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Friday, 19 December 2014

My Favourite Handshake of the Graduation Ceremony Was

Me after the ceremony
The one where the guy raised his hand a full five metres before reaching the chancellor.

Now that's confidence.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Friday, 12 December 2014

Monday, 1 December 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Hazel Mutch

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Hazel Mutch: Comma   This page      flies     flies      tilts                                                      noun   drops    drift    ...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Michael Egan

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Michael Egan: unsonnet 5   no son for the widow. one slight. and the traffic ever ceaseless. o thine alone, wails or lonely calls. the...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Adam Hampton

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Adam Hampton: police station stands with ache on shallow rise beside the bakery they knead bread with balls and heels we call it toenail ...

Friday, 7 November 2014

More on Me Diary

Here's some more rambling about my diary project. I started it on New Year's day, and the idea has been simply to write about every day of 2014. If you want to read the past posts on it, here's the first, here's the second, here's the third and, if you can see this message, you're reading the fourth.

I breached the five-hundred page mark not so long back. I want to be prouder of this than I am. It seems like a big milestone, but of course the project isn't about size (yet I can't stop referring to it... What does that say? :p ). In a moment of procrastination I even calculated, however roughly, how many words I'm up to: 281,136. But that's just a meaningless bit of trivia...

I think the only really important development I've had since last time is with my routine. I got to the point some time in October where I felt myself yearning to write the diary every day. It wasn't a case of 'oh I'll have to do that later' or 'I'm bored, what can I get on with?' Instead I felt that 'physical flutter' where you know you're enjoying a project, the process makes sense and it feels natural and pleasurable (steady now) to do it.

It took me about two days after that realisation to slip back into letting the work pile up, and I went over a week without writing it. This is pretty disappointing, but I can hardly describe to you the blackness of the well I had fallen into, so I can't really be too hard on myself. I'm almost dried off from that, so fingers crossed it doesn't happen again any time soon.

When I was catching up last time, I wrote sixteen sides in one day, which was a fun, if tiring, exercise for an ol' graphomaniac like me. It gave me this great surge of writing momentum that, now I have caught up, has thrown me forward into the realm of Blogtastic posts and beyond. So, to sum up, since I last wrote about my 'journal journey', I've learned that you never stay on top long, but perseverance gets you to where you want/need to be eventually.

There's one thing I've so far failed to find in my work on this - my 'right time' to write. Lots of writers say there's a good time for people to write, some find it's in the morning, and apparently those who like writing in the early afternoon are in a minority. But having linked that, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running I'm sure Haruki Murakami says something about stealing every few minutes in between shifts and after work to write his first novel, and that won awards. So maybe it's not so important when I write (especially for this journal work. I'm under no illusions as to how un-literary it is), I just feel in my bones that I'm 'too disparate'. I was hoping that this diary would foster in me a sort of Pavlovian response (see desk - WRITE!). I suppose that nearly happened, it's just that depression 'happened' again shortly after...

Now that the year is beginning to end, it poses new questions about what's next. I reckon my next diary assessment post will be my last. I can't see myself having that much to write about, with less than two month's worth of work to go, so that's probably going to be that. I'm already thinking about what I might do next year, but I'll talk about that during the summing up session, I suppose.


In the meantime, I'm going to try (yet again) to keep on top of this (I remember when I thought I'd be able to write every day no problem...). Also I still want to get back to previous production levels on Blogtastic (quite a few of my drafts are now 'past their best'), and make sure I don't go so long before posting again over at HashtagBeer (I let about three weeks go by without posting recently...). Also my reading's suffering a tad. I'm reading some online articles, the odd poem here and there, but I know I'm letting myself be seduced by crappy TV and other bad habits. It's just not a great period of time for me right now, and I'm not sure why. There's been one great development, though: reading out some of my work in Liverpool at the Storm and Golden Sky reading. The people involved couldn't have been nicer. So why the stagnation now? Where's the drive I had only a few weeks ago?


