The Cut – Issue 13

Thirteen weeks of this foolishness! The smart move would be to bail while there’s a scrap of dignity left to wrap around our scrawny thews. But no, that is not how we operate, as well you know. Therefore, o our Readership, the luck is all good for you. Enjoy this week’s slumgullion of linky loveliness.

Come on, we’re all friends now. Say it with me.

Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.


Continue reading The Cut – Issue 13

The Cut – Issue 10

As a way to do something with our incessant lockdown-centric web browsing, it’s good to see The Cut is still providing positive and continuing creative energy. Issue 10! A whole two and a half months! We could have written a book by now! Oh well. As displacement activity goes, there are worse ways to spend our time. How this all fares when we’re dragged back to the day job is anyone’s guess. Still, here we are.

Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.


We begin with another gem from the extensive Brain Pickings archive. As Maria Popova points out, one way for women in the Victorian age to sneak sideways into the realms of science was through art. Beatrix Potter’s observational skills and analytical eye over the details of the Northumbrian landscape led to admiration from many of her peers, regardless of the whole Jemima Puddleduck side-gig. Poet Emily Dickinson also had a keen eye and an urge to catalouge the natural world. Her herbarium is a beautiful and instructional object which, as Maria points out, reflects her sensual art as well. Let’s check it out…

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/05/23/emily-dickinson-herbarium/?mc_cid=0cfa0370f7&mc_eid=ffbb244260

Fanfic has, to put it mildly, a poor reputation in the literary realm. At best, it’s porn or plagiarism. At worst, illiterate trash.

Well, that’s the story. The truth is wildly different. Fanfic writers are passionate about the characters and worlds they write about, and the communities based around them are massively supportive of the best of the work. When writers take established continuity and go wild with it, the end result can be much more fun than the canon. There is some amazing fanfic out there. Lest we forget, writers like Neil Gaiman, S. E. Hinton and the godsdamn Brontë Sisters have all dabbled in the field (yes, ok, and E.L. James). This Input piece on how fanficcers have rewritten and erased a particularly heinous trope in TV writing is an inspiration all by itself.

https://www.inputmag.com/culture/tv-lesbians-fix-it-fiction-fanfic

Get your notebooks out. We howled over this AskReddit thread on the best literary and TV insults. All your faves will be in here, but we guarantee you’ll find some new shots of absolute gold. You’ll be memeing for days off the back of this one.

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/hofgi1/what_is_your_favourite_insult_from_a_book_or_show

Matthew Holness is one of our great dark iconoclasts. From comedy writer and performer to creator of the truly brilliant Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (launchpad, lest we forget, not just of Holness but Richard Ayoade, Alice Lowe and Mmmmmmatt Berry) to author and director of work that has flirted, then snogged, then gone balls deep into horror. Haunted Generation has a long conversation with Holness, touching on subjects as diverse as Peter Cushing, Kent noir and just how long is appropriate to find a major location before filming.

(Disclosure: our Rob has a credit on Matt’s most recent feature, Possum, and is proud to claim he was the first person to ever see That Bloody Spider Thing on film).

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/07/11/matthew-holness-possum-the-snipist-and-garth-marenghi/

As it seems mask wearing is a part of all our futures, we may as well make the most of it. Japanese tech is, as ever, at the forefront of how we relate to people outside our immediate bubbles in the future. Introducing a Bluetooth-connected mask that can display speech-to-text and probably emojis in version 2 of the software release. The possibilities are limitless—well, ok, maybe not but we think there’s a lot of fun to be had here, particularly in communicating one’s disdain at the mal-informed offcuts amongst us that believe the act of wearing a mask is giving them 5G and sending the government DNA samples.

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-japan-mask-technol/japanese-startup-creates-connected-face-mask-for-coronavirus-new-normal-idUKKBN23X190

We love The Expanse. Seriously. Best SF on the telly box at the moment. Twisty plots, brilliant SFX and characters to stan forever. Although we remain Team Drummer, we completely understand the love for Amos, the Roci’s bulldog. His deadpan delivery and ever-present simmering edge of violence makes him magnetic on screen. If we were writing fanfic, it would be about this guy (or maybe Amos and Drummer hooking up. Damn, that would be hot). The Ringer tells us more…

https://www.theringer.com/tv/2020/1/14/21064995/amos-the-expanse-amazon-prime-season-4

A couple of announcements from our friends and X&HTeam-mates. First up, our close pal Dom Wade has taken part in an interview on Cambridge Radio’s Behind The Bike Shed show to promote his doco Steel Is Real (But Carbon Is Quicker). A great intro to the film and the British cycling scene he documents so well.

https://cambridge105.co.uk/shows/behind-the-bike-shed/

Our Rob intermittently podcasts as one half of the Of Dice And Robs show on KaijuFM. It’s a show of chance, coincidence and conversation in which he and co-host Rob Maythorne use dice to choose the topics for discussion. It’s loose-limbed, easy-going and a bit nerdy, but the Robs bounce ideas off each other with an amiable charm. Worth a go? We think so.

