“Gert Northrup was kind of a weird looking specimen, the other girls thought.”*

Wednesday 8 February 2006

Some months ago, can’t remember where, I was reading a discussion about opening sentences of novels. Just recently, the American Review of Books, as periodicals highbrow and lowbrow alike are wont to do, published a list: “100 Best First Lines from Novels“. An entertaining rumination on said list can be found at Jenny Davidson’s blog Light Reading.
As she and her commenters have observed, a lot of it reads like someone mistook “great first lines” for “first sentences from great books” – Pynchon is dandy and all, but the two examples on the list don’t show it. She also wonders about “the weird attempt to represent a handful of foreign-language titles.. It just draws attention to the English-language-ness of the list as a whole.” Not just English, but the list is heavily over-represented by OK American writers of the past 50 years or so. As I suppose one should expect: given the place of publication, it was kind of the editors to shunt aside Booth Tarkington to make room for an Orwell or a Greene (but not a Green).
Whoever decided on the list is obviously still beholden to their teenage sensibilities: I can understand that sentence from Catcher in the Rye getting the nod, but The Bell Jar? Light Reading accurately summarises it as “an interesting & a historically important rather than actually a great novel”, but even though we’re talking first lines here Plath doesn’t cut it. I can’t get excited about that opener for Catch 22 either.
There’s a lot of box-ticking (Morrison, Hurston, Walker: the only three black, female novelists ever in the history of the universe). I haven’t read a line of Zadie Smith but I know she would be a dead cert to score an entry on a British-made list. Unfortunately, so would Nick Hornby. Someone at the ARB obviously calculated how many of their subscriptions would be cancelled if they didn’t pretend there was a single line of Margaret Atwood that persists in the memory (except maybe that one about it being the same as someone sticking their finger in your ear, in… uh, Life Before Man?)
If you want to make an impression, it helps to drop death into your opening gambit: I made a conservative count of ten deaths, not counting boars, TV channels and annihilated ants.
The pleasant surprises are the acknowledgement of the existences of Walter Abish and David Markson, and that the US Congress has apparently repealed the legislation that once stipulated the American literary establishment must blow Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe at every available opportunity, appropriate or otherwise.
I’m still missing my library, which has yet to arrive in England, so I can’t unearth any neglected gems right now. The great opening sentence that has lodged most firmly in my head comes from Ann Quin’s first novel, Berg:

A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father.

The book proceeds to twist every Freudian implication of this sentence into a perverse Gordian knot. Quin lived and died the wrong side of the Atlantic to make the list.

Oh, and they included Bulwer-Lytton**? Someone’s taking the piss.

* I’m quoting from memory, so this is probably wrong. Besides, it’s the first line from a short story, not a novel: from Robert McAlmon’s A Hasty Bunch. That David Foster Wallace thing the ARB includes reads like a pale imitation.

** Even though he unwittingly inspired the first line of The Name of the Rose, via Snoopy.

Sprung Bad! A Million Pieces of Shit update

Tuesday 10 January 2006

Heh. Just two days ago in my little rant about publishers no longer caring about literary quality, so long as they can lure readers with promises of vicariously indulging in the more exotic aspects of the author’s purportedly exciting life, I mentioned Exile writer John Dolan calling bullshit on James Frey’s drug-addiction “memoir” A Million Pieces when it was published in 2003. Dolan had recently appealed to Exile readers to help dig up the dirt, or rather the lack of it, in Frey’s past.
Not surprisingly, Dolan is not the only reviewer who suspected that Frey was, at least, embellishing his history of drugs and prison time. Nor is it surprising that others have been more successful in finding out the truth about Frey, what with Dolan living in Moscow.
Stupid me, I didn’t search around on the web to find that on the same day I posted that item, The Smoking Gun published a lengthy examination of Frey’s self-claimed history of criminality and mayhem, and found it all to be either highly exaggerated, or completely fabricated.
The New York Times (use Bugmenot to get around registration) is now covering the story of Frey’s fakery, which has so far scored him millions in book sales and movie deals, largely thanks to the golden endorsement of Oprah’s Book Club (“a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it’s so real”). The book is the perfect vehicle for Oprah’s club: a melodramatic confection of squalid thrills, the terrible drugs (inevitably addictive), all topped off with a smug little redemption fable. A lucrative redemption fable.
Of particular interest in the Times story are the following quotes:

