Here we are again, my lovelies. Three months of linky goodness from Cut Command, beaming out from our transmission tower high on a hill overlooking the biggest town in the UK. We are proud to provide you, therefore, with the finest in Reading material.
Look, come on, four months of lockdown will do a number on anyone’s head. Let’s crack on, shall we? Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.
Well, slap our withers and call us rosy, there goes another week! Time she doth fly, up into the rafters like a deranged pigeon to root around in the loft and make an ungodly mess. Much, indeed, like this ish of The Cut, which it has, we’ll be honest, been a bit of a scramble to pull together for deadline what with work and lives and whatever this fresh hell that is supposed to be normal is doing to us. WE HOPE YOU’RE GRATEFUL. Anyhoo. Let’s have a look at what the time-pigeon has dislodged, shall we? Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.
Let us consider Judge Dredd. It’s long been recognised that Mega-City One’s most ferocious lawman serves as parody and satire in equal measure to the thrills, chases and gunfights which may have drawn us in as excitable, sci-fi obsessed nine-year-olds. We offer for your approval two articles looking into this side of the man in the hat and his screwy world, both of which offer some fascinating insight. Also, who knew there was a new animated Dredd web-series out there? You do now!
Keeping it comics, we wanted to highlight a delightful set of short films that came out a few years back, giving us the closest look yet at what a Calvin And Hobbes live-action production might look like. As creator Bill Watterson has no interest in merchandising or expanding the reach of the strip beyond what already exists (and who can blame him, as how do you improve upon perfection?) it’s nice to see this glimpse at another viewpoint on the boy and his tiger. These are really, really good.
You may be unfamiliar with Arnold Lobel’s Frog And Toad books. They are a heady mix of the aesthetics of The Wind In The Willows, the mood and atmosphere of The Moomins and the melancholy romanticism of E. M. Forster. Slate takes a good hard look at the stories and Lobel’s life to reveal stories that are very much more than the sum of their parts.
We stay in a literary frame of mind by sharing this excellent Open Culture list of free short stories. It’s a really good primer for the precision and detail needed to pull off a great piece of short fiction, featuring some of the best writers around. Whatever your tastes, you will find something to love here. And should you feel the urge to have a dabble yourself, we offer some tips from Mister Sandman himself, Neil Gaiman, who provided some powerful knowledge-bombs in his recent Masterclass series. Solid gold awaits the brave traveller.
It has often been thought that the deranged visions of Heironymous Bosch were brought on by the artist eating bread made with wheat tainted with a hallucinogenic fungus. But there is another contender for his singular vision of hell. Darnel is a grain that looks almost exactly like wheat and grows alongside it. In large doses, it’s fatal. In small amounts it messes with human vision and speech, acting as an intoxicant. Darnel is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and it seems the effects were recorded in documents from the Ancient Greeks. The symbiotic relationship between the grain and our bread- and beer-making urges has existed for a very long time.
If you want a drink in New York, you have to have something to eat as well. That rule, imposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, has made the life of the poor schlubs running bars in The Big Apple that bit harder. To get round the new rules, dollar menu items are appearing that owe more than a nod to the infamous pre-Prohibition bar-snack , the Raines Sandwich. Vice has more to digest on this…
Our long read this week is from writer Jonathon Maselik, and digs deeply into the drinking culture of Northern Pennsylvania. Bar culture across the pond has always felt odd and a little uncomfortable to us. The tipping etiquette and expectations is a potential minefield. We found this piece moving and worried that in some places it struck a little too closely to home, despite the cultural differences…
Talking about writing that speaks very clearly to us, this short missive from artist and zinester Austin Kleon says a lot about introversion and the quest for healing silence. It’s difficult to filter out the noise, even in lockdown. But for those of us who crave the quiet life, it’s desperately important to find that still point in the day.
And finally. We were saddened to hear of the passing this week of Tim Smith. His band, Cardiacs, were a singular mix of psychedelia, punk and prog who committed completely to his vision on how they presented themselves. As worker drones of the Alphabet Business Concern, Cardiacs had a dress code and musical direction that were strictly adhered to. Think a skewed English version of early Arcade Fire with more pancake makeup and gurning. That’s not right, but it’ll at least set you on the road. Tim was hit with a rare neurological illness that blighted the last ten years of his life—a tragic loss to English music. Who knows what twisted magnificence he could have wrought if he’d been at full strength in these strange times?
We return—refreshed, rejuvenated, revived. Four nights in a field communing with nature, falling asleep to the sound of sheep (incidentally, why does sheepish describe a hesitant vocal delivery? The fleecy beasts sharing our space were proper vocal). Also, we have had actual haircuts and drunk actual pints of actual beer in actual pubs. Does this mean things are back to normal? Fukc no, don’t be silly. But for once, just for a fleeting moment, we dare to hope for a better world. With that in mind, let’s begin. Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.