On a previous occasion, I asked whether this journal writing has been getting in the way of my other projects. Maybe I'm in a bad mood, or maybe I'm just looking for excuses, but I think now that the answer's 'yes'. It's not just the actual process of it. I mean, it can take a long time, but only really when I've got a huge backlog to clear (wahey!). Also, when I'm not doing the writing, I'm often thinking back over the day, sometimes more than once, trying to make sure I remember important events. Dedicating this kind of brainpower, especially when there's not that much to go around in the first place, has been debilitating in terms of mulling over different things I want/need to do creatively. I believe I've been inhibited in the sense of 'attitude' or 'mindset', too. I'm thinking in particular of the question I just asked about where my drive's gone. I feel as if there's been a kind of wall around my thoughts. Often, when I'm having one, it sort of bounces back inside, in on itself. Could being retrospective even on a day-by-day level stifle so strongly a person's struggle to externalise? Well, right now I reckon there's at least a good case for suggesting so. Either way, there's not long left until the new year now, when I'll let myself move on.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Tom Jenks

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Tom Jenks:   Tom Jenks from An Anatomy of Melancholy If I get too melancholy you can spank me with the riding crop. Hello darkness. We hav...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Procrastination Help

Free for you to print out and keep, Martin's Procrastination Help game. When you're writing an essay, or any other important task, it often seems like the whole world is frantically waving at you and trying to get your attention. You don't want that, you're trying to do stuff! The idea of this game is to not do any of the things on this list, then you're winning. If there are any ticks in the boxes, you've failed. Avoid those ticks and get that work finished!

  • Worrying [   ]
  • Grooming [   ]
  • Surfing the internet (Facebook in particular) [   ]
  • Reading (don't kid yourself it's relevant) [   ]
  • Tidying/cleaning [   ]
  • Rearranging desk/bookshelves [   ]
  • Eating [   ]
  • Masturbating [   ]
  • Trying on clothes to see if they still fit [   ]
  • Starting new projects [   ]
  • Vomiting [   ]
  • Walking the dog (exercising the animal and/or doing the yo-yo trick) [   ]
  • Arranging/re-arranging socks [   ]
  • Snacking/getting drinks when you aren't hungry/thirsty [   ]
  • Looking through old receipts [   ]
  • Inventing new syllabub recipes [   ]
  • Choosing music/channel surfing [   ]
  • Practising your musical instrument/harmonica [   ]
  • Football (unfortunately) [   ]
  • Shopping (especially for wallets) [   ]
  • Acting the fool [   ]
  • Taking 'selfies' [   ]
  • Gaming (includes Fantasy Premier League) [   ]
  • Being ill [   ]
  • Personality tests [   ]
  • Character quizzes [   ]
  • Buzzfeed [   ]
  • Exercise [   ]
I hope you have as much fun playing this game as I did making it, and that Blogtastic has once again improved your life immeasurably. Ciao for now!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Scott Thurston

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Scott Thurston: Photo of Scott Thurston reading from his sequence ‘Turning’ at The Knives Forks and Spoons garden party in Newton-le-Willows, 23 April 2...

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Epstein and Friedman's Howl (2010)

'Just to be clear', I'm talking about the film, not the poetry.

Was it film-like enough for me? Probably not. It seemed too close to biographical documentary (these are the things that happened, in this order). I felt like I was learning things, not feeling things. Part of this lack of 'depth' comes in the court scenes - there's no jeopardy or tension. It's not just that it's based on real life and you already know he got off the charges, it's the fact that you don't get a sense that losing the court case is that big a deal. Its other main problem is that Ginsberg doesn't even appear in the courtroom (I thought he appeared as a witness in real life, but I guess not...), and the problem there is that he is the 'main character' in the film, so to not have him there while the main plot pivot goes on, i.e. whether Ferlinghetti as publisher is indicted under the American obscenity law, means, as the audience, that it's hard to care.

