Bonne Annee

Off to New Year's in Pigalle, folks. Happy New Year to whoever you are and wherever. Namaste, Buddha, big ups and all that cal. New novel on its way. And no, I'm not going back on Facebook.


A bang on the ear: 3a.m. playlist, Paris 23 Dec 2009

  • Roxy Music, 'Street Life'
  • Suicide, 'Cheree'
  • Animal Collective, 'My Girls'
  • Warren Zevon, 'The French Inhaler'
  • Siouxsie & The Banshees, 'Kiss them for me'
  • Portishead, 'Sour times'
  • Brian Eno & David Byrne, 'Mountain of Needles'
  • Chet Baker, 'I get along without you very well'
  • Norah Jones, 'The Nearness of You'
  • Roisin Murphy, 'Let me know'
  • Sofa Rockers, 'Sofa surfers'
  • David Holmes, '69 Police'
  • Lady Gaga, 'I like it rough'
  • John Cale, 'All My Friends'
  • Damien Rice, 'The Blower's Daughter'
  • The Pretenders, 'Brass in Pocket'
  • The Sundays, 'Can't Be Sure'
  • The Bird and The Bee, 'How Deep is Your Love'
  • MGMT, 'The Youth'
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Skeletons'
  • Brian Wilson, 'Our Prayer'
  • Tricky, 'Makes me wanna die'
  • Tom Petty, 'American Girl'
  • Neu!, 'Leb Wohl'
  • The National, 'Apartment Story'
  • The Modern Lovers, 'Government Center'
  • Talking Heads, 'Cities'
  • John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, 'They say it's wonderful'
  • Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, 'My little brown book'
  • The Doors, 'Hyacinth House'
  • The Dandy Warhols, 'Mohammed'
  • Captain Beefheart, 'My head is my only home until it rains'
  • Beth Orton, 'Galaxy of Emptiness'


About The Blues

Oh, so many things. In Paris, working, but in summary, Memo To JC style:
  1. Worst voice over ever. Ever. Worse than Terminator 2. Give me half an hour and what you spent on designing one handheld weapon and I'll write you something better.
  2. 3-D is of negligible benefit. It is immersive, but I don't want to be immersed in something -- I want you to tell a story, and if I'm distracted looking at something in the background then I'm not being directed.
  3. But it's much much better than Titanic. Not as good as T1 or T2, more mature than True Lies... It's buff and self-absorbed, like The Abyss. A big anime Abyss.
  4. I don't really care about the animals. There's a big red one and a small one and so on - did this really take four years to invent? Really?
  5. The CG is good. Nav'i almost totally believable. Tactile sense is quite amazing: when the Nav'i kiss or touch each other, you can really sense it.
  6. The forest at night is amazing. Almost did some of the thematic talking for you.
  7. The Marines are boring.
  8. What does Unobtanium do? Is it anti-grav or what? Because for a movie that explains everything, you cannot have a McGuffin. If you explain the plants and flowers, you have to explain what the plants and flowers are being killed for, and why.
  9. Sigourney Weaver's not really used.
  10. Sam Worthington's wasted legs are the most amazing effect of all.
  11. Nav'i language very good -- chants and songs Not Silly.
  12. Why does Michelle Rodriguez's character turn? I would like to know. (See #8)
  13. Why was Sully's brother just gunned down in a mugging? I would have had him die while being trained by Colonel Quaritch -- more motivation for conflict, betrayal, etc, especially if Sully discovered this later on. Just a thought. Would have thrown that in with the voice over.
  14. For all the actors and CG-actors, there are really only four or five characters in the movie, so Quaritch has to embody all evil, like the driving instructor in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky.
  15. Shot where real Sully is cradled by real Nav'i Neytiri is the best Cameron ur-mother moment since the sleeping Ripley faded into the curve of the Earth.
  16. How can Sully be awake as Sully during the day while at the same time being awake as an avatar during the day? I think you got the timing wrong. The detail bothered me only because you went into such detail about everything else.
  17. I'll probably go see it again.
  18. Hurry up and make Fantastic Voyage. More your thing.