The Onion has always been an exemplar of how to do online satire. Formally rigorous, delightfully sweary and always full of surprises. Many have copied them. Few have succeeded (I’d tag the UK’s own Daily Mash as a good example of the form). The venture had moved to New York a couple of months before 9/11. Their first issue on new turf would deal directly with one of the most shocking events of modern times. How they dealt with it and came up with a true classic of comedy writing is detailed below. A great piece of oral history .
Corrie Corfield’s pics of BBC TV Centre before it closed in 2012 are a lovely ramble around a building that for many is deeply symbolic of British broadcasting history. Much of what we as a nation saw and listened to as part of our daily lives was made in this idiosyncratic question-mark shaped building in West London. I defy you not to get chills or at least a warm glow from some of these photos.
Gavin Rothery is the special effects wizard who gave Duncan Jones’ Moon much of its old-school visual flair. His first feature as writer/director, Archive, is out today and I urge you to give it a look, particularly if you’re a fan of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. However, we’re drawn by a piece Gavin wrote back in 2011, in which he posits a theory about Blade Runner we’d genuinely never come across before. A fine example of his lovingly detailed approach to SF. We approve strongly.
Our second deep-dive oral history of the week looks at the very long day’s work that resulted in USA For Africa’s We Are The World. An extraordinary roster of talent rolled into an LA recording studio in circumstances never before experienced. Remarkably egos were, as per the iconic sign, largely checked at the door. Hindsight leads us to questions as to how the money was spent, and we can mostly agree the song itself was not the greatest. It’s the making of the record that makes the story interesting.
I grew up reading stories of our neighboring planets, imagining the wonders we would find there. Huge canal structures on Mars. Rainforests on Venus. The writing of authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury coloured my dreams in swathes of red and green. Sadly, we now know better. Mars is a desert, Venus scoured by boiling storms of methane. But there is still a school of thought that, given the money and will, we could make Venus habitable. Check out this joyful article from Nautilus, and dream with me a little.
Let us consider the megastructure. For most of us, the primary example of the form is The Death Star. But SF is ripe with giant artificial constructs, bigger than planets, frequently built by unseen and long-vanished alien civilisations for reasons unknown. Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels are stuffed with the things. The trouble with megastructures is the way they tend to swamp the narrative with their vast unknowability. From Larry Niven’s Ringworld to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s recent novella Walking To Aldebaran, the setting has a way of swamping the story. Nevertheless, I loves me a megastructure. Tor’s overview gives us a few notes on the form.
Who doesn’t like a big bang? We certainly do. Daily Grindhouse details some of the best explosions in movies. Plenty of great moments in here. We’d also tag the demolition of The Kremlin in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Actually, the fish tank pop in the first M:I film is top notch. Oh, and the Nostromo cooking off at the end of Alien. What are your faves, Readership?
We have been following and enjoying the work of Dan Harmon since his time as show-runner of Community (if you have not seen it, we recommend you redress that hole in your cultural knowledge base as soon as possible. Trust us, worth your time. Currently on Netflix. Harmon developed a concept he called The Story Circle as a way to easily hothouse script ideas. It’s a fiendishly clever way to navigate around the structural needs of a script which also addresses the essentially looping manner of sitcoms—ending up back where you started Having Learnt Something. The Story Circle has become so integral a part of Harmon’s hit animation Rick And Morty that it was featured as a plot device in a season three episode. Harmon explains more…
And finally. Two brilliantly crafted profiles from Vulture on a pair of our strongest, bravest and most talented British Black artists—Michaela Coel and Thandie Newton. Both have fought long and hard to get not just heard, but respected with regards to their particular talents. Both have faced obstacles which would have broken lesser mortals. Neither have allowed these obstacles to stop them. We at The Cut love them both, and we hope you do too.
Our Exit Music comes from the challenging and idiosyncratic John Martyn. He was a man who carried many demons with him and was not afraid to let them out to play, as a recent biography unflinchingly details. However, he was also an extraordinary musical innovator. We offer for your approval a live version of ‘Outside In’ from 1978, which highlights his use of effects, creating sounds and textures that remain influential to this day. Many artists, from The Edge to Ed Sheeran, owe a debt to John Martyn.
And that’s us. A slightly less structured, more ad-hoc slumgullion of linkery this go-round. We still have the song of the sheep ringing in our ears, and have we mentioned how great our hair looks now? Anyhoo. Stay lovely, Readership. See you in seven.
We’ve had better weeks. Reading, our home town, was subject to an event now described as terrorist action. Three people died as a result. We are horrified, but not terrorised. We stand with all our friends and neighbours in this oddball place we call home, and look forward to seeing everyone in Forbury Gardens very, very soon.