The animations seem very crucial too, because the film has relied so heavily on having James Franco, as Ginsberg, read out poems. I guess, in typical modern patronising style, the makers thought 'the audience will find a poet performing too boring - let's ramp up the visual excitement with a cartoon'. That's not the way it should be, it's gratuitous and, for me, seems desperate. There's another reason I'm not sure about these 'poetic visualisations', and that's because people should have their own images conjured up in their personal heads when they read/are read the poem. To provide them with the particular film artists' version of Ginsberg's words could have a limiting effect on the imagination and potentially the reception of the poem in general. If we have to have something other than James Franco reading on screen (and why not, he's a handsome guy ain't he?) I'd've preferred some Scorsese-style shots of Manhattan buildings etc, just so you get a sense of the environment Ginsberg wrote about, but again this may be distracting, I don't know... Maybe just display the words "Close your eyes while the poem is being read," let the viewers do the rest.

I found the interview stuff interesting, sure. There were some bits of poetics that I found interesting, but this just leads right back to the 'documentariness' or, at least, non-filmicness of Howl. It struck me as stilted clip, followed by clip, followed by clip. No smooth 'story', just talking and cartoons. I don't really know what the answer would be to make a better film. Make it more about Ferlinghetti maybe? Or make it about Ginsberg around that time, but not concentrating so much on the trial... I wouldn't recommend it very highly, but if you're like me and know about Ginsberg's poetry, your curiosity might overwhelm you, and what's wrong with that?

Any of you guys 'n' gals seen it? What did you make of it?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Edge Hill Anniversary

Poet and critic Robert Sheppard is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Creative Writing MA at Edge Hill University. To do this, he is bringing together a number (twenty-five, actually) of poets who are current or previous students at Edge Hill, which, not that anyone asked me for my opinion, I think is great. You can read the full delineation here.

I'm publishing this after he's already started his celebration, but better late than never I guess. The first person was/is Laura Tickle, who is celebrated here, and blogs here and here. The second is/was Alice Lenkiewicz, celebrated here, has a website here and a Saatchi Art profile here. In fact, I've already shared their posts on this blog, but late. The reason why I write this now is to draw greater attention to the phenomenon that is occurring. You don't have to have been from Edge Hill, or even university, to appreciate Ormskirk's contribution to education and its students' efforts in writing.

I will be aiming to re-blog all of Robert's posts as the weeks go by and I hope that at least those of you with a poetic bent will check them out. It will be a diverse collection and great fun to read so many poets' work, all united under the green and purple banner of Edge Hill.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Alice Lenkiewicz

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Alice Lenkiewicz: Alice Lenkiewicz was an English and Art graduate of the BA programme at Edge Hill University: she is a well-published poet and fiction write...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Laura Tickle

Pages: 25 Edge Hill Poets: Laura Tickle: We Are Banished We carried each stone for two hundred years, Lime, but your fingertips left marks as though in flesh. The land...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Impressions of Storm and Golden Sky Seven

Can't believe this has been the seventh SAGS meeting already (sounds a bit Tolkeiny if you lexicise the acronym like that...). I've not been to all of them, but have enjoyed the ones I've gotten to and can say that so far they've succeeded in their aim of creating, "a literary experience felt in your bones as juxtaposition and surprise correspondence." I'm sure they'll continue to do so too. Anyhoo, on with the impressions...

First off, Eleanor Rees read a poem with Welsh flavour in honour of Sophie McKeand's presence. I hope Tom Jenks wasn't upset that a Manchester poem wasn't read in his honour! Joking aside, I very much enjoyed Eleanor's piece. In some ways I'm biased towards poetry that has the sea/seaside as its focus (same goes for whisky. If you want to buy me a bottle, Oban 14 please!). Being from Morecambe, things that genuinely evoke the uniquely harsh beauty found on a shoreline is very poignant for me. Bias aside, her poem's existential themes and delicious sonic qualities added up to make an objectively positive poem.

