happiness". How horrible is that?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Defiantly anti-Twitter, the current BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day is a different matter entirely. For two minutes David Attenborough (who else?) introduces a British bird and explains its defining characteristics and song. Required listening.

This morning it was the turn of the Storm Petrel (hydrobates pelagicus) whose call has been likened to "a fairy being sick". Listen to the link and you'll hear how true that is.

What better way to start the day?

Monday, May 20, 2013

obthuth (n/v)

1. Some sacred name upon which the head is struck. 2. A cleft palate that calls heaven to witness. 3a. Thus thrust upon, the action of turning towards. 3b. The action of (anything) into any space or place. Or against anything else.

prhuth (n/v)

1. A word used to designate an object without naming it. 2. The action of the verb snags in front. 3. See next. 4. A tooth, a rock, etc.. Quickly. Keep up the strata. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"What laws do these rebirths, rediscoveries, and occultations too, obey, the distancing or reevaluation of a text that one would naively like to believe, having put one's faith in a signature or an institution, always remains the same, constantly identical to itself? In sum a "corpus," and one whose self identity would be even less threatened than one's own body [corps propre]? What must a text be if it can, by itself in a way, turn itself in order to shine again, after an eclipse, with a different light, in a time that is no longer that of its productive source (and was it ever contemporaneous with it?), and then again repeat this resurgence after several deaths, counting, among several others, those of the author, and the simulacrum of a multiple extinction? ... The web very quickly becomes indifferent to the animal source, who might very well die without even having understood what has happened. Long afterward, other animals again will come to be caught in its threads, speculating, in order to get out, on the first meaning of the weave, that is of a textual trap whose economy can always be abandoned to itself. This is called writing ... "

('Qual Quelle: Valery's Sources', Margins of Philosophy, p 278, Jacques Derrida)


For a mixture of reasons I'm rereading Derrida which means re-encountering all the traces of my previous readings all those years ago. So dense are the annotations, underlinings & all too-evident misunderstandings that I resort to photocopying pages & then going back through with an eraser (rubber, if you prefer - gets the prophylactic effect) to enable a virgin page, as such. The ironies latent within each of these actions will be all too evident.

It occurs to me: has this entire Blog been an elaborate detour to these 'original' well-trodden paths? (I'm thinking of all those web metaphorics I wove in the early posts).

& Derrida, of course, the pwoermdist avant la lettre with his differance ...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sooner or later, I suppose, John Fahey was going to cross my path. I'd had his name at the back of my mind for a while now & this morning I saw a copy of A Young Person's Guide To ... also entitled Sea Changes & Coelacanths. Irresistible - especially with the cover art. I get it home, listen to a few tracks & discover it's very much late period Fahey & not what many of the hard-core fans regard as the 'real stuff'. Undeterred, I head for the Mediatheque (where else?) & flip through the racks. Nothing. Odd. Until I notice on the window ledge - home to outsize items - this sumptuous set of his early years recordings. It's as though I was meant to find it.

CD1 is playing now - & there's some fine music. Tracks such as The Transcendental Waterfall are extraordinary even for someone like me who knows little about Blues guitar playing & the subtleties he's working with the tradition. Above all it is the entire context in which Fahey is starting to make this music - as the booklet explains, a time when so little was available & you had to root it out for ourself. Fahey's first hearing of Blind Willie Johnson stands as an epiphanic moment equivalent to Frank Zappa's finding of a Varese record in a dump bin. & the Zappa parallel extends further with Fahey's resolutely home industry methods & single-mindedness.

Made my day.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

... "the nuance of vacancy in room, or landscape, the unseen presences that human use and cultivation create."

Among the books I haul back from the latest visit to the UK is this - Selected Art Writings by James Schuyler ed. Simon Pettet - & which was just too large for the letter box & thus entailed a visit to the depot at 8am on Friday morning to collect. A minor inconvenience & - in any case - with sentences like that who cares?


Also of note: the voluminous Brian Catling novel (novel?! yes, novel!) The Vorrh. Thanks to Nelly for the tip off.


Once again, I return from the land of my birth ever more bewildered & disenchanted.

Crossing a road I get blasted with a horn for no apparent reason other than I have the temerity to walk from one kerb to another. The driver grins maliciously as I turn to remonstrate. Why?

The local Post Office opens 15 minutes late & despite an obvious queue there is not a single word or sign of apology. Rather, looks of if-you-don't-like-it-mate-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it?

Buying newspapers now seems to be accompanied by the automatic request of whether you'd like some other item despite having said - very clearly - "just this, please". To take it out on the cashier would be unfair. The problem runs far deeper: the dehumanising effect of commercial training. Have they, in fact, embedded a micro chip or SIM card into employees? The crazed imaginings of Philip K. Dick are ever more prescient.

The very same newspapers are full of the rise of UKIP, an effect largely explained by their 'populist' policy on immigration. The Sports sections are given over to eulogies of Sir Alec Ferguson the retiring Man U manager. No one seems to see the irony: British football teams being largely composed of non-British players, owned by billionaire businessmen with scant interest in any local fan base. The 'national' game is now a travesty.