Mr. Frey said that he had provided extensive documentation of his account of events in “A Million Little Pieces” to lawyers at Random House Inc., the parent of Doubleday and Anchor Books, which published the paperback edition, and to lawyers at Harpo, the production company owned by Ms. Winfrey.

What? You have to have your credentials checked by a roomful of lawyers before Oprah will publicly admit to liking your book?
And, I wish I could have quoted this on Sunday to save me the trouble:
The discrepancies and Mr. Frey’s reported admissions of falsifying details of his life raise questions about the publishing industry’s increasing reliance on nonfiction memoirs as a fast track to the best-seller list.

How to pick the winners – just don’t spend it all at once

Sunday 8 January 2006

Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.
One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V S Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel prize for literature.
The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.

So they sent off unsolicited manuscripts to publishers. Literary agents and publishers are illiterate blah blah blah. The thing about hoaxes and pranks is whatever lesson they purport to teach us is, at best, unclear, but The Sunday Times misses the point of their own exercise entirely.
It’s not that they can’t recognise quality, but that don’t even look for it. The Times is either naive or dishonest to imply that someone at each of these publishers actually read (or pretended to read) the chapters before rejecting them. More importantly, they leave out the most important piece of information: did they include a cover letter? Imagine a thumbnail bio for the pseudo-Naipaul: “I am a Caribbean immigrant of Indian descent.” I bet the agents would pay closer attention to that sentence than any paragraph in the opening chapter of In a Free State.
(Come to think of it, has anyone at the Times read In a Free State? Even the chapter that was retyped for this prank? That must have been a task for the work-experience kid, surely.)
I’m not saying you have to have an intriguing ethnic background to get published; I’m saying that the majority of today’s book-buyers (a different class from book-readers) are interested not in the book, but in the author. As Iain Sinclair in Lights Out for the Territory described the secret of Jeffrey Archer’s literary [sic] success:
His books… understood what the true fucntion of a book was…. the power of the novels lay in the fact that they didn’t have to be read…. Ownership of one of the novels gave you a direct line to the author: he was incarnated in a way that his ephemeral productions never would be. Take any title from the shelf at WH Smith’s, Liverpool Street Station, and you are shaking hands with Lord Archer.

Success itself can be the reason behind an author’s charismatic allure. Race is merely one of a variety of pegs you can hang your nascent career upon: a bad childhood, a stretch in the pokey, the drugs, the terrible drugs. Agents and publishers might bother to read the books submitted to them if they knew that any of the punters who buy their wares actually read anything themselves.