Next, Mrs McKeand. As something of a linguist, I'm fascinated with language and was impressed with her work. What struck me about her poems was the way they struck hard at the root (please pardon pun) of linguistic ontology, but in a natural way, that is to say, not dryly academic. I would say 'it wasn't stuffy', which is true, nonetheless, but I prefer 'natural', which is more in keeping with the breathing soul of poetry than the textbook. Anyway, I'm going round in circles here... Her use of the Welsh language was subtle and created a compelling conversation on hi/story/-ies.

Next was Mr Jenks. Y'all should know him from his work at The Other Room. His Twitter-based poem demonstrated a more processually experimental bent than the other poetry on offer. I don't know how much I should say, since some of the poetry hasn't been published yet (that's another reason for all of you out there to go to your local readings - new and exclusive content, everyone's dream!). First off - ab-solutely hi-larious. I was actually crying with laughter. I've not done that since... Well... I don't have a soul so I don't normally laugh at anything, apart from perhaps unspeakable evil. Or Matt Baker's one-liners.

Jenks' symphony of surreal imagery, deadpan delivery and sparingly rattly sounds made for a thoroughly entertaining treat for the open mind, a pleasure for the ears and a workout for the yuck-muscles ('yuck' as in 'laugh', not as in 'urgh'). Maybe (well, almost definitely) it's just because I'm a massive fan Beatles fan and went sightseeing around the Cavern Quarter right before going to the reading, but I feel compelled to compare Jenks' part of the night to 'Octopus's Garden'. We were submersed in a colourfully strange world, both comforting and threatening (remember "below the storm") and warmly amusing. So yeah, like 'Octopus's Garden', if it had a social-comment edge possibility, and was actually good (only joking Ringo! Love you really. Ringo?).

Peace and love folks.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Continuing On From

[dated 17.6.2014, minus minor revisions]

I'm sure you're all ravenous for more analysis of my journal journey. THIS was my last post on the matter.

I'm now past the two-hundred and fifty page mark, though the paper i'm writing on now has fewer lines than the pages in the original pad (admit it, you love this kind of enthralling and entirely necessary detail...) so that's not as impressive as it may sound (heavy stress on the 'may'). My discipline is definitely getting better. I think the longest i've gone without writing up is probably three or four days (if work, drunkenness/hangover or total lethargy has stepped in) which isn't too bad, especially when you consider the three-week period i let slip last time...

Again i'd like to iterate that i feel this habit has increased my prolific-ness. Although, thinking about it, that's a pretty ill-evidenced statement - i'm only concentrating on the positive evidence... But take, for example, a new novel i started. I had a few days where my discipline was great - writing bits of it on consecutive days rather than sporadically. That being said, there are many days, i suppose, where the journal is all i write. So perhaps i'm not writing more fiction, for example, but at least you can say that i'm writing more in general.

One of the things i've noticed about my development as i'm writing is greater awareness of structure. What i mean is, there have been times where the process of recollection was so laboured that my brain was focused solely on the act of writing. Now, however, i increasingly find myself so at ease with the tasks of remembering and writing, that my brain can add the task of structuring into the mix. In 'real terms', this means setting things up to create more drama (i.e. "i'll get to x later") and stuff. Plus there's the increased playfulness with the narrative voice, inviting more concerns over authenticity and madness of the narrator, so that's nice.

It's akin to things i've felt in fiction before. It used to be the case that i could only focus on the writing, and my thoughts progressed ponderously, but with more and more practise it became the case that i could think forward and backward through the story and come up with spanners for the works, etc, as i was in the act of scribbling it down.