Another week down. The shops reopened, but frankly we’re happy behind the walls of our compound, letting all the goodies we need come to us. Queueing, we have decided, is not our bag. We may never shop in the old-fashioned way again. Anyway. Let’s do this. Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.
Right then. Another week, another appalling clusterfukc of decade-defining events crashing into each other like horny bulls in the crockery department of a soon-to-be-shuttered Debenhams. So much noise. So much mess.
You know what state the news is in. Let’s kick back, crack open the first of several bottles and slide into a different state of mind. Here is the place, now is the time. This is The Cut.
Let’s start with a basic, inalienable truth—I am no gardener. For proof, look no further than the green spaces over which TLC and I have control. The main bulk of our long, slender garden is in my wife’s tender care. It is a lush, endlessly variant display, embracing accident and the joyful understanding of plants being plants and growing where they will. There is a sense of order, but also spontaneity.
About two-thirds down, we reach the area I call Copse End in my rare charitable moments, but more often Hell’s Half Acre. The end of our garden is backed onto by a stand of trees bordering the local school. Home to all sorts of wildlife, but also brambles, ivy, nettles and bindweed. To keep it under control requires tenacity and the understanding that plants are plants and once a week down there just ain’t gonna cut it.
Readership, Hell’s Half Acre is my responsibility. It is and has always been an abject failure. To be honest, that end of the garden has been a struggle from day one. When we bought the house it was home to a bunch of concrete raised beds, a slumping shed and a skeletal greenhouse. I tried growing veg down there for a while, but the work needed to keep things shipshape proved to be beyond my limited talents and incredibly limited patience. I love gardens. I find gardening to be dull, hard work with no lasting sense of gratification. If I paint a wall, I know I won’t need to do it again for several years. If I do some weeding, I’ll have to do it again next week. Ugh.
The thing is, Copse End is the sunny bit of the garden. In summer you can bask in sunshine down there until 8 in the evening. It seems like a waste to let it devolve into chaos. So we pulled out all the beds, laid lawn, put up a summerhouse. It was lovely down there for a while. But Copse End does not wish to be tamed. At least, not by someone with my limited sense of purpose.
We have now decided to ‘rewild’ Copse End to an extent, embracing the wildlife and making it something of a meadow garden. We planted apple trees, let the grass grow. It still looks like shit, don’t get me wrong. But for now, at least, we’re a bit more relaxed about it. Who knows, if the finances allow we may have to go full suburbanite and get a gardener in to keep things at a low rumble. Gods know, I’ve had enough.
We’ve therefore staged a tactical retreat. The veg growing operation has moved to the top end of the garden. Potatoes in bags. A veg trug for beetroot, carrots and garlic. Pots of chili and cucumbers. A big herb planter keeping us well supplied in mint and parsley. We even snagged some tomato plants from a neighbour. Having this activity close to the house erases the excuse that it’s too hard to get out and do a little watering, or keep an eye on how things are growing. Everything is two steps from the front door. Much easier. I’m actually starting to feel more in control.
Sensing my increased confidence, TLC set me an honest-to-god gardening project. I retasked an old pallet into an upright planter. Honestly, a very simple job. Take your pallet, paint it (we had fashionable black, but use what you like) and flip it on edge so what would be the bottom is facing out with the slats horizontal.
Get hold of some weed-suppressant membrane, and measure to four times the height of each trough. Double it over, and staple firmly to create the base into which your plants will go. This may take longer than expected if your stapler, like mine, won’t fit into the gap properly.
Then the fun and easy bit. Pick your plants, add a layer of dirt to the bottom of each trough, fill as you see fit and add more compost to cover the gaps. See? So easy even a fucknuckled dolt like me can do it!
Meanwhile, we’ve also been adding green to the inside of the house. TLC has garnered an interest in house plants. When she gets a notion in motion, I find it’s best to step back and let it happen. Subsequently, a procession of plant deliveries has rolled through the front door. And you know what, I’m enjoying the new additions to the family a lot. TLC’s eye is always excellent, and she knows I like succulents and cacti. So we have some of each. Cheeky little lads and lasses, with distinct personalities. She declared the Chinese Money Plant was called Polly (something to do with the plant’s taxonomic name) while I christened the trio of pals on the front room table Snake-locks, Catlick and Spiny Joe.
I may have been on furlough too long.
However, there really is something about a house plant. They seem to generate an aura of calm and peace. It’s difficult to be angry around an aloe. Much apart from the benefit of oxygenating plants in the house, they do make us both smile. They ask very little, and give a great deal. Millie the cat could learn something from them.
And yes, we do talk to the plants. I mean it would be impolite not to wish them good morning, right? No harm in a little gentle conversation.