If your personal life is terminally dull, you can always make something up; although these days it’s probably too risky to fake your ethnic history – that one’s pretty much played out thanks to the likes of Khuri, Menchu, Demidenko et al. Otherwise, you can be pretty free with your invention: people do check, but not very hard.
Regarding this last point: James Dolan at The Exile, author of the most hostile review ever, has turned into Captain Ahab pursuing the great white frat-boy author James Frey, author of A Million Pieces of Shit (after reading his review I can never think of it by its real title.) Dolan is now seeking readers’ help in gathering evidence that Frey lied about having been in prison to bolster his bad-boy credibility. He has become so obsessed with Frey’s lucrative dishonesty that he now suspects his confession of drug addiction to be almost entirely fabricated (“A rich boy like him using glue? That’s just a lie.”) and cribbed from the writings of Eddie Little.
If you completely lack the imagination to invent or plagiarise some skeletons for your closet, you can at least add retrospective lustre to your career by killing yourself. (How much lower would teenagershave to set their literary standards if Sylvia Plath and Hart Crane posessed more self-restraint?)
If, by some chance, you are actually any good at writing and score a publishing deal, you will still be reduced in the public discourse to the level of a performing seal, trotting out predigested sob-stories of how you once watched your best friend die (it made you, it must be said, a stronger person). You can remind yourself of the second act of Coriolanus and decide between integrity and the chance of a second book hitting the shelves. People do not want literature, they want biography, preferably of the most lurid kind; and the publishers give the people what they want.
But maybe we’ve got this tale of overlooked literary worth all wrong. The whole Times exercise begs the question as to whether anything that wins the Booker is in fact any good in the first place. Maybe the agents actually did read the proferred chapters and exercised perfect judgement in dismissing them. How often does compromise, consensus and groupthink debase the standards of each jury member? Not to mention anticipating the reaction of the press, the Booker’s sponsors (or the Pulitzer board, who can and have vetoed jury decisions), and their future employment. Have you looked through the lists of previous prizewinners: the Bookers, the Pulitzers, the Nobels? Think you could stand to read them all? How many of the most compelling and enduring books you can think of are on these lists – does it even crack 50/50?
Who wants to read Joseph Hergesheimer, the most lauded American author of the 1920s? Can you even find one of his books? Who wants to lay bets on anyone even glancing at DBC Pierre a quarter of a century from now? Anyone? Let’s see your money.

I’m sure he was questioned by the police but had a watertight alibi

Sunday 18 December 2005

I recently mentioned how I’ve stumbled across a few of the more idiosyncratic London landmarks by accident, in the six months that I’ve lived here (the most illustrious of these would be, of course, the enbalmed corpse of Jeremy Bentham). Here’s another one, a short walk from the bunker in Victoria Park: a pair of statues called the Dogs of Alcibiades.

The two statues were donated to the park in 1912, and flank the main pedestrian walkway across the park’s narrowest point. I had only heard of these because they get a mention early on Lights Out for the Territory. The author, no friend to dogs alive or artificial, is dismayed on a visit in the early 1990s to find them freshly restored:

If the live animals, the shit-machines, are bad, the divine archetypes we’re supposed to worship are worse: twin white horrors, the Dogs of Alcibiades, raised on brick plinths. When they were blessedly removed, for months, my spirits surged – but, inevitably, this was no more than a truce. The frosty albinos are back, resprayed, restored (scrawny, loose fleshed, wolf-headed, genitally deprived): the gift of Lady Regnart. Posed on their red-brick chimneys, they howl in perpetual torment: as if fires had been lit beneath them.

No doubt he was pleased that they were vandalised soon after being relocated. Appropriately, given Sinclair’s metaphysical conception of dogs, someone sprayed them black, with eyes and mouth bleeding red, ‘666’ emblazoned on their sides. Barry from Bethnal Green‘s history of the East End shows the vicissitudes of the dogs’ recent history but, unlike webmaster Barry, I prefer them in their diabolical guise. Barry also relates an urban myth about the dogs’ otherwise unexplained presence in the park, but he gets the name of the donor wrong.
A few years ago, both statues were more seriously vandalised and have not been repaired. They now sit on their strange brick plinths, discoloured and pocked with weathering and lichen, more closely resembling Sinclair’s vision of them from a decade ago, as though his criticism were a curse upon them. The nearby trees have grown out to almost engulf each dog’s head with branches, the park authorities presumably hoping to lose them forever in the foliage.
Some photos of the dogs in 2005, taken this summer, are now on Flickr, click a photo or here for the first of them.