You may ask the question; is the journal actually hindering production of other pieces? I don't think so. I think that's a question of overall attitude, not a directly blameable thing. There have been other projects and whatnot - they may not be all steaming ahead, but slow and steady may win the race (i bloody hope so anyway...). I'm keeping going every now and again with the HashtagBeer reviews, though i've let the dust settle on Blogtastic lately (it's been nearly three weeks since i last posted. That's rare, even for me), i've been trying hard with my university assignment Ontolangue (poetry), trying to keep reading plenty (A Clockwork Orange, Chess and some Mansfield stories) and whatnot. Overall effort is good, i guess. I'm not satisfied with it, but not too disappointed.

The main problem for me at the moment is, of course, the World Cup. I'm not trying to excuse myself, i realise this is a choice i'm making, but i'm basically watching six hours of football a day, which makes writing time harder to come by. What a great spectacle though, especially that Nederlands game. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Nederlands v Germany final.

Anyways, i'm not really talking about the journal anymore am i? What else is there to say? Just that i'll keep on going, i suppose. You can see i'm always trying to be aware of what's going on in terms of my writing and other life events. I hope that's going to prove to be recipe for success, as opposed to a recipe for faecal cake. Believe me, they don't taste as nice as they sound...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

An End

Today I handed in my MA dissertation ('manuscript' as it is better known in Creative Writing...). It represents not only the culmination of many years of work and thought, but also probably the final university assignment I'll ever hand in. I love education and 'the' educational process, but for me a PhD represents going on to teach, so, aside from the money argument, I don't think a PhD is for me. Plus, if you're wondering, though I love the idea of teaching, I'm not responsible enough. Or talented enough, lol.

I've written before about how certain times of year, representing for us Western further-educationeers beginnings and endings of major cyclical significance, bring to mind past memories as well as future hopes and anxieties. Well this time, as I handed in my collection of poetry titled 'Ontolangue', I didn't really feel the heaviness of the situation. I mean, sure, there was the anxiety of the fact that I've handed in a big part of my life and I don't think it's of a great standard, but for the future that I can be in control of, there's nothing. There's just 'freedom'.

Aside from the household/personal issues I'm dealing with, and searching for a job, I have a degree of freedom that's unparalleled since before I started my MA two years ago. Back then, I surprised myself how professional I was, reading regularly and writing often. I'm keen to get back to this 'open plan' living. I have to catch up on my diary project (that I intentionally suspended while Ontolangue was finished), but am looking forward to my 'itty bitty poetry', my sci-fi fiction and, y'know, all the stuff that pops up when you think you're in control.

Socially this means a lot of meeting up with friends (so beware! If I know where you live I'll be paying you a visit), watching all the footy I can and hopefully re-going to readings, especially Storm and Golden Sky, which I was enjoying before certain shits hit certain fans.

Hey, the future's pretty bright. Let's look forward!

Peace and love,

Martin x

[Dated 1.9.2014]

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Woop!



This actually happened a wee while back, but i just wanted to tell y'all that i finally got my name on the wall. The HashtagBeer wall, that is! I 'officially' feel part of it now.

I've been writing for HashtagBeer now since August 2013 and it has been lovely to share one of my greatest passions with the internettal community. Also it has been great to work with Paul, a true visionary in the field. He not only motivates me, but also inspires me.

May HashtagBeer reign always!

