A rose by any other name would smell like teen spirit

This blog entry begins with a sound effect. And a really cool one at that. No waffle (that is to follow, clearly), just get in there and hit the button below:

That’s good fun isn’t it? Suddenly you are Bill Murray in a boiler suit. Suddenly you are sitting around your breakfast table in the 80s and fighting with your sister over the “cut-out-keep’ Ectoplasm-Dectector (TM) on the back of the packet of Shreddies. (Isn’t it utterly absurd that we remember such ridiculous ephemera? Today I locked myself out of an email account because I couldn’t remember the new password that I dreamt up YESTERDAY but I can readily transport myself back to Devon in the 80s and picture exactly what the aforementioned packet of Shreddies looked like. Absurd and deliriously brilliant). Anyway, back to the sound. Do you fancy another go? Go wild:

I love it. My excellent friend Mark used the sound to open his debut album. I can’t play you that track here as I haven’t asked Mark’s permission but I can play you this one from a few years ago. (written with our good pal Bob). Seriously, Mark is brilliant. Properly brilliant. And he once covered our kitchen wall with spaghetti. Great days. Whilst on the subject, here is a track that Mark, Rupert and I recorded whilst drinking. It is actually one of the more cogent examples of our work and we recorded it as a birthday present for our pal Chris who knows a LOT about George Orwell.

Back to the sound. Do you remember it?

I suggest finding a way of triggering this sound at key moments of your day thus bringing a frisson of movie magic to otherwise onerous domestic routines. For example, you successfully pull your pants first thing in the morning (and Americans, I do mean pants in the British sense of the word), turn to the mirror, salute yourself and PRESS PLAY! You shut your car door, depress the lock button on your car key and PRESS PLAY! Storm into the office of your boss, PRESS PLAY! and then demand that they take you the hell more seriously or, goddammit you are outta there like a bat out of an extensive sequence of Peruvian caves!

All of these are certified excellent ideas (aside from their lack of certification and dearth of excellence).

In a moment of structural brilliance I can now reveal that the Ghostbusters sound effect that I have overused above has absolutely nothing to do with the remainder of this post. Am I sorry? Not really. Am I embarrassed? A little. But that might be something to do with the fact that I am currently typing this naked in “Ewan’s Internet Cafe” in Stranraer. I mean, who uses internet cafes nowadays? Embarrassing or what?

I better warn you now, the remainder of this post may well slip towards the quicksand of “self-indulgent writerly moaning”. In which case you can stand impassively on the bank, arms on hips, thumbs through belt-loops like a redneck linedancer (are there any other kind?) as I disappear beneath the surface. I am not waving, I am drowning in a metaphorical quicksand of my own making.

But. And there always is one. I’d like to spend a few paragraphs musing on the challenge of coming up decent character names. When Jimmy and I were in the early stages of writing “High Tide” we spent a considerable amount of time wondering what to call the lead female character. The film is set in Wales so it seemed like a reasonable idea to find a Welsh-sounding name. Easy we call her Cerys because that’s what Cerys is called. Cerys from Catatonia. Who were ace. And very Welsh. But no, that was deemed “too Welsh” (as were Angharad and Myfanwy). So what about “Sarah”? No, Jimmy cried, that’s not Welsh at all. We finally settled on “Bethan”. Which sounded “quite Welsh but not overly-Welsh”. It’s a minefield I tell you. Particularly after all that Bethan may not be Welsh after all (long story – I will save it for another time).

To avoid further head-scratching and cold, soulless violence in the Long Arm office, I will now provide you with a handy guide to naming your characters. If you ever want to write a script or a novel or even hastily find a new identity for yourself after perpetrating a major crime then please feel free to refer to it. Here goes.

THE LONG ARM GUIDE TO NAMING YOUR CHARACTERS IN A FILM THAT YOU MAY POSSIBLY BE WRITING AT THE MOMENT OR MIGHT DO IN THE FUTURE SOMETIME. 

You have SEVEN options. And no more okay? There are NO MORE. Don’t even bother trying to think of others because you won’t.

1 – THE PLODDING HACK METHOD

We’ll start with the most common and most deadeningly tedious of the seven options. You sit at a desk with a pen and a piece of paper and then you embark on a reasoned and subtle process in which you consider options based on the ethnicity, age and birthplace of your character. You may well have a conversation such as the one Jimmy and I engaged in above. At the end of the process you will have a number of plausible options and you will go to bed content. BUT YOUR SOUL WILL BE DARK. This is the most sensible method by far and is to therefore be avoided at all costs.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Simon Banks; Rachel Huntington; Phillip Balls; Dwaine Devons.