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/satan/id1456748415?i=1000484191981


This week’s Exit Music… well, there’s new Bob Mould in the world. And he’s pissed off. Which, when it comes to Bob Mould, is good news. The angrier he is, the better the music. Therefore, Forecast Of Rain (along with American Crisis, the first track from the forthcoming album (Blue Hearts, out on September 25th) which led one observer to note ‘I haven’t heard him scream this much since Zen Arcade’) is the glorious racket of a thunderhead looming. Fast and heavy, and ready to flood us all. It’s great to have him back and raging.


And that’s us. Ten weeks and counting. If you’ve been with us since the start, thank you. If you’ve joined us on the road, welcome. We plan to go coast to coast on this, then deploy the amphibious pack and hit the ocean like Roger Moore and his Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me.

The road goes on forever. Strap in. See you in seven.

The Cut – Issue 9

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 .

https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/onion-911-issue-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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/corrie_corfield/albums/72157629853283466/

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.

http://www.gavinrothery.com/my-blog/2011/10/1/a-matter-of-electric-sheep.html

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.

https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/a32868751/we-are-the-world-history-interview/

Our Space Opera Correspondent writes:

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.

http://nautil.us/issue/43/heroes/the-romantic-venus-we-never-knew

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.

https://www.tor.com/2020/07/03/a-brief-history-of-the-megastructure-in-science-fiction/

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?

http://dailygrindhouse.com/thewire/the-big-question-whats-your-favorite-explosion-in-a-movie/

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.

https://www.vulture.com/article/thandie-newton-in-conversation.html

https://www.vulture.com/article/michaela-coel-i-may-destroy-you.html


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.

The Cut – Issue 7

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.

Continue reading The Cut – Issue 7

The Cut – Issue 6

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.

Continue reading The Cut – Issue 6

The Cut – Issue 5

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.

Continue reading The Cut – Issue 5

The Cut – Issue 4

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.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1S5uckFHCA_XZkxG0Zg5U4GQGbY_RklZARwu43fqJH0E/preview?pru=AAABcqNT32M*ty1FrOEag4XCdeshq8klsg#

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—

https://brixtonblog.com/2020/06/nour-pressure-mounts-on-landlord/

We’ll close out this opening section with a nod to artist and thinker Austin Klein, who provides a handy road map for us in the days ahead…

https://austinkleon.com/2020/05/27/work-and-learn-in-evil-days/


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.

http://exmilitai.re/film

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.

https://filmschoolrejects.com/michael-mann-cool-colors/


We like to give you at least one story with the capacity to hinge your jaw wide open. This week, a tale of a commercial transaction gone ‘orribly wrong. Read to the end.

https://news.sky.com/story/pair-hired-for-mans-broom-sexual-fantasy-turn-up-in-bedroom-at-wrong-address-with-machetes-11996365

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…

https://www.cracked.com/article_25953_5-dark-secrets-americas-small-towns-dont-want-you-to-know.html

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.

https://news.avclub.com/spanish-penis-candle-mogul-accused-of-causing-death-by-1843896758


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.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/01/no-pubs-no-kissing-no-flying-how-covid-19-is-forcing-authors-to-change-their-novels

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.

https://www.webtoons.com/en/slice-of-life/my-giant-nerd-boyfriend/list?title_no=958


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.

https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2020/06/02/how-to-be-a-pirate-quartermaster-and-captain-edition-video/


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.

https://wrobradio.org/2020/06/04/the-introvert-special/


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.

The Cut — Issue 1

I’m in the process of figuring out a few things about this site and what I do with it. There are a lot of clever people out there who see the humble blog making something of a comeback. I guess that’s something of a kickback against social media platforms and their restrictions. On a blog you can say what you want, how you want.

I’ve been going back through the archives of the site (and there are a lot of them—I’ve been on WordPress since 2005, and Blogger for a few years before that). It’s interesting to see how X&HT started as a ‘web log’ in the truest sense of the word. That is, a way of sharing what you’d been up to on the web. To a point, early X&HT looked a lot like my Twitter stream—links, snarks and short-form thoughts.