Peace and love x

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho



I’m probably not saying anything here that other critics (i use the term loosely in my case) haven’t said elsewhere, but here goes… I’ve wanted to review American Psycho for a while, but for some reason haven’t got round to it – now is the time. It's the story of a businessman and psychopath called Patrick Bateman. I probably read it about three or four years ago and, although it wasn’t always the 'most readable' book, it was always gripping enough and 'true literature' in the sense of the risks it takes, coupled with great technique. I’m not going to go into a full review here, i just want to talk about a couple of things i still think of, even after all this time.
            Number one is the structure of the thing, i.e. the chapters and passages. It seems so blunt, so textbook, to break up plot with the dense, extended descriptions of products and consumables, but also so absolutely natural in context. It makes one feel tense (especially as the more ‘gritty stuff’ kicks in, around the ‘Dry Cleaners’ chapter), as it’s like a closed door against overtly compelling material. We can hear sounds coming from behind it, but it’s not going to open until we read through.
            Of course these chapters serve another vital function, which is the satire of the yuppie culture in the late eighties and early nineties. Such a long reflection on, say, Whitney Houston’s albums, and to an even greater extent the model of hi-fi they are played on, neatly encapsulates the terror of capitalism (as it is today, at least) and the reaction to it. ‘Adverts’ are a way of keeping people fearful, making them feel afraid and ill-equipped in the world. How can ‘citizens’ take control? By spending money! But to spend it you gotta make it etc etc… I don’t want to get too political here, but Bateman seems to represent some sort of microcosm of the world. To me he’s an exaggerated response of insecure masculinity – ‘I have it all, I have the best, I know what I’m talking about, I’m in control’.
The main criticism of these passages is that they’re “boring,” but that’s the point in a way, nor would they work if they were ‘interesting’. They represent the quiet delirium of modern madness where consumerism, seemingly benignly, replaces ‘normal human function’ i.e. love. In terms of narrative it’s like a sweater thread being pulled at, i suppose; the process itself is slow and uninteresting, but it’s what the process eventually reveals that makes it more than worthwhile.
So these chapters both split up the narrative and make the whole novel more cohesive in terms of thematic content. ‘Boring’ just doesn’t add up here.
Second, i just wanted to talk about the much famed ‘gruesome bits’. I felt like a changed person after reading them: a genuine (if mild) post-traumatic discomfort. It lasted weeks. It coloured my thoughts for a while, not necessarily with fear but not necessarily with hatred either. Come to think of it, i’m not sure what i thought. I think mainly there was a kind of emptiness, a more visceral cynicism or something.
But hey, it passed. I was back to the ‘normal functioning’ human being that i am soon enough. Sure i’m weak, but i’ve got to say that you need an iron stomach and a heart of ice to not feel at least a little off-kilter after reading this. I don’t want to put you off, that’s the thing. This is brave literature at its peak, you have to have a deal of commitment to read it that you wouldn’t, say, with Dan Brown…
How the hell am i going to close this? Well i’m glad i read it. From a writer’s perspective it made me more comfortable with taking on whatever’s necessary and treating it more like clay: a material – not something with inherent moral certitudes. As a reader it certainly challenged my idea of ‘readable’. I felt such shifts in ‘comfortability’ with the writing matter that i have never since come close to. But it wasn’t mere sensationalism. Despite it being far from a didactic  narrative, i’ve learnt things. Maybe about how human humanity is, maybe about how human i am. Whatever it is, it's palpable.
Peace and love x

Friday, 9 May 2014

Has Health and Safety Ruined Reality TV?