2 – THE SCI-FI METHOD

Blame George Lucas. When I wrote the Sci-Fi musical “Moon on a Stick” with my two pals Rupert and Andy, we had endless fun thinking of names for the parade of ridiculous characters we created. Some of them were very obvious in their inspiration – the character “Jupiter” made it from the very first notes we wrote to the first night with his name unchanged. We also drew inspiration from some of the poor bastard animals that NASA blasted into oblivion in the early days of the space programme: “Belka” for example. Others we just made up a word that sounded “spacey” – “Grok”. All great fun and the perfect method for those of you working up a script set in London in 1800 based around the early days of the Royal Institution.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Nova Rockets; Zang Petersburst; Laika Lovelace

3 – THE IKEA METHOD

Sometimes when a little drunk in pubs I begin banging the table and telling my friends for the hundredth time about what I consider to the best job in the world – i.e  the man or woman employed by Ikea to NAME THEIR FRIGHTENINGLY UBIQUITOUS PRODUCTS.

Seriously, someone must have this job. And I am jealous. There is someone sitting in Stockholm office right now (which is tinted by those 70s hues of brown and green that you see in all those Scandy detective series) with a box of those little brown pencils and a big pile of new products and their mission is simple – give these products slightly arcane, slightly Swedish and ENTIRELY INVENTED names that are either ridiculous or unpronounceable or both. Now all you need to is apply this system to your gritty drama set in the lift of a South London tower block and your naming crisis is ended.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Wayne Faönkulla; Tamsin Knutdaag; Old Mrs Gregonspluff; Billy Bookcase

(Balls, I have just discovered that Ikea’s names are not invented. They are proper words. This is hugely annoying so PLEASE FORGET THAT YOU READ THIS. Thanks so much).

4  – THE WIKIPEDIA METHOD

Simple – go to Wikipedia. Look at the “In the News” box and pick the first appropriately gendered christian name listed. Then go to the “On this day’ box and pick the first word that could be a surname, no matter how outlandish.

Today’s example: Beatrix Venezuela.

Beatrix Venezuela is a crime-fighting member of the aristocracy who sleeps and bakes her away around the criminal underworld of Exeter in her search of her nemesis Handball Polish . . . .

It works!

5 – THE DICKENSIAN METHOD

Dickens was a genius. For multifarious reasons but no more so than his character-naming policy. No need for pith here, just luxuriate in these unmatched examples: Bayham Badger; Sgt. Buzfuz; Luke Honeythunder; Harriet Tattycoram, Rosa Bud . . .

Have a go yourself by all means. But if you fail (as I have done) then I am sure you could borrow a few of Charlie’s for your slacker comedy set in the Mid-West.

6 – THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY METHOD

All writers have used this one. Scour the scripts of every published writer and you will find names stolen from people that they have met, slept with or are related to. They may be changed a little to avoid legal action but make no mistake these are names that belong to REAL PEOPLE. I have done this. And I am going to confess a few below. None of the characters that were given these names were murderers I promise.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Simon Wain; Andy Patrick; Richard Fletcher; Janet Miller; Sophie Barrs . . . . .

I am sorry. I am very sorry to all of you.

7 – THE WILDCARD METHOD

And so we come to the final method on our list – JUST PICK SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Sometimes called the “sod-it-that’ll-do method”. And the very best example I can think of right now is from the filthy, violent and wonderful sitcom “Bottom’ in which one of the two main characters is called Eddie Hitler. Offensive, misjudged and very, very funny.

And a great excuse for a clip.

I know it isn’t a film. They did make a film version of Bottom. But it was rubbish.

Thanks for reading. Good luck in all your naming adventures.

With warmest regards,

James Stiltingflud Banfer’estest.

The past is a disappointing romantic comedy

Last week was a bad week. Not as bad as being shot at in Afghanistan (actually, ignore the geographic specificity of that analogy; being shot at anywhere is at best really quite annoying) or contracting a rare, incurable disease or believing, if only fleetingly, that Michael Gove has the first idea about how to run a state education system in the twenty first century. Not as bad as any of those things no, but certainly sufficient to make arriving at Friday evening suitable for a slow-motion montage in which I wipe the battlefield dirt from my forehead, light a battered cigarette with a clunky old lighter and exhale a ribbon of smoke with a faint smile of pleasure, with eyes that bear silent witness to five days of horror of which I will never speak. (Except in voiceover, when one of my descendants is reading extracts from my diary in some tin-pot dramatisation of my life made for Albanian television). This moment would be scored by the live studio version of Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Ros. These chaps are all just two feet tall and live in a volcano so they know something of sadness.