The Third Pilgrimage: St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

Thursday 15 December 2005

When I lived in Melbourne, I once photographed 20-odd places in the city centre, and re-photographed the same places two years later. Amongst the differences and similarities, one entire building had disappeared, another built in its place, while in a location two blocks away a ‘For Lease’ sign hadn’t budged in all that time. No one ever visits the same city twice: the waves of attention and scorn, construction and dilapidation, the money flows and fades from one street to the next like changes in the weather. It wasn’t so hard leaving Melbourne: by the time I left By the time I left Melbourne it barely resembled the city I had in my mind from when I first arrived. (If I’d lived all my life there it may have been a different story.)
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been using Iain Sinclair’s and Patrick Keiller’s (another Lawrence Sterne fan) navigations of London as a means of getting my bearings in the city, but by revisiting some of their haunts I’m not attempting to vicariously connect with the psychogeographic significance bestowed upon them. Keiller’s London was filmed in 1992, Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory written mostly a decade ago: a long time for anything to survive unscathed in a city. Apparent permanence is irrelevant: I wouldn’t trust St Paul’s to be the same building as described in the literature. At most, I’m looking for landmarks not decided upon by consensus or public fiat, to better understand how an individual can form a relationship with the city.
(Sometimes these visits have happened by accident, as if the landmarks have come to visit me. The chapter in Lights Out that chronicles the troubled history of Rachel Whiteread’s House begins, typically enough, describing the shooting of “Big Jim” Moody in a Hackney pub. It was only when re-reading the chapter to write this that I realised the pub in question is my local, which, having moved to London from Brunswick, makes the place feel a little more like home. It also reminded me how much I still think of things I read about London as happening Somewhere Else. The site where House once stood is further down the road, an nondescript patch of fallow parkland. I cannot be bothered to see if the exact spot is marked.)
So I was anticipating neither surprise nor disappointment when I went walking down the narrow streets between St Paul’s and the Thames, looking for a particular alleyway. This was the scene I remembered most vividly from London, the most “other”: the narrow path between two buildings in shadow, somewhere behind St Paul’s, doorposts still displaying propaganda posters from World War II. This scene stuck with Sinclair too, and in Lights Out he goes looking for it, helpfully giving correct directions after prolonged searching without success. At first he mistakenly believes the church wall on one side is St Paul’s itself, but eventually finds the place, posters and all, beside another, much more modest Wren church, St Andrew by the Wardrobe, further down the hill.

… into the maze of alleys and half-forgotten streets with boarded windows… a limbo of medieval prompts hiding as much from the Great Fire or the Blitz as from crass development… the light stopped down to the limits of the visible, an illumination that depended more on fossils in the brickwork… as we emerged into St Andrew’s Hill, we discovered an abandoned bookshop – the individual letters of its title, as they peeled from the glass, reflected on a shelf that was thick with dust.

It seemed a slim chance that this microclimate could survive undisturbed another ten years in the centre of commerce. If I didn’t have inital doubts about the longevity of psyhcogeographic nuance, crossing the new Paternoster Square past St Paul’s showed that as feared, the cathedral itself would be unrecognisable from the place once known by Sinclair and Keiller. Paternoster Square, in redevelopment limbo for some twenty years, is now “completed” in the modern sense – a perpetual worksite nominally open to the public, but made largely inaccessible by temporary construction fencing encircling a large expanse of featureless pavement. The buildings are, naturally, occupied with stores and Starbucks, and are as distinctive as a shopping mall in Brisbane. The inert air of simulacrum is generated by an anonymous column standing in the square without explanation: it’s a fake, a replica of part of the Square’s portico destroyed in the Great Fire. It looks like a scale model of Wren’s Monument to the victims of the Great Fire, as if to gull tourists away from the real thing further downriver.

