Scare Tactics

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist appears to be stoking one hell (sorry) of a row. It was the subject of controversy at it’s Cannes screening, and now has a reputation to defend as a hardcore slice of nastiness.

If Von Trier was hoping for the sort of press that helped Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible to acclaim, he’ll be disappointed. The critical response to his psychological horror about the descent into madness of a couple following the death of their child has been at best muted, at worst out and out hostile.

Masochistic readers of the Daily Mail film column were treated to a frankly surreal tirade from Christoper Hart in which he reviewed the film without actually having seen it. Fair point, I suppose. I don’t read the Daily Mail, but that doesn’t stop me from ripping the piss out of it. 

A common reaction to Antichrist, and one which I’m seeing used more often from critics that clearly have no better commentary, is to call this kind of horror “boring”. Not the words that look good on a poster.

However, now self appointed media watchdog Mediawatch and Tory backbencher Julian Brazier have waded in, calling for the abolition of the BBFC. Their argument:

“Films of this sort, with such extreme content, should not be classified for public exhibition anywhere. The BBFC should have declined classification and rejected this film.”

“When people are being entertained by mutilation, that is beyond the pale.”

Better yet, Mr. Brazier has said:

“From the accounts I have heard of Antichrist, this does seem to be one more example of how the BBFC has given up on trying to regulate material which the majority of the public feel is offensive.”

Pretty typical cant from a loudmouth who hasn’t seen the piece in question, but fancies a few column inches.

But actually, as the clever chaps at MediaWatchWatch point out, advice rather than regulation is a good thing. The BBFC have been guilty of some downright bizarre spates of nannying over the years (take the debacle over cuts to The Sasha Baron-Cohen homomentary Brüno which has led to two different versions of the film being available at the cinema) but in general they seem to be showing a bit more restraint than one would fear. An advisory role would seem to make sense for a body that is, after all, the British Board of Film Classification, not censorship.

The reaction to all this that most closely mirrors my own comes, appropriately enough, from a fellow film-maker. Michael Booth of Pleased Sheep Film heaps approbation on both Brazier and John Beyer of Mediawatch, calling, in a priceless display of righteous fury, for the abolition of Mediawatch. I recommend the whole post on his forum, but couldn’t resist this quote:

I propose we ban Mediawatch and censor their ridiculous outbursts as one day someone may read one of their quotes and is patronized to the point of a machete/gun spree killing. Trust me on this, as there’s just as much foundation to this as any of Mediawatch’s petitions, protests or claims. Lives could possibly be lost or corrupted by Mediawatch’s very existence. When I read the quotes by John Beyer, I myself a mild mannered person punched a cushion in anger. I hate to think what would have happened if another person had been in the room – or I was a more violent man. It could quite easily have been someone’s smiling face, a child or a pensioner. It could have been catastrophic.

I also propose we seek out and remove politicians that try to exploit the subject of fictionalized violence instead of tackling the real crime that happens on our streets. And in some cases using fiction as a scapegoat for real crime. And all to win many misguided votes to keep them in a very large wage courtesy of you and I the taxpayer – who will have our right to decide for ourselves removed.

I’m siding with him. I, like Mike, believe that if you are expected to act like an adult then you should also be expected to be treated like an adult. Adult films are exactly that, made for an audience that should be able to make up their own minds about what is distasteful.

Let’s not forget too that Mediawatch are vocal but pretty much powerless. They have as much chance of getting Antichrist taken off the screens as I do. By their own logic, if they can’t fulfill their duty, then they should be dissolved. Michael’s right to be angry, but I don’t think he has anything to worry about.

It’s interesting to note the intersection between this film and bête noire of this site, section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Let’s remind ourselves of what constitutes an offence under this law, shall we?

(7) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—

(a) an act which threatens a person’s life,

(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,

(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or

(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive).