E. asks, in all innocence, why there aren't any bakeries near Grandma's. It's a seemingly trivial question that goes right to the heart of things. Why not indeed? (While here in Belgium we have three within walking distance).

On Thursday afternoon I count six cold calls in the space of about three hours. Apparently there is no way to filter them as they come from call centres outside the UK. It is even pointless to argue or shout at the presumed caller: the 'voice' lacks an identifiable speaker, the message is programmed. My mother says that they often ask if my father is there - that's particularly galling.

What's happening? And why is no one complaining?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

pwoermds / mhuthic / nhuth

mhuthic (n/v)

1. An umbrella that has sprung into notice. 2. Misinterpretations of the scrotum. Or similar odour. 3. To nick or notch the banana. 4. A proverbial type of rapid growth: soft, pulpy, down-curving. 5. To expand and flatten (out) an auk. 6. Air imitating. 


nhuth (n/v)

1. After, before, since, yet, etc.. Repeated for emphasis. 2. A single syllable. Very slightly greater than. 3. Threads, wires or the like relating to hypnotism. 4a. The desert of the interior. 4b. The centre from which never again. 4c. A bed of frozen snow. 4d. The sphere that may be so stained. 


Saturday, May 04, 2013

A couple of weeks ago now, in a moment of recklessness, I lashed out on a new mini hi-fi* - nothing really expensive, of course, but something of a luxury given there is one in the living room & the various radios & computers & iPods & iPads that have accumulated around the house. But the point is: this was for the bedroom.

One of the compromises you accept in marriage & subsequent Dad-existence seems to be the inevitable relegation of "your clutter" (ie stacks of CDs) to elsewhere and pleas of "can you turn it down ... the girls are trying to sleep" etc.. Where once, life was a one room Crusoe-like island & music a type of fortress against irritating co-tenants or consolation for yet another solitary night, day, week, month ... recent times have seen music consigned to headphones or ear buds.

Anything for a peaceful life ...

So to suddenly hear music in three dimensions again has been nothing short of a revelation. The proportions of the bedroom relative to the power of amp & speakers seems exactly right. Downstairs the music disperses amongst the kitchen clatter, fridge hum, goings on. Here, however, CDs I thought I knew sparkle again. I hear all sorts of subtleties that the headphones & iPods just don't deliver. (As now, track 9, 'Lament' off Miles Ahead - utterly ravishing).

What fun! & yes, the pile of CDs is back.


* if you're wondering - a Sony CMT-MX700Ni they'd knocked 50 euros off (presumably because it won't take the new iPod connection. Who cares?)

pwoermd / lhuth

lhuth (n/v)

1a. The integument of being. 1b. The appendage of comprehending. 1c. The carapace of forgetting. 2. Of things, an archipelago. 3. Also (without article) to enclose armadillos. 

Friday, May 03, 2013



(for Gary Barwin)


"The front rows were a woodpeckerish blizzard of Judas kisses, blood enemies forced to prod stiff lips towards cold cheeks. Toothless foxes sniffing at dead chickens. They were all there: from the well-rehearsed formaldehyde rigidity of senior royalty to the public faces of smug and comfortably suited former cabinet colleagues, along to be sure she was really in the box. To broken bullies blinking back tears under an unruly thatch of eyebrow. To the shameless court of right-opinionated entertainers still at large. To ennobled perjurers, medal-snaffling athletes, arms dealers, coup plotters, financial bagmen, wounded veterans, and such morally compromised foreign dignitaries as could be persuaded to take a mini-break to springtime London."

Thus, Iain Sinclair on the Thatcher funeral in the new issue of the LRB. The unofficial Poet Laureate sings loud & clear for all to hear. Get your copy now.

Not having ever flown a plane ... yet I imagine it must feel rather good - as the pilot -to hear the wheels finally make contact with the tarmac as you touchdown after a long haul flight. A heady mixture of exhilaration & relief.

Much my feelings today as the students emerge from their final exam with smiles on their faces. The questions were open & fair & enabling - which is all one can ask.

It's been a two-year journey & we've landed safely. Unfasten seat belts. Phew.

What they got up to during the flight - well, that's their business ...

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ever had this experience of reading a book in which there is a bookmark some twenty pages in & the corner of page 205 turned down & noticing that certain lines at various intervals have been discreetly marked with a small dot implying some kind of importance & knowing that it was you who inserted the bookmark & turned down the page & marked those lines for future reference & yet, for the life of you, cannot remember either having done so or the vaguest recollection of why or even - worse still - the dimmest recollection of the narrative ...?

Senility beckons.




pwoermd / kazhuth

kazhuth (v/n)

1. To chuckle a wind. 2. To peep a going down. 3. A small anchor dropped at a distance (the sound of). 4. A short spasmodic shrub. 5. Entirely consisting of during. The earliest of these. 6. In the name or for the sake of blue gums. 

(with apologies for the interruption in the series - lhuth to zhuth to follow shortly ...)

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...