More confusingly, you cannot cross the square to the cathedral without passing through the Temple Bar, which was built at the west end of Fleet Street in 1671 but had been sent into exile in Hertforshire in 1880. A year ago it was returned to London, and reassembled at the wrong end of town, beside St Paul’s. Sinclair writes about London’s maniacal need to perpetually disorientate itself, misaligning its landmarks, forgetting and misremembering. In some way it is reassuring to witness the process for myself. The Temple Bar once regulated the flow of traffic in and out of the city; now it regulates the flow of tourists to and from the cathedral toilets.
So, my hopes were not too high when I negotiated the tangle of streets below St Paul’s. No tourists, but everything had been repainted, renovated, refitted. The oldest building would have been the one wrapped like a Christo, awaiting its refurbishment. Office workers on overtime loitered in doorways nursing cigarettes and takeaway coffees. Everything had been exposed to air and light and St Andrew, when I found it, had its own breathing space. No wartime ephemera could cling to these fresh surfaces, ten more years of trophy hunters.
True heathen, not knowing which alley was the true passage, I walked and photographed the perimeter of the church, ready to accept numinous energy from any point. The light was too bright and clear, the corner of Addle Hill and Wardrobe Terrace rebuilt and sandblasted, CCTV cameras fixed on the cornices. One side had buildings too close to the church, its secrecy scoured by a shaft of light from the gentrified St Andrew’s Hill. Through a window I saw into the back of a fashionably spartan office wine bar; on its front side it retained the name of the previous tennant, a bookshop.
The church is a brown, oblong monolith of a building, so plain it seems that its ornamentation has been worn away by the years. Its door sits flush and comouflaged with its outer walls, discouraging casual visitors from testing it. On the south wall I found some benches mounted like monuments (“stationary vehicles of mortality” as Tom Phillips describes them) on their own flagstone plinth, looking into, more than over, some effaced stone tablets in the bushes masking the traffic in Queen Victoria Street.
Pinned to the gatepost notice board were some inkjet photographs of a congregation apprently enjoying themselves very much on the streets outside the church. There was a weathered notice for the parish’s annual ceremony of Beating the Bounds at Rogationtide, Wed 4 May 6 pm. The notice ended with a quote from the Lord Bishop of London.

“What we celebrate is ancient and stands for deep continuities and rituals without which people become disorientated.”

The Enigma of the Voynich Manchester

Friday 9 December 2005

I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the curtains lately. More to the point, I’ve been trying to read the curtains. I’ve been meaning to ask the landlord where he got them from, in case I can trace them back to once having hung in John Dee’s library.

This is a transcription of my soft furnishings (from top left):
Gracia. Agapdo oum uiara qume oares elegni.
Hbidem in ilapide corosfo. A Sali Domitiano Aq. Tribo kir iuno sing.
aotro ulyemno mi adra etera praasrdyo foment praeaonia receaant ueterd aond funt anuud.
It feels a bit like reading J.K. Rowling, only with most of the boring bits taken out and better cod-Latin. If you want to design your own curtains, pillowslips or antimacassars, there are useful tools online if you don’t trust your own neologising skills. I’m not feverish enough to believe that the curtains are trying to tell me secrets but, at the very least, I think I’ve discovered the inspiration behind Blogger’s word verification system for comments.

“The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart. Well, actually some of us are pretty dumb.”

Thursday 1 December 2005

Much less pernicious than Sony secretly installing illegal software that damages your computer whenever you play a Neil Diamond album, but just as insidious, is the corporate-sponsored product placement. Earlier in the year, McDonald’s tried to lure rappers into dropping some madd phat props to Big Macs in their def rhymes, for $1 to $5 each time their dope jams got played on the radio. Unfortunately for Maccas, playas are all about the Benjamins and the jacuzzi full of Cristal in the back of the stretch limo, not about the Abrahams and a furtive Quarter Pounder at a bus stop after last drinks. In the end, the deal never quite worked out, despite some high-level negotiations with MC Sad Fat Bastard and the Insane Clown Posse.
Now, also in the USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the pharmaceutical industry’s major lobbying group, has been caught out trying to secretly commission novels designed to scare Americans away from buying reasonably-priced drugs from Canada.
The original plot of The Spivak Conspiracy, the book’s working title for a time, revolved around an attack on the United States by villainous Croatian Muslims, whose weapon of choice is tainted drugs sold to Americans through Canadian pharmacies.