I hope I’m not spoiling your enjoyment of the film, or indeed your dinner, if I mention that Antichrist is chockful of subsection (b). Which would make the film illegal, were it not for it’s 18 certificate, quite literally a get out of jail free card. Proof, once again after the dropping of a test case attempting to apply the Obscene Publications Act to writing hosted purely on the internet, that legislation attempting to foist value judgements onto a legal framework seems to be unworkable.

Let’s not get too complacent, though. This little storm in a teacup took place in the week when the first trial attempting to convict under the Act is taking place in Belfast. Publicity there is pretty much absent.

Which, I guess this is really all about. Reports of the furore Antichrist created at Cannes have been somewhat exaggerated, as Michael pointed out. Four people walked out of the screening. Four. That’s hardly a damning indictment. Combined with the poor reviews, the noise is all starting to feel like a tactic to gather some heat under a director whose reputation has been tepid for a while.

It also shows is how in this country our relationship to censorship and freedom of speech could not be more conflicted if they dressed up in armour and whacked each other around the helms with axes. The only winner in this battle would appear to be Lars Von Trier.

Why It’s OK to have Nazi MEPs

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(Pic by hughsmuse, via the #fathitler topic foaming away on Twitter).

1.
We have an actual, honest-to-god unreconstructed bogeyman in mainstream politics now. A real, proper, out-and-out hate figure. Someone we can really get behind as a nation and thoroughly despise. This is a VERY GOOD THING.

2.
Hate figures make the best funny. In under twelve hours, the #fathitler thread on Twitter has gone ballistic. It’s A VERY GOOD THING. Check it out.

3.
Wake up calls are never pleasant, but they are necessary. When was the last time you were pleased to hear your alarm clock go off? A good, hard shock to the system about the state of the country’s political landscape is just what’s needed right now. The sooner that people realise that voting a villainous fucktard into power as a protest vote is tantamount to pissing on your chips because the fish was a bit overdone, the better. A stupid, pointless and wasteful gesture.

4.
We now get a chance to take photos of ourselves looking grim, noble and defiant, and post them to a petition. It’s one sure way to make ourselves feel better. And in case you think I’m sneering here…

5.
Believe it or not, it could be worse. MEPs can’t be elected as members of parliament, so there’s no chance of seeing Griffin or Brons in the House anytime soon. Plus, at least we’re not the Netherlands, where Geert Wilder’s PVV is now the second biggest party in government. Imagine the BNP as the official party of opposition. Sends shudders through you, don’t it? We’re a loooong way away from that yet.

6. So, this is not our proudest moment. But let’s face it, Readership. This country is in the midst of the biggest political shitstorm in decades. Weird things happen in this kind of environment. Basically, Griffin and Brons have exploited our anger and frustration at a truly screwed-up state of affairs for their own purposes. That’s wrong, but it doesn’t have to stand, and they are going to find that being in the full glare of the public eye will bring some very unpleasant truths about who they are and what they stand for out into the light. I say, let’s give them the chance to talk themselves out of a job. In some cases, the oxygen of publicity can be downright poisonous.

You want a constitutional crisis? You’ll have to do better than this.

© Martin Rowson 2009
© Martin Rowson 2009

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I do not write about politics very much, for reasons that will become blatantly obvious below. Wrongheadedness, unfocussed ranting and eye-watering naiveté are part of the territory, I’se afraid.

You have been warned.

So, Michael Martin becomes the latest high-profile victim of an expenses row that seems to be fuelling itself on it’s own rhetoric. (Insert hot air joke here). The punishment hardly seems to fit the crime. A million pound pension and a seat in the House Of Lords? Cruel and unusual, eh?

I’m still not entirely sure why he’s been hounded from office. The inference seems to be that somehow the rampant fiddling of expenses in the most self-righteous house in the country is either his fault, or that he did not do enough to prevent or rein it back. (Or, if one was to be especially critical, that he didn’t do enough to hush it up.)

Well, hang on. If that’s the case, then why is it Martin’s fault? That’s surely making the accusation that the whole situation is limited to this speaker, to this set of MPs, to this government. And that’s obviously not the case.