So what to do to extract oneself from the bony grip of a bastard week such as the one just passed? Well, eccentrically, I was given a bag of meat by a friend and this resulted in an immediate leap up the chipper scale. It seems that a packet of cured pig is one of nature’s most potent gifts to the ailing psyche. (Thank you Anna). I then went to the pub and sunk a couple of expensive ales (which despite now costing more than a small Korean car still taste as sweet as kissing a rainbow) before returning home and, after all domestic duties were dispatched, flopping onto the sofa in search of a filmic cuddle.

Films are like pants. (deep breath). There are good pants and bad pants. Pants that you wear when you want to be sexy and pants that you wear when you need some support. There are old pants that you should have thrown out years ago. There are new pants that you’ve tried a couple of times but just don’t feel right. There are lucky pants and nostalgia pants, ill-advised pants and emergency pants . . .

The analogy really doesn’t work well enough to justify the number of examples above but if I really stretch it (pun intended) then perhaps you’ll agree that a film that soothes a troubled mind at the end of a trying week is a little like a favourite piece of underwear . . .  . alright, I’ll stop. Anyway, my “favourite pants” (stop it!) film could well be “Shakespeare in Love” and it was to this 1998 multiple-Oscar-winner that I turned on Friday evening. I hadn’t actually seen it in years. I definitely saw it at the cinema when it was released and I owned a VHS copy that sat on the shelf in our house in Shepherd’s Bush for ages and presumably was watched every now and then. However, I recently bought a DVD copy for £1.00 (including free postage, stonewall bargain) from ebay and was waiting for the right moment to rekindle my relationship with this gentle, romantic comedy.

If I am honest, one of the main reasons why I enjoyed the film so much when I was  younger is because I “got” many of the literary references. Having been (and continue to be) a Shakespeare geek many of co-screenwriter Stoppard’s “clever” gags found their perfect audience in the somewhat pretentious and undoubtably smug younger version of myself:

Oh look, there’s an early shot of Shakespeare writing out his name several times, each with a different spelling . . .  oh, yes, he he, mmm, well, of course, of the six surviving signatures of Shakespeare, every one is spelt differently.

What’s that? Shakespeare getting advice on plots from Kit Marlowe in a bar? ….oh he he, snort, ha ha, mmmm . . .  well, of course, many of Shakespeare’s early plays owed a huge amount to Marlowe, even to the extent of him stealing some of Marlowe’s best lines.

And did you hear that? The boy with the mice who said he liked the violence in Titus Andonicus? Did you hear his name? He said “John Webster”. JOHN WEBSTER! HA HA HAR! JOHN WEBSTER WHO WENT ON TO WRITE THE DUCHESS OF MALFI WHICH OF COURSE AS EVERYBODY KNOWS WAS REALLY REALLY VIOLENT! HA HA HAR!

God I must have been such a prick. But at least I can see that now. I suppose I also enjoyed the chance to see “Shakespeare” the man; someone who I worshipped above any deity, actually alive, sitting at a desk and writing words on a page before leaping around, fighting, sighing lots and frequently kissing Gwyneth Paltrow on the boobs. Not a bad life all told. Yes indeed, it was a great, silly, utterly fantastical film that was to be the perfect balm after a shitty week.

But something was wrong. A disquiet came over me as I watched the opening scenes. Perhaps I had drunk too much wine too quickly. Perhaps I was still grumpy. Everything was ostensibly in its right place: Joseph Fiennes’ silly beard, Paltrow’s boobs, the line about comedy and a bit with a dog, hundreds of extras overacting in the background (Excuse me loves, could you just silently sell that fruit with slightly more MASSIVE gestures and expressions please), but still I could not settle. Still I could not yield to the film’s beckoning embrace. What was the problem? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with the world? My goodness, could it actually be that THE FILM IS NOT VERY GOOD????

Listen Shakespeare in Love, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have rushed back to each other like that. It is not you it’s me. I thought everything would be just the same as the late nineties, I thought I was the same man I was then. But you know, I’ve changed. You’ve changed. And I know we had fun on Friday night, it was a laugh and on one level it felt good but look me in the eyes and tell me that it was the right thing to do. We shouldn’t have done it. We should have been content with the happy memories. And now look what’s happened . . . .