I’ve been watching this new series on Channel 4, The Island With Bear Grylls, involving x amount of blokes being dropped on y island and left to fend for themselves. They’re from a range of backgrounds, apart from female, and they deigned to include one typical hilariously fuddy-duddy old dude and one cool, upbeat black guy. Speaking of deigning, Bear Grylls appears from time to time, giving us such epiphanic tidbits as ‘when you’re starving you think about food’ et cetera… Anyhoo, you can read a more concise summary on the C4 site, i’m here for other things. Namely, health and safety things.
            In this first episode the guys had to look for shelter and water. The main focus over the forty-seven-and-a-bit minutes (billed as sixty-five) was the water. It’s the thing that’ll kill you quickest in the bodily-deprivation race, after all (apart from air, or Jack Daniel’s). They had a bit of fresh water with them, to lull you into a false sense of security, but guess what? IT STARTED RUNNING OUT AS THEY STARTED DRINKING IT! So naturally, the drama was high.
            Think about it though - how could a programme like this be commissioned in today’s ‘life-loving’ age if there was a genuine chance of death?
            Thankfully the Grylls voiceover told us exactly how many hours’ drinking water was left, helping to ramp up the tension. Other scare devices included a ‘piss-colour scale’, which ranged from tanning salon run-offs to Guinness, going down the spectrum of dehydratory terror. A little bit was made of the effect dehydration has on the brain, but mainly they were interested in the colour of the men’s urine and what would happen if they failed to get a fire to boil and purify their stagnant water. Of course, every attempt at starting a (controlled) fire was accompanied by two or three comments featuring the phrases ‘last chance’, ‘we need to’ and, my personal favourite, ‘fuckin’ ‘ell’.
            I was still not convinced of the impending doom, though. Could these fellas’ issue actually become black as the ace of spades, and could they keel over through lack of orally induced moisture (steady now)? On the point of getting a fire started, which was key to their safe water production, Mr Grylls himself said, “If they fail to get a fire lit today, they will have no choice, they will have to leave the island.” Hmm, that’s a bit of a let-down, they have to leave the island? Is that it? How about one of the men, surely since they’re in mortal peril they’ll have a better soundbite? Well, here’s the ‘green cap-man’, “Getting this fire going is just crucial, and if it doesn’t happen today, then I think we’re really going to start getting into trouble. I am concerned now, I am concerned, erm, I really think we need to pull our finger out.”
            Wow. Edge of the seat stuff.
            The problem is that dehydration is a real slow-motion crisis, devoid of much intensity when filming. The attempts to ramp up the pressure by repeating the threat didn’t work. There’s an attempt at tension, sure. The word ‘survival’, occasionally trotted out, suggests immediate mortal peril, but really there must be a standby team with bottles of water for dehydration scenarios… They’re not gonna let people die for our amusement on reality TV. I mean, this isn’t the seventies anymore, people actually scrutinize telly personalities now.
            Also on the ‘menu’ was a dude emerging from a frolic in the sea with a cut on his foot (apologies for the rhyme there). The drama came from the fact that he may have been attacked by a stonefish, heralded by Grylls as, “the most poisonous fish in the world.” But again, a lot is known about the stonefish (or synaceia verrucosa, don’t you know) and its pathology, so are we fooled? Since October 1st 2013, there have been no reported deaths in all Australia. An antivenom exists and the health and safety team will know exactly where to get their hands on it, if they haven't got a stockpile already. So what.
Once the director had footage of ‘IT man’ hobbling back to camp, blooding dripping (slowly) from his foot, medics would’ve been on to assess him IF they thought he was maybe possibly in any danger. Of course, the footage (no pun intended) of the check-up would not make the final cut because it would interrupt the ‘narrative’ we are being sold. We forget (or not, in my case) that they’re filming basically the whole day, and all these hours (spanning more than a day) need to be cut down to a programme’s length. It’s highly selective, to say the least.
So can we really feel jeopardy anymore? I certainly can’t. Don’t get me wrong, there were times i felt quite involved with these makeshift heroes, and as dehydration threatened them, and tension rose around the sacred fire, i started to feel anxious about the acceleration of their peril. While there are so many cameras and so much evidence of ‘production’ (titles, voiceovers, superimposition etc), you know that you’re in ‘civilization’. There’s no actual danger. The jeopardy is just not there anymore, no matter how often the programme makers insist it is.
            *Sigh* then you’ve got the adverts. But i’m not going to go on about that. I get tons of comments from Blogtastic readers, “Martin, do another rant about the adverts!” But i won’t... Think of all the people that don’t want to hear about how the tension was demolished by frequent breaks. And i know people certainly won’t want to hear about how the extra fifteen minutes you could’ve had without adverts would’ve allowed you to focus on other visceral and emotional elements, rather than simply urine and other more facile tactics, that would’ve conveyed a sense of danger and human struggle much more deeply and efficiently. No one wants that. C4 doesn’t want it, clearly. They’re doing fine on their own.
            Good luck to ‘em. And good luck to you guys - you enjoy your telly.
            Peace and love x

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Jaume Collet-Serra's 'Orphan' (2009)

It's been a fair old while since Blogtastic has entertained a film review. Doubtless after reading this you will think the next one can't come late enough. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Orphan, a film that explores what it would be like to be a family (made up of mum and dad, Kate and John, and a boy and a girl who i'm not even going to talk about) who adopt a sweet little girl (Esther) that turns out to be anything but.