And why is it such a surprise that they can? Any politician that claims that their life is one of poverty and sacrifice would be laughed out of the room. The ability to claw back expenses is a perk that every executive of a certain level enjoys. If it wasn’t taxpayers money that was being so gleefully squandered, and the timing of the revelations of said creative accountancy wasn’t so lousy, then I doubt we’d give a monkeys. It’s hardly corruption or mismanagement on the scale of the global banking crisis, is it? In fact, it’s almost laughably petty in the grand scheme of things. Putting in claims for TV licences and dry cleaning? I frankly wish more MPs had the balls to really abuse the system, rather than being witness to this tawdry penny-ante fiddling.

Of more concern, there are still pertinent questions that have not been asked about this whole grubby little affair. For how long have MPs been able to claim back their moat-cleaning and phantom mortgages? (Actually, there’s a simple answer to that, and as usual, it’s all the Tory’s fault.)If it’s so constitutionally dodgy, why is no-one asking questions of the House Of Lords, whose members for the most part must have benefited from exactly the same perks and privileges as the sorry bunch squinting up at the spotlight now? The Lords seem very slow to condemn, which is unusual in the current climate. Is this indicative of a claim culture in government as a whole, and if so do we need to be looking more closely at the accounts of every senior civil servant?

In short, this is a system that has been poised to fail for years, based on a false assumption on the innate honesty of our elected officials.

Let’s be frank. If you were introduced into a culture that positively encouraged you to claim back your mortgage, your car loan, your cleaning bills, then could you honestly tell me that you wouldn’t take that opportunity? Because, as the reports are starting to show, you’d be in the distinct minority if you refused.

Even now, the reforms that are being so loudly praised as root and branch reforms do little more than put a cap on the spending, and that’s just a temporary measure. I’d be very interested to see what a supposedly independent panel comes up with in the autumn to replace it. And who, incidentally, will be voting it onto the books.

Private Eye, as usual, have the right take on things.

Most worryingly, though, is the way the comedy parties like the BNP and UKIP are making heavy gains out of this sorry mess. There’s nothing more sickening than watching a toad like Nick Griffin gleefully grabbing the moral high ground, and my fear is that voters will fall for his rhetoric of honesty and the power of the protest vote, without actually considering the end result.

With local elections coming up, the whole political spectrum in Britain is poised on the edge of a paradigm shift. When Gordon Brown talks about root and branch change in government. I wonder if he realises just what that could mean.

Amanda Palmer and the thrill of creative differences

Many, many years ago, oh lordy, we must be talking at least 2004, my old boss offered me a lend of an album. “This looks like your sort of thing, Rob,” he said cryptically.
It was the first, self-titled Dresden Dolls album, and curse him for seeing the convolutions of my twisted little soul, he was right. It was skewed, wonky, unafraid of it’s influences, powerful, bold and brave. And I instantly fell in love with the stripy-stockinged loon that was Amanda Palmer. A clockwork Sally Bowles, a ticking song bomb. Greasepaint, corsets, minor chords and love songs to robot boys. What’s not to love?
Time moves on. The Dolls go into hiatus, and Amanda works on a solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? Produced by the mighty Ben Folds, it focuses on her piano-driven pop sensibilities, and is a work of utter joy. She makes a couple of cheeky, funny promos skewering the pop world, low-budget gems that show off her penchant for dressing up and being a bit silly. I fall in love all over again.
And then the wheels come off. Her record company, Roadrunner, best known as a metal label, clearly have problems with her. And they start to interfere with the way she portrays herself, calling into question her approach, her songcraft.
Then they start calling her fat.

I’ll let the girl herself take up the story from here. 

And here’s the vid in question, so you can see what the fuss is all about.