Then there were disagreements over money and the quality of the novel produced between PhRMA, the authors, and the PhRMA ‘consultant’ who brokered the deal. In the end, it all went horribly wrong:

Spivak and Chrystyn turned down the money, rewrote the book, and retitled it The Karasik Conspiracy. The thriller is due out next month… the book has an instructive new bad guy: A large pharmaceutical company, so far unnamed, has poisoned Canadian-sold drugs—and then tried to make it look like a bunch of terrorists were behind the plot.

PhRMA is now denying all knowledge of the plan (for the novel, not poisoning Canadian drugs) and has suspended the deputy vice-president involved. Also of interest in the article, is the finding published in the British Medical Journal “that lower prices do not lead to less research” in the pharmaceutical industry. Also also of interest is that serial liar Jayson Blair was also brought on board as an editor for the novel.

Shit, shit, shit.

Monday 28 November 2005

Perhaps I’m going native: I feel like England after the war. Victorious, but exhausted. Just about beaten the flu, but now I need to sleep for a week and still can’t write anything without it descending into crabbed, stilted bile.
Somewhere in one of my crates which are, hopefully, on the sea by now and heading this way, is my rather grubby copy of Wyndham Lewis’ novel Self Condemned, an exemplary diagnosis of the condition of the exile. It is a book I have frequently turned to seeking understanding of three hellish years spent in Brisbane. The personality stripped of all memory and identity becomes reduced to a nervous system exposed to the elements, instinctively responding to each stimulus with anger and fear. It is a condition I have been battling against for the past week. Mostly with drugs. Lovely, lovely drugs.
Speaking of drugs, crabbiness and exile, it’s time to get back to the anglophone Muscovite newspaper The Exile*. I’d previously linked to their beautiful, Jove-like annihilation of the worst book ever written, which popped back into my head when I read something about it now being turned into a movie. This does not surprise me: it is the destiny of all faketion. The book itself is a codicil to the book deal, the film rights. Every one of these bookoid wastes of space has been bought and sold a dozen times over before they hit the shelves. The ones we notice are scattered eructations of a common canker that runs beneath the surface of our attention.
Speaking of The Exile, it’s always invigorating to meet such an accomplished bunch of haters. Anyone who can publish a Shit List that kicks off with The Holy Ghost and Bob Dylan isn’t afraid of setting themselves high standards. There’s much gratuitous shitkicking perculiar to middle-aged adolescents away from home, but it’s worth sifting while pretending to work or write your thesis.
Ever wanted to catch a train across Siberia? Don’t.
Up until that point, the car had a slowly intensified, relatively bearable acidic smell of unwashed bodies. I only noticed it when I’d been outside. Each wagon had a distinct smell and I learned to appreciate our own. I doubt it was better or worse than any of the others, but after so many hours it had grown familiar, almost homey. They say even tanners stop noticing the smell after a while. The important thing was to avoid close quarters with any of the serious offenders, none of whom, thankfully, were bunking with me. Other cars’ musk would burn my nostrils, make me breathe in short gasps for the length of the corridor.

And after you’ve been trapped in this tiny, uncomfortable, constantly rattling room for five days straight, you’re stuck in a godforsaken frozen shit-town, with another five-day journey before reaching anything like civilization again.

You can also find helpful advice from perpetual dissident Edward Limonov (possibly the only one to be expelled by the Soviet Union and charged with sedition by a post-communist Russian government**) on what to do if you’re arrested. I expect this is more useful and to the point than the usual stuff you’ll find in those ‘Know Your Rights’ pamphlets.
In order to not provoke unnecessary violence on you don’t tease them, don’t mock them: speak seriously, with determination, straight-forward. They will see what kind of man you are in a few first hours of interrogation: you should control yourself at least during three days. If by the chance you are not tortured in those three days, very unlikely that you will be physically abused later.