Let’s return to the simple truth with which we began. I am no gardener. I still feel like a dunce before TLC’s knowledge, vision and enthusiasm. I seem to spend a lot of my time in mortal combat with stinging bastards that want to do me harm. But it’s exercise and fresh air and I can always reward myself with a beer at the end of a day’s hard slog down Copse End.
It’s Friday, and the world is changing faster than we can keep up. Thank goodness The Cut is here to help you through the confusion, right?
(There is a distinct possibility increased confusion may result from reading this despatch. We refer you to the terms and conditions in the sidebar.)
Let’s begin by addressing the obvious main story of the week. I could fill the whole issue with links and stories relating to the murder of George Floyd and the fury it sparked. The thing is, we here at The Cut are working from a position where lack of knowledge stands in the way of being able to comment constructively. Instead, we intend to quietly learn more, leaving space open for other more appropriate voices to be heard. There are many resources out there if you want to educate yourself. We found this freely-distributed Google Doc to be of use.
That being said, we feel with our food remit we can at least bring more light onto the ongoing danger to a major BAME community resource in the UK. Nour Cash And Carry has served the people of Brixton for twenty years, occupying a prime spot that allows customers in from both Market Row and Electric Avenue. The market’s landlord, property developer and EDM artist (yes, really) Taylor McWilliams, claims the site is needed for a new electricity sub-station and intends to close it, despite input from the power company that other sites are available. To the community who depend on Nour, this seems like just another example of outside money muscling in where it’s not wanted. More on the story from Brixton Blog—
Moving on. Art crit site Exmilitary have dropped a set of four free-to-stream films on the theme of the Eastern European Apocalypse. If, like us, you have a penchant for slow, surreal Soviet-bloc SF, you’re in for a treat. The star of the group is obviously Tarkovsky’s Stalker, but we’d also tag Żuławski’s On The Silver Globe. Dense, chewy and very good for you.
This article from Film School Rejects on the colour palette of director Michael Mann is full of fascinating detail on how he achieved his signature look. We have particular interest in the art of colour grading for film and this ticked a lot of our boxes very hard indeed.
Small town America seems to be the place where surreal crime and dark secrets are hiding around every corner on Main Street. Seems to us the following list would be of use if you’re ever going to get the chance to do that iconic road trip—just so you know which places are really not safe to pull in for a refreshment break…
We finish this section with a tale of experimentation in the furthest realms of the human experience, a particular kind of toad and an actor with a very niche side-hustle. The headline is a work of journalistic art all by itself.
Time to raise the tone. Here’s the literary portion of our program. A genuinely fascinating look at how The Situation is affecting upcoming book releases, from plot ideas to the simple facts of a changed social landscape. Popular thinking currently believes dystopian fiction is on its way out, as we’re living a slow-motion collapse on a daily basis. We at The Cut are reading more SF than ever, reveling in the notion of characters not having to social distance or chatting in a space tavern over a foaming pint of Arcturus ale. Of course, as ever, we’re living in William Gibson’s world.
We were talking last week about vertically-scrolling web comics. There are many good ones out there, but we particularly recommend My Giant Nerd Boyfriend. Written and drawn in a pleasingly loose Kate Beaton-esque style by a tiny Malaysian cartoonist who calls herself Fishball, it’s a slice-of-life journal finding humour in the life she shares with The Giant Nerd Boyfriend of the title. It’s funny, touching, occasional moving but eminently scrollable. We think once you start you won’t be able to stop.
And finally. This fun cartoony overview of the economics and marketing of yer actual high-seas piracy gets the balance of humour to information smack on, and therefore makes you feel like you’re learning while laughing. Do check them both. You’ll feel smarter for it.
Oh, finally finally. A new WROB show went up yesterday, in which host Rob talks about his life as an introvert while providing a themed soundtrack. He put a lot of heart in on this one, Readership. Tilt the guy an ear.
The Exit Music this week comes courtesy of The Raconteurs. This hour doco of a day spent at the legendary Electric Lady studios has lots of fun moments, as the band work up a cover of Blank Generation before a short gig in the evening. Hosted by that most rock and roll of film directors Jim Jarmusch, it’s a fun insight into the process of covering an iconic record. If you’d rather cut straight to the live stuff, skip to 20 minutes in.
That’s all from us this week. Stay safe, keep your head straight and, to quote Jim J from the music link above, don’t let the fuckers get ya.
Here is your weekly reminder that it is Friday, just in case you’re losing track of time. Gods know, I am. But hey, good news! Friday means it’s time for another issue of your favourite* interwub digest—The Cut!
Breakfast—the most difficult meal of the day. If, like me and my foodie hero Nigel Slater, you find the prospect of a drippy fried egg or a moist omelette a source of nausea, then breakfast can be tricky. How do you like your eggs in the morning? As far away as possible, please.