Bellygate is clearly the thin end of the wedge as far as Amanda’s concerned. She is now involved in a turf war with Roadrunner. At stake, nothing less than her career. She’s making the perfectly valid point that Roadrunner don’t get her, never did, and are not treating her with any kind of respect or even mild interest. She wants out, and she doesn’t care who knows it.
Here’s her latest offensive, a song written especially for her label, that really tells you everything you need to know about the conflict this far. It’s utterly typical of Amanda that she should take a situation that’s clearly causing her pain and misery, and turn it into entertainment. The sign of a great performer.

Here’s to the exit sign, Ms. Palmer.

 

Props to Rick for pointing me at this in the first place.

Buy Who Killed Amanda Palmer here.

On getting older, and no wiser

Funny old weekend really, as birthday weekends often are. I took a couple of days off around the day itself, just to sort out the looming monolith of giftage and panic that is the buildup to Xmas. And blow me if it hasn’t worked, and we’re pretty much sorted.

Admittedly, a lot of this is down to my insisting on Clare dropping some very unsubtle hints about what she wanted, as opposed to her usual ” oh I’ll leave it up to you, you always come up with such lovely presents.” Cue three weeks of fear and existential angst as I overspend in a panic that she’ll be disappointed. If she doesn’t like what she’s getting this year it’s her own darn fault.

So, the Friday was spent shopping and spending forty minutes getting out of a car park in central Reading. The main design flaw in town parking is the central corkscrew ramp used for access. Which is normally fine, but when everyone is trying to get out at the same time, that main artery gets clogged in a hurry. It comes to something when both driver and passenger end up checking their emails while waiting for the car in front to edge forward a couple of feet.

From that little adventure, we just had enough time to get changed before heading back into town and heading up to That London for to see the Mighty Boosh.

Funny story. Clare agreed to go with one of her Internet buddies yonks ago, one of those “one too many glasses of wine, ooh that sounds like fun” deelies. She thought nothing much more of it, especially as the friend in question has vanished from the forum she frequents, and she knows nothing of the Boosh anyway.
Her friend reappeared a few weeks back, complete with tickets, but full of apologies as she now couldn’t go. Did we still want to?

Well, it’s somefing different, innit?

It was very silly, a lot less in-jokey than I thought it was going to be, and very funny. It got a bit self-indulgent at the end, but then if you’re a comedy duo playing the Wembley Arena, I’d say you’ve got a licence to wig out a bit.

Saturday was the birthday. Lots of cards with money in, and the big gift, a Wii. I need to dedicate a full post to this marvel, but let’s just say I’m already addicted. If anyone fancies a head to head on Mario Kart let me know, and I’ll squirt you a Friend Code.

That evening could not be more different to Friday, as we whizzed to Chelsea for the tradition that is the Coro Christmas Concert. I’ve raved about Coro before, and will continue to do so until people start listening. They are on top of their game, and when they cut loose they can shake a church off it’s foundations. Add in the bonus of readings by the Gay Gandalf hisself, Ian Mckellen, wine and mince pies on the interval, and you have a warm and cosy and very English start to Christmas.

The thing about birthdays is that you don’t really feel any different, even though supposedly it’s a landmark day. Aging is a lot more sneaky than that. I will happily jump around on the Wii, or hammer a couple of chords on La Roja, my red electrical guitar, and I might as well be 16 again. But at the end of my traditional birthday haircut there was a lot of white hair in my lap mixed in with the brown. So who’s to say how old I really am. According to Wii Fitness, I’m 60. But then the day before I was 80, so it’s entirely possible I’ll be back on nappies at the end of the week.

Having a birthday this close to the end of the year does have the knock-on effect of causing one to muse on recent history, and the year just leaving in particular. In a week when Forrest Ackerman, Bettie Page and Oliver Postgate all left us for pastures new, it’s difficult not to feel reflective. It’s been an interesting 2008 to put it mildly, and I can’t think of anyone close to me that’s not been affected in some way. More on this later, I think, before Mrs Maudlin puts her hand in mine and gives it a squeeze.