As always I am being ridiculous. I did still enjoy the film but it had lost its magic. It had also lost one of its lines. I am CERTAIN that in my erstwhile VHS copy when Mr Fennyman (played by the ever-brilliant Tom Wilkinson) is offered the part of the apothecary he had a line about owning the perfect hat for the role. This made me and my pals laugh in 1999 because it reminded us of our friend Jonathan D, who we dressed up as a ringmaster to introduce a comedy show we were performing at the time. (And Jonathan was marvellous, standing on a platform in the rafters above the stage, with coat, hat and whip shouting at the audience “I SHALL CHAIR YOUR FACE!”). But on Friday night the line was missing so maybe I dreamed it. But then I couldn’t have because near the end of the film when we see Mr Fennyman in costume he points at his purple hat, a gesture that is largely pointless without the earlier line. Ah well, it is all deeply trivial but this omission, coupled with the fact that it now seems staggering that the Paltrow won an Oscar for dressing as a boy, flapping her chest around and sighing (even I could do all three of those to a pretty high standard) means that I am going to have to look for another “pants” film next time my week is a little trying.

Whilst on the SIL theme, I found this clip taken from the Adam and Joe Show – two men who are rivalled only by Michael Haneke and Richard Linklater in the pantheon of Long Arm man love – this is a brilliantly succinct and accurate summation of the film:

So maybe it is safer never to go back. Memory is not indelible but maleable and transient. Nostalgia is, by definition, a soft-focus version of the past and in that it is comforting. In this age of instant information the ability to access the sounds and pictures of the past may have huge benefits, and there is no doubt that the internet is a liberating and empowering force for good (The internet: overthrowing despotic regimes one amusing cat picture at a time), but it can also be upsetting. What happens when we revisit these past glories, these moments of epiphany and wonder and find then all just a little bit crapper than we remembered? The equivalent of noticing the curling brown dog turd next to your foot as you lean in for your first proper kiss with your first proper girlfriend. Our brains mythologise our past, bedeck our history in ribbons and airbrush our memories. And we are made stronger because of this.

So watch new films. Make new memories. Leave the past where it is and look back only to smile and nod in the knowledge that if it was great back then just think how good it is now.

And careful about revisiting old films. (Unless it is “Singin’ in the Rain”). I was planning to watch “Star Wars” next Friday night, for the first time in many, many years. Perhaps now I won’t. Perhaps it’s best left alone. Although I can’t believe that Mark Hamill delivers anything other the greatest male film performance of the twentieth century . . . . . surely?

P.S.  Beloved 80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo is actually about a BROTHEL – and a kinky one at that – flying helmets and wet celery and all those gags about back passages – Rene is essentially a pimp! I only realised this when I showed it to my then French girlfriend and now French wife. (She didn’t laugh very much even though it is an accurate, moving and downright hilarious portait of occupied France). And I was shocked. What on earth were my parents doing letting me and my sister watch this filth when we were children???

Red hot HIGH TIDE update (in which we write a letter)

I was speaking to a friend earlier today who said that they’d been reading various posts on my blog whilst sitting on the toilet. This was almost certainly more detail than I needed (although if nothing else I now have evidence that my overly-long sentences have impressive diarrhetic if not rhetorical properties) but it was another of his, non-defecatory (which is an adjective – I have just checked), observations that has stuck with me. And there is no pun there so please, please do not try to search for one.

He said that I should spend more time actually writing about the process of making our film rather than spouting endless screes of prose about stuff that happened in the 90s. He is almost certainly is correct. This is a “film” blog, or at least that what I was told to write. Write a film blog Jim. Make it interesting. Tell people about what you are up to in the production process. Lots of people will read it and glory and wonder will shine down on Long Arm Films like the light from a billion galaxies, ancient and profound, both timeless and immense . . . . well the truth of the matter is that most of what is happening on the film at the moment is a little banal. Or at least certainly not the stuff of anecdote. Let me summarise some of the recent “highlights” from Long Arm HQ.

1. I wrote a letter. Jimmy rewrote it. I then managed to put an electronic version of my signature on a pdf version of this letter. Jimmy did likewise. We then sent the letter. There was much rejoicing.

2. We had an email conversation with Briony our lovely and brilliant casting director. She has begun the casting process. Hooray!  But we are not allowed to talk about who we’ve been approaching. So move away, nothing to see here.

3. We had another conversation with the lovely and brilliant Briony who told us that the letter we’d written (see 1) needed changing.

4. We changed the letter.

5. Jimmy and I had a conversation about bras. More specifically, whether a certain character in the screenplay of High Tide would be wearing one at a certain point. We concluded that she wouldn’t be because women don’t wear bras in bed. This took several hours.

6. I opened a Soundcloud account for Long Arm Films with the vague notion that we might, at some point some time, post some audio stuff online. I tested it by uploading a clip of a gig I played in Camden several years ago, as guests of my dear friends Nice Mum.  I was in a “band” with two teaching colleagues; we were called Chalk! and we played cover versions two songs that were contemporary at the time. And kudos to my friend Stuart for his arrangements which still sound great.