It was a strange mix of (psychological) thriller and cringeworthily cliche horror. It's main skill seemed to reside in trying to 'lampoon' the 'traditional' shock moments in horror films (such as closing the fridge door/bathroom mirror etc), subverting some of the expectations. Maybe i'm being too cynical, but this didn't add anything to the film. It felt like a pastiche that tripped over its own laces.

Then there was the deadpan delivery of so much ridiculousness - a supposed nine-year old girl acting cuter than Joey Essex one minute, then speaking like a grizzled, middle-aged gangster the next. I know this is usually the point of 'this genre' (or these genres), to be far-fetched, but the twisty nature was too much really. The mention of a 'hormone imbalance' causing a thirty-three year old (with multiple scars around neck and wrists) to conceal herself as a young girl (with the help of ribbons and make-up) was plain silly. As for the motive - yeah she likes older men in relationships, fair enough, that happens to real people. But why pretend to be a pre-pubescent girl bent on murdering wives and families (burning down their house for a kind of twisted dessert) just to get a bit of nookie? And because it's such a superficial film, they missed out on the psychological depth of character that may have made us understand, perhaps even sympathise with, the eponymous antagonist. The fact that Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) was in a mental asylum was supposed to make all this seem totally credible, but it just didn't. Add to this some extremely poor CGI (in some instances where it frankly wasn't needed in the slightest, such as Esther running) and made the suspension of disbelief harder than it already was. Which was impossible anyway.

I thought i noticed an allusion to The Shining toward the end, but the finale was so terrible that i must have been mistaken. There's this ridiculous 'showdown' (as there always has to be in these crappy churned out modern rubbish doofers) with a load of false endings to desperately ratchet up the tension that they couldn't write in using subtler methods. There was a bit where Kate (Vera Farmiga), seemingly kills the rampant Esther, only to run out the room and leave her alone before the police arrive. I immediately thought 'when help arrives, the body will have gone' and, of course, i was correct and totally unsurprised. Then there was a load of grapply-stabby action on a frozen lake that cracks, and plenty of 'oh, thank God she's dead OH WAIT NO SURPRISE STAB IN THE LEG!' moments. Really poor, they felt so contrived that i thought i was watching a Spanish soap opera (or something like that...).

The film was so confused between the realism of the social concerns (adoption, infertility, relationship stress) and the wholly unrealistic elements (the 'fantastic' - in terms of remoteness from reality, not positive evaluation - Oedipal horror involving unlikely events that carry on undetected for so long, all to the 'tension music' of strings and waterphones, no doubt borrowed from the last horror film that made a ton of money because its trailer looked half-decent). The result is an unconvincing film where, as you watch, you're not sure what it wants. Therefore you can't be sure if you're enjoying it, which means you're not.

Of course, i could go into the ridiculous minutiae, such as modern films' insistence on product placement. For example, when John (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up to his house in a completely new, freshly polished SUV (the brand of which i won't dignify with a mention) in a world where all minor characters are driving rusted bangers around, it genuinely looks out of place. But i won't go into that. Instead i'll go into what the film does well. Be prepared for this. You ready?

Orphan exploits fear well. The gory dream sequence near the start will certainly try and scare you conceptually (and cheaply). The issue of parenthood and loss of offspring is such a rich emotional hotbed, and it is not dealt with gently here. If you are sensitive, you'll immediately be plunged into a sympathetic and nervous mood. Without that, you probably wouldn't even watch the film, but because it sucker-punched you at the start then maybe you'll invest in it more.

Peace out!