You might want to memorise this as a precaution, what with your local MP and copper getting very keen on detention without charge in this difficult international climate. It’s unlikely, sure, but mistakes happen. Just make sure you rat out one of your neighbours after the kerfuffle’s been sorted out. You know, the one with the noisy fucking monkey bike.

* Not to be confused with Ezra Pound’s short-lived literary mag of the same name; that was back in the 1920s. Probably not online.
** Charges including conspiracy to overthrow the state of Kazakhstan. Seriously.

Cock and Bull, or how to talk youself out of leaving the house and paying for a movie ticket.

Monday 24 October 2005

Still juggling several long posts that I can’t be bothered finishing just now, and besides I’ve just found out that someone (Michael Winterbottom) has made a movie based on the greatest novel ever written, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. (Not to be confused with the blog of the same name.)
That said, I probably won’t go and see it. The last time I went to a cinema of my own volition was to watch Tank Girl and I don’t think I’ve sufficiently recovered to show my face again around a ticket booth just yet. Besides, it’s one of those novels-they-said-could-never-be-filmed; worse, it’s one of those films-about-making-a-film.
A lot of this smart-arsed japery can be sheeted home to Sterne* himself, who all but created the book-within-a-book genre and more stylistic tricks than the combined forces of the postmodernists have deconstructed. But what almost every would-be imitator neglects is that through all of its futile textual acrobatics, Sterne’s book paints the most compassionate, kind-hearted and life-affirming portrait of human imperfection.
It’s hard to imagine how the movie could add up to more than a sequence of unconnected skits, although framing it in a story of the vanity of attempting a film adaptation could help this problem. Alternatively, it could end up like Sally Potter’s film of Orlando, which was only any good in the bits which weren’t based on the book.
Either way, it may be worth watching just for the prospect of Dylan Moran reading the Curse of Ernulphus.
* Not, to my knowledge, on the cover of Sergeant Pepper. He did, however, get namedropped by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Who misspelled his name on the lyric sheet.

A second pilgrimage, of sorts

Saturday 6 August 2005

I had two points of entry into London: Patrick Keiller’s film London (now out on DVD) and Iain Sinclair’s book Lights Out for the Territory. Between them they painted an idiosyncratic, irresistable portrait of the city’s complex psychogeography (Sinclair is the more metaphysically paranoid of the two) that made me want to explore it all for myself.
Before I can hope to get a handle on this place I have been visiting some of the sites mentioned in these two works, in an attempt to sense what type of signals I should be alert to when walking the city in search of points of personal significance, of the kind that won’t be found in the Time Out guides. This is why I wound up one sunny afternoon standing in front of the Tate Britain at Millbank, facing the other way and photographing the nondescript building on the south bank of the Thames.

For a similar reason I had gone to visit the Henry Moore sculpture Locking Piece: Sinclair draws a connection between this artwork outside the Secret Service headquarters and another Moore bronze, Two Knife/Edged Bronze which sits on College Green, outside the houses of parliament. Anytime you see a shot of a journo on the news standing with the Palace of Westminster in the background, odds-on they’re standing on College Green, where the sculpture “comes into its own as somewhere useful to stack camera equipment.”
Three buildings downriver from Locking Piece and the MI6 Building is the tower block pictured above, that I knew as Alembic House. The central episode of Lights Out for the Territory is when Sinclair gains entry to the building’s penthouse apartment to meet its owner and occupant, Jeffrey Archer. Archer, pre-disgrace, isn’t home but has granted Sinclair permission to look at his art collection and admire his view of the river. By chance, the two of them bump into each other soon after, on College Green.
Now I need to find the other Moore bronze on College Green, but in the current climate I don’t feel like taking lots of photographs around large numbers of police armed with automatic rifles.
Alembic House was recently renamed Peninsular Heights, and as far as I can tell Jeffrey Archer still lives in the penthouse, prison stretch notwithstanding. If you want to make a call to find out, the phone number ends 0077 – the legacy of the penthouse’s previous owner: John Barry, composer of James Bond movie soundtracks.