In summation, then, as I’m aware that I’m starting to ramble a bit. I had a great birthday, and I’m planning on having a great Christmas. That’s all that matters right now.

Coming up – more on The Year Of Change, and my Tracks Of 08.

The Problem With Phileus Fogg

Fogg, contemplating a spate of dickish behaviour.

My research leading up to this years Nanowrimo has led me to re-read Jules Verne’s “Around The World In Eighty Days”. It’s been a salutary lesson for more than one reason. Firstly, I haven’t read it since I was 11, and I’d forgotten just how tightly written and fast-moving it was. Its the perfect example of the kind of book I like to read, and the sort of book I want to write.

Secondly, and more importantly, I’d never realised that Phileus Fogg is a complete knob. Worse, he’s probably seriously mentally ill.

Let’s examine the evidence, ignoring the urbane charm of David Niven in the delightful 1956 Hollywood version, or indeed Willy Fog, the cartoon lion of the 90s kids show. No, the Fogg I am talking about is taken straight from the pages of Verne’s novel. This is a man with few friends, no family to speak of, and habits that are not merely regular, but obsessive compulsive.

 

During his brief interview with Mr. Fogg, Passepartout had been carefully observing him. He appeared to be a man about forty years of age, with fine, handsome features, and a tall, well-shaped figure; his hair and whiskers were light, his forehead compact and unwrinkled, his face rather pale, his teeth magnificent. His countenance possessed in the highest degree what physiognomists call “repose in action,” a quality of those who act rather than talk. Calm and phlegmatic, with a clear eye, Mr. Fogg seemed a perfect type of that English composure which Angelica Kauffmann has so skilfully represented on canvas. Seen in the various phases of his daily life, he gave the idea of being perfectly well-balanced, as exactly regulated as a Leroy chronometer. Phileas Fogg was, indeed, exactitude personified, and this was betrayed even in the expression of his very hands and feet; for in men, as well as in animals, the limbs themselves are expressive of the passions. 

He was so exact that he was never in a hurry, was always ready, and was economical alike of his steps and his motions. He never took one step too many, and always went to his destination by the shortest cut; he made no superfluous gestures, and was never seen to be moved or agitated. He was the most deliberate person in the world, yet always reached his destination at the exact moment. He lived alone, and, so to speak, outside of every social relation; and as he knew that in this world account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards, he never rubbed against anybody.  

 

This is a man that will fire his manservant for bringing his shaving water two degrees too cold, and yet will happily drop everything and gamble his fortune on a club-room wager. Bi-polar? Quite possibly. This is a man that, on that journey, will show no interest in the wonders unfolding before him, preferring instead to stay in his cabin and brood over railway timetables and steam train schedules. This is a man, who when presented with the opportunity to rescue a maiden from an untimely death at the hands of Brahmin fanatics, chooses to do so only because his timetable has opened up enough that he has some free time to do so!

This is no hero, Readership. This is a sociopath. Phileus Fogg is desperately unstable, unable to relate to the outside world in a normal fashion, and frankly seems one rash, ill-thought decision away from killing himself and taking his travelling companions with him.

More of an anti-hero then, I guess. I swear, if it wasn’t for the more honest lunacy of Passpartout, the thing would be almost unbearable. I have to admit that I can’t stop reading, though. Not just to find out what happen at the end. To find out also if the so-called hero becomes any less of a dick.

A Fable

My mate Kev told me a little story this lunchtime that I thought was worth sharing with you, Readership.

Two guys walk into a village, trailing a big cage on wheels behind them. They gather the inhabitants.

“Right,” the first guy says. “I’m in the market for monkeys. Anyone that can bring me monkeys will get ten quid a head for them.”

“Deal!” say the villagers, and off they scurry. Soon, the two strangers are inundated with monkeys.

“Right,” says the first guy when the cage is filled. “That’s a lot of monkeys. I’d like more, but I appreciate they’re in short supply at the moment. So, if you can find any more, I’ll pay you twenty quid a head.”