Addendum: Saw it the second time, and it was better. I'd pre-booked to watch it at the BFI Imax 3-D and would have happily given up my ticket if I'd had someone to give it to, but I didn't, so I went. The projection quality was good when I first saw it but Imax projection made a remarkable difference. For a start, the 3-D composition was clearer, so shots became more dynamic and engaging, which did make parts of the story more exciting. (The slow bits were still slow, and the Pocahontas storyline was unaffected.) The Nav'i worked better as characters because rendered digital animations read better in 3-D than real actors filmed with the same 3-D system. I don't know the technical reasons for this but it seems logical when you think about it. Zoe Saldana's mo-cap performance as Neytiri and Sam Worthington still carry the film. The handheld sequences were hard to take in: without the slo-mo pauses in the Sully-being-chased-by-the-whatever sequence I would have been unable to track what was going on. And the aircraft looked solid in the Imax version: on a smaller screen they seemed greyed out and flat, more like drawings than real physical craft. Ships and craft were, according to this story, "built" (i.e. rendered) by a separate special effects shop, which probably has something to do with it.

Overall, the Imax 3-D experience was a revelation. It did improve the film. So now I'm wondering what happens in reverse: would the movie be proportionally less satisfying on a small TV screen? I suspect it would. This film needs a big screen and 3-D projection to work.

Story's story. Whether it's Breathless or Casino, a great film is a great film whether you see it on a big screen or a TV set. I don't think anyone would make the mistake of putting Avatar in the category of the former. But as a piece of entertainment it relies more on technology than its predecessors -- far more than Cameron's first Terminator movie, for instance. That's an interesting development.


Thank you notes #1: Chattering class

In the first of a series of Thank You Notes, a tip of the hat to the blogs I've enjoyed this year. They're all from NZ because I'm not there and you can't believe everything you read in the fucking H*rald. Really I should link to these in the sidebar but I'm not blogging, and you're not reading.
  • The Opinionated Diner. Simon Grigg's formula for happiness is a simple one: find difficult places to live and then complain about it. Simon lived in Auckland in the late 1970s which was one of the most arduous settings on the time/space continuum but topped this by moving to Bali and has lately settled in the easy going, getting-things-done climes of Bangkok. Next year he will travel back in time to Dresden in 1945 where he will reside in a cardboard mansion shaped like a bull's eye. When he is not complaining Simon writes about music a lot, and well.
  • Crime Watch. When crime fiction reviewer Craig Sisterston started this blog devoted to New Zealand crime writing I found myself wondering how long it would last, but the fact that he has already found so many local authors to write about suggests that the genre is a fundamental part of our literary stock. As such the blog is both nurturing and topical, and it brims with cross-media potential. The smart money would be on building the Crime Watch name and then branching it out into, say, an annual crime anthology. Just sayin.'
  • Isaac Likes. Gentle-faced Isaac Hinden Miller is a testimony to good parenting: well mannered, hard working and freshly laundered. He posts about fashion every day, moderates user comments and remains cheerfully informed. Isaaclikes.com is an entertaining blog whether you're interested in fashion or not. It's well-edited, basically, and he has a voice. I'd predict that he would move on "greater things" if there was a post in old New Zealand media that would accommodate his style but there isn't. In fashion, the web is the greater thing.
  • Quote Unquote. Editor Simon Stratford might be my friend, but then again he may not be. I cannot tell, and this is his strength. Simon is the George Smiley of New Zealand letters. If you are standing in the safe house lounge about to split infinitives with a Russian (or merely someone hasty) it will be Simon sitting in his socks in the kitchen with a piece of string tied to the door. When he is not monitoring members of the literary Circus Simon listens to terrible prog and classical music which he indexes according to time signature. He posts items that are often funny and sometimes critical and mocking of people who go on to like him regardless.
  • Beattie's Book Blog. NZ book industry figure Graham Beattie retired (or something) and took to blogging with all the unbridled enthusiasm of a member of A Previous Generation. He refers to himself in the third person as "The Bookman," conjuring images of a jaunty caped avenger, and posts several times a day. The result would be merely charming were it not so well-informed. Graham blogs everything in the field of letters, with a focus on New Zealand. He also doesn't limit the number of articles on display, so loading the site towards the end of the month can be challenging. It's better to view the RSS feed, which I do, often.
  • People Points. "Fun's fun but to hell wi' nonsense" is a favourite saying of Paul Reynolds' and also the mission statement for this blog which goes on about a lot of things I don't understand before swooping down to mention The Archers or building a house out of a glider and disappearing again. Paul once yelled at me that I was "thinking too fast for everybody" but I replied, nae sir, that would be yew. Or rather, I would have replied but he had already moved on to another subject. Paul is A Scotsman Thank You Verra Much, and my genealogy requires that I share his love of knowledge, complexity, structured jackets and telling people to fuck off. He's more professional than that, however, and his grasp of the web's potential as libraries evolve is the sort of forward-thinking that not enough people are thinking about.