Filler by Proxy XXII: Backstroke of the West

Monday 1 August 2005

A couple of years ago a friend of mine arrived home from China with a suitcase full of dodgy pirated DVDs. The prize specimen was a bootleg of The Fellowship of the Ring, with the artwork on the front cover doctored to persuade punters that the famous Tolkein adaptation starred Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – all wielding swords. The back cover featured screen grabs from a hardcore porno video, with a plot synopsis in gibberish (“Much confusion but enjoy the mutilation.”) and the credits for Black Hawk Down. The actual movie turned out to be some softcore French film from the 1970s, without dubbing or subtitles.
Thanks to the interweb you can savour the ineffable charm of East Asian counterfeiting without travelling all the way to the car boot sale taking place two blocks down. Flickr hosts a growing gallery of screen shots.
The hot ticket among cheap-arse VCD buyers these days is, of course, the new Star Wars movie. In particular, the Chinese edition with remarkably creative subtitles. Screen shots are collected for your enjoyment here and here.

You will be treated to dialogue that manages to improve upon George Lucas’ original script, learn of the Jedi Knights’ obsession with elephants, and gasp at the theological bombshell that Darth Vader is a Presbyterian. The wish power are together with you.

Well, at least it might stop them reading Dan Brown

Monday 25 July 2005

NOT THE FACE!! Another photo lifted from Annie Mole’s Tube blog: the first commuter on the London Underground spotted reading the new Harry Potter novel. Not a kid, of course. Sad bastard.
I really have to update my links over there 444 to add some stuff about London.

“Dylan & Sleater Kinney & the Beach Boys & Jimmy Cliff & Sam Cooke & Bobby Bland & Joe Strummer; pretty much the whole history of recorded music.”

Sunday 24 July 2005

Are you ready to have your world turned upside-down? Nick Hornby likes Bruce Springsteen. So does Tony Blair. In fact, so do a whole bunch of middle-aged white guys. Don’t say you never learn anything from this blog.

If this exposé isn’t mind-boggling enough, Springsteen has discovered Britpop, so in a few months don’t be surprised if your dad is suddenly only ten years behind the times. Thus spoiling your enjoyment of your favourite bands.

Also of note, Hornby’s taken to citing his own woozy opinions as an authoritative source in footnotes to back up his arguments, such as they are.

>I can’t wait until David Bowie releases another album so Hornby can write a column trying to convince himself it doesn’t suck. Then start arguing over it with his reflection in a bathroom mirror.

Filler by Proxy XXI: Utilitarians in the News

Tuesday 19 July 2005

A legitimate news source speculates on the burgeoning corrections industry, takes time out to bait Jeremy Bentham.

Filler by Proxy XX: я не знаю как баша сомрютер роботает

Wednesday 6 July 2005

I don’t know what that means, but I’m easily pleased and didn’t know I could type in Cyrillic. Maybe all you can see in the title is ccccccccccccccccc. Things could be worse than the bunker: I could live in the Ukraine. Worse still, I could not live in the Ukraine yet want to move there. First, there is the Ukrainian Embassy to deal with:

there was about twenty uki’s hugging the damn gates… so i asked someone what was happening. “nothing,” she said, “this is the embassy, nothing happens here.”

Luckily, crying works on Ukrainian customs officials. In a mere eight hours, you can scam a visa into… well, somewhere.

the train to nikolayevka is a twelve hour trip and costs 37 hryvna, roughly equivalent to 10 australian dollars or 6.20 euro. BUT a ticket to budapest, which takes twice as long, costs 550 hryvna, or 147 aussie dollars slash 91 euros…fark!

My knowledge of Eastern Europe is a bit sketchy, but perhaps Budapest is a slightly more desirable destination than somewhere in Belarus.