“Deal”, say the villagers, and off they scurry. They return, with a much reduced haul.

“Now,” says the guy when he’s jammed the monkeys into his cage. “I’m a fool to myself, but I loves me the monkeys. So, if aaaanyone can find me any more of those adorable little furry primates, I will pay them fifty quid a head.”

“Deal!” say the villagers, and off they scurry. This time, most return empty-handed. A couple have scavenged up some scrawny-looking specimens, but on the whole it looks like the village is out of monkeys.

“What a shame,” says the first guy. “Tell you what. The weekend’s coming up. I’m going to take a day or so to take care of some other bits of business. I’ll leave my assistant with you to finish off the paperwork, and make sure things are straight and even. You never know, you might find some more monkeys in the meantime.”

And off he goes.

“You seem like nice, financially astute people,” says the assistant later that day. “So I want to share an idea with you. How about you buy all your monkeys back from me for oh, I dunno, say 35 quid a head. Then when my boss comes back on Monday, you’ve got a fresh new supply of primates to sell him at fifty quid a pop. You’ll make a fortune!”

“Deal!” say the villagers, and buy back all their monkeys at thirty five quid a head.

“Excellent!” says the assistant. “Now, I just have to confer with my boss about something completely unrelated to this deal, and I’ll be back to conclude our business on Monday with him.”

And off he goes.

And the villagers never see anything of the pair of them again.

And that, my Readership, is how unscrupulous financiers go about shorting stocks.

Seems a lot like a cheap, dodgy con, don’t it?

Further:

Douglas Rushkoff gives more background to the fun and frolics of the financial marketplace. Moreover, he actually uses plain English, and makes sense. Which, these days, is a bit of a godsend.

Sick Sick Sick

Parry, pre-purge.
Parry, pre-purge.

You’ve got to admire the sheer gall, if you’ll excuse the pun. After Bruce Parry’s Amazon was accoladed to the skies last week, it seemed like the smiley ex-Marine could do no wrong. He’d come up with a perfect bit of telly, thrilling, moving and thoughtful.
So how does he follow up last weeks masterful episode? By spending most of it throwing up, noisily and on camera. I had to turn the show off after half an hour, especially as I was becoming uncomfortably reminded of the bout of food poisoning I’d suffered over the weekend.
Shame, really. I was quite looking forward to seeing Bruce in a dress, which had been promised in the trails. Actually, thinking about it, that might have brought on my own Achuar purging ritual.
You do have to wonder about a tribe that thinks it’s natural and healthy to throw up copiously every single morning. It seems like officially santioned bulimia to me. It was certainly clear that the regime wasn’t doing Bruce any favours. I’m really in no place to comment on the rights and wrongs of other cultures, but I don’t think that’s something I’ll be trying any time soon. It’d ruin the taste of my morning coffee, for one thing.
I wonder how long it’ll take an Internet scamp to edit out everything but the puking and put the unexpurgated highlights up on YouTube? End of the day?

Thieving Bastard

I think theres room for another lock there...
I think there's room for another lock there...

Somewhere, some merciless little shit is building himself a bike, using bits he can scavenge from other cycles. Mine, mostly. So far, he’s taken my front wheel (and had the cheek to leave his battered old wheel in part exchange) and, on Friday, my saddle. I haven’t cycled home standing up since I was about ten and let me tell you, readership, it’s great for the thighs but Nether Gods, can you feel it afterwards.

Now, it’s entirely likely that I’ve just been unlucky and I’m not being targeted at all. But that’s not the way I feel at the moment, and I’m completely paranoid about leaving the bike anywhere, regardless of how well secured I’ve made it. I can’t afford a new saddle until payday anyway, which means I’m stuck with a bus trip in, or walking to the station. Neither option appeals especially.

I just feel a bit hopeless and a bit silly. And a lot angry.

I wonder how hard it would be to hack an AutoTaser for bike use?