Thank you notes #2: General consumption

  1. Marion Cotillard.
  2. James Ellroy, Blood's A Rover.
  3. Editions Christian Bourgois.
  4. Lady Gaga.
  5. Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words.
  6. Michael Mann, Public Enemies. (Based on the book by Bryan Burrough.)
  7. Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.
  8. Bob Woodward's, Plan of Attack, Bush At War and The War Within.
  9. Bradley Graham, By His Own Rules.
  10. David Bowie, Aladdin Sane.
  11. Alan Watts, The Way of Zen.
  12. Neu! 75
  13. Shunryu Suzuki, Not Always So. "When you do something, you should burn yourself completely like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."
  14. PBS podcast: Shields & Brooks.
  15. Garrison Keillor and The Writers Almanac.
  16. The Royal Academy of Arts for Kuniyoshi (21 March - 7 June 2009).
  17. John & China, Los Angeles, CA.
  18. David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and The Birth of Modern Warfare.
  19. The International Herald Tribune. Special Merit Dept: Nick Shortz.
  20. Jane for tickets to the lectures by Martin Scorsese and Nick Cave. I mean, wtf. Really. Jane. Rlly?
  21. Californication, season 2 on a very legal DVD from Shanghai. Thanks: HH.
  22. Martin Cruz Smith, Stalin's Ghost.
  23. David Howarth, A Brief History of British Sea Power.
  24. Wilshire Plaza Hotel, CA.
  25. La Fusée, Paris.
  26. Monty's, London.
  27. iTunes for "stocking" The Velvet Underground & Nico. (Phew.)
  28. Muji, for the notebooks.
  29. Lapsang souchong, Houjicha, Rioja.
  30. Werner Herzog, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.


The game isn't over until Karen O pours bottled water on her head

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Brixton Academy, Tuesday December 1, 2009

It tickles me that the Brixton touts reduced their calls for tickets to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to simply "the Yeah Yeahs." Three Yeahs is quintessentially American in its cheerleading ("Yeah Yeah Yeah!") whereas two is British and downbeat ("Yeah, yeah -- get over it"). The different readings were a sign. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are more New York and older than their new fans expect. As the grumpy young thing standing in front of me tapped out on her Blackberry: it's all twenties and thirties here I thought it would be the Skins generation. OMG. Whatevs.

Instead of texting my BFFs before the sparkly curtain went up I was listening to the pre-gig DJ set: Suicide's 'Cheree', Eno and Byrne's 'Very, Very Hungry' and after the gig The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette', a track that everybody respects but nobody really loves. (Grace Jones' version: whole different story.) Way to make it hard for yourself, guys.

'Warm Leatherette' sums up the band but not in the way they might think. In their early days the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were cool in the sense that anything that might not have been cool about them had been eliminated, like a pre-vandalised industrial bus stop. Even the band's name seemed calculated: an instruction as to the position the audience should take. I was never a fan before 'Maps' (which the Brits love like Coldplay's 'Yellow' - it's all very singalong) and the album It's Blitz, which is terrific. I haven't interrogated the CD notes but something changed with the new one. They wrote songs, basically, and whatever stopped Karen O smiling kept going. The melancholy was a welcome break and also got Nick Zinner off the hook. He's as cool as fuck but may I be the first to quietly suggest that his guitar playing is not as incredible as the pose. For how could it be? The guy may look like a cross between The Cramps and Liaisons Dangereuses but if he sounded even half that good the universe would have collapsed and exploded years before now.

Karen O was much as I expected: cheerleader and stylestress, a One Note But The Right Note singer, and you can't hang a girl for that. She smiles an awful lot, mainly for the cameras recording a live DVD that will look more spontaneous than it really was, and she holds up the mike all the time (the cheerleading thing again -- third time I've used the word but I'm working dude, I have no time to type this really). There were also Costumes. She swung the microphone like a club (she's not very co-ordinated) but never broke the pose until the last Pretend Ending where she tipped bottled water over her head, the deconstruction of the bowl cut signifying that it was our bedtime.

The big live surprise was Brian Chase who turned out to be as loud and sharp and modern a drummer as Battles' John Stanier. But whereas Stanier looks like he's headed for cardiac arrest Chase flicked off 75 minutes of punchy rock drumming sweatlessly, just like that: he was unbelievably good. For most of the concert what we were really listening to was Brian's kick drum and Karen squawking like a duck while Nick chugged away not unacceptably. I thought they were nice kids except they are pretty old now, and most of the set consisted of It's Blitz. 'Maps' still tears me up. 'Zero's' a ten.