I think there’s some benefit to that format. Once a week, therefore, I’m going to try and post out some of the things I’ve found of interest in my travels through the aetherscape. I hope you find it of benefit. Call it a kind of cuttings collection.

In fact, let’s just call it The Cut.

Continue reading The Cut — Issue 1

Thoughts Following A Thursday Night Screening Of Alien: Covenant

Same deal as earlier this week, as I find myself on a bit of an uptick in trips to the cinema. Unstructured grumbling, spoilers abound. Let’s do this.

  1. Rumour control: here are the facts. I have been a big fan of the Alien franchise since the late seventies. Slightly too young to watch Ridley Scott’s iconic movie on the big screen, I nevertheless soaked up the production designs of Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and HR Giger, and still own battered copies of The Book Of Alien and Walt Simonson’s astonishing graphic novel adaptation. I saw Aliens in its first week of release at the Odeon Marble Arch back when that was one big screen showing films in 70mm. I’ve been around these movies, this universe, for quite a while. I have skin in the game.
  2. Prometheus, Scott’s attempt to fill in the backstory of the mythos, satisfied no-one. It didn’t help that he was trying to make an Alien film without, yannow, Aliens. Bloated, pretentious, self-indulgent and bewildering, it left me angry and more upset than I’d like to admit. I’ve laughed long and hard at the Star Wars man-babies complaining about how George Lucas consistently trampled over their treasured childhood memories. Now, here comes Ridley, stomping his expensively-shod size tens all over a world I love dearly. Gotta admit, there were man-baby tears from me after Prometheus.
  3. Which brings us to his attempt to re-bootstrap the legacy, taking on board the wails of us man-babies and making something more tailored to our tastes. Alien: Covenant is supposed to be the story the fans want to see. And, well, honestly? He’s gone too far the other way. Covenant is fan-service.
  4. Consider: he re-uses the classic ‘fade-in typography’ of the first movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s classic theme is larded all over the place. We see elements of Ron Cobb’s innovative Semiotic Standard designs in alert screens. There’s even a big, loving close-up of the dipping bird toy briefly glimpsed on the bridge of the Nostromo. ‘Here,’ says Ridley. ‘This is what you want, right? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?’
  5. And actually, I was for the most part. There’s plenty of money up on screen, and John Logan’s script is pretty solid. I have issues with the attempt to make every female lead in an Alien movie into Aliens-era Ripley (sorry, I simply don’t buy the notion of gentle Katherine Waterston with a gun). Similarly, the inference that Billy Crudup’s captain is weak and ineffectual because of his faith is problematic, and the source of way too many weak religious puns.
  6. Of course, even through the Alien fan-service, Covenant is a movie that wants to deal with Big Themes. Creation. Life. Meeting your maker. It’s become increasingly clear that Scott’s heart is not in making more Alien films. He wants to make a statement, an epic SF take on Milton’s Paradise Lost (which was of course a working title for this movie). Unfortunately, the only way Fox will give him the dough to make it is if he throws a few chest-bursters into the mix.
  7. Which is a shame, because the Alien stuff is the least interesting thing about Covenant. The film really comes to life when the Luciferesque figure of David finally appears, messianic in long hair and robe. He’s literally playing God (or at the very least Dr. Moreau), and not that bothered about creating in his own image. His playful taunting of the Covenant’s resident synthetic Walter are real highlights (and the seductive scene where Michael Fassbender teaches Michael Fassbender how to play the flute is a technical triumph–’I’ll do the fingering’ indeed). These gave me a sense of the film that Scott actually wants to make–a darkly gothic take on creation mythology. Not an easy sell, though.
  8. Largely, then, Alien: Covenant is a mishmash, a slumgullion, a cut-and-shut that, while it has a lot to recommend (it’s a huge improvement on Prometheus) is still frankly a bit of a mess. It’s a big statement on epic themes that has a skewed monster movie wrapped around it. I’m still chewing over whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I think I did. Even though I know when I’m being pandered to.
  9. That being said, I do want to know what David gets up to next. Scott finally has an anti-hero as delightfully amoral as Hannibal Lector. I still dig his take on everyone’s favourite cannibal, and David is cut from the same cloth. The ending of Covenant finally sets up a dark new path for the franchise–one that, despite all my man-baby tears, I’d be happy to tread.