You can hear it by clicking on the thingy below should you be interested:

7. Jimmy sent a tweet.

8. I wrote some stuff and published it online.

You see it is all a bit tedious.

Not that I am complaining. Not a bit of it. It’s brilliant and wonderful and just ball-shakingly thrilling to be embarking on this process. And with my best friend too . . . . . .  I am going to stop now before you vomit your supper (and I hope that you still have “supper”; nothing like a bit of Victorian structure to your mealtimes to ensure that you keep yourself regular) over your electronic device at the repetition of such platitudes.  When we have more interesting news then you’ll be the first to know about it I promise.

But in the meantime, the electronic world’s insatiable thirst for CONTENT means that I will continue barking like a little yappy dog with a keyboard and Youtube account.

And for this I can only apologise.

Blame the system. Rage against the machine.

Le petit lapin de Optimus Prime

If you ever have the opportunity to ask Jimmy Hay out for a pint then I urge you to not to be shy. Just ask him. He’ll most likely say yes, particularly if you are buying, and you’ll have a good time. I envy Jimmy his gentle charm and ability to put everyone immediately at their ease whether they be friends, strangers or animals. This is why Jimmy is very much the “public face” of the Long Arm. I just stand awkwardly in corners and check my phone for want of any decent conversation. In the time it takes me to get through a few stumbling pleasantries Jimmy will have noted down your contact details, passed you a few words of Westcountry wisdom about an area of your life to which you hadn’t really given much thought but you know, he’s really got a point, and then you will have found yourself offering him your daughter’s hand in marriage. Not that you have a daughter. But perhaps you could persuade a colleague to borrow theirs and then offer her.

Jimmy is just that sort of guy.

But let me just offer a few cautionary words. Once you’ve got a couple of pints and a few bags of nuts into the evening, don’t make the mistake of asking him about his thoughts about the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Now you may think that this is unlikely, you may think that you have a sufficient cache of witty observations and pithy anecdotes gleaned from your not inconsiderable years on the earth – what about that time Richard Fletcher fell through the window or when Kate Parsons put ice down your pants (which you secretly enjoyed) or that time in the Lake District when you saw a radically different side to Sophie Banks and indeed found a radically different use for shaving foam? Or maybe you could pass the time asking Jimmy for tips about belt selection and their fashionable integration into the modern wardrobe? And believe me he will have things to say on this matter. Serious things.

But don’t rule out the possibility that during the inevitable lull after the third pint of the evening that you might blurt out – SO JIMMY TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT FRENCH PHILOSOPHER GILLES DELEUZE. Even though you’ve never heard of him and are immediately suspicious of his motives because he is French.

You will know that you’ve asked the question because the pub will suddenly fall into a Spaghetti Western-style silence and all eyes will immediately drop floor-wards. The atmosphere will be thick with anticipation. The sense of waiting will hang heavy in the air like a pre-ban cigarette smog next to the gents. And then Jimmy’s eyes will narrow like a Film Studies John Wayne, his fingers will twitch at his side and just like Lucky in Waiting for Godot when the hat is placed on his head. He will ORATE:

According to Deleuze, the break-down in the sensory-motor schema – of logical, cause-and-effect thinking and movement – led to the inception in Europe of a new form of cinema that he termed the time-image. The time-image presented an alternative to the dominant movement-image cinema, which is defined by action and the ability of protagonists to react to their situations and act in such a way that alters and ultimately drives the narrative forward. The movement-image – that Deleuze associated predominantly with classical narrative cinema – emphasises forward progression, professional achievement, conflict and competition, heroic characters and uplifting conclusions. It is a cinema driven by capitalist ideology.

And you’ll try to run. But running is useless. Jimmy will follow. His eyes blazing, his intelligence burning like the fires of some scarcely imagined Hades and he will talk, he will talk and he will talk and he will talk . . .

I’ll stop at this point. I am just joshing. Jimmy’s a bright guy and his elucidation of Deleuze’s ideas is actually very interesting. The premise is simple (or at least Jimmy has rendered it such for my meagre brain to compute):

The movement-image – that Deleuze associated predominantly with classical narrative cinema – emphasises forward progression, professional achievement, conflict and competition, heroic characters and uplifting conclusions. By contrast, the cinema of the time-image privileges time over movement. The time-image is not concerned with the causal or rational progression of images. Images are freed from the pressure of narrative continuity and are allowed to exist in isolation. The time-image represents a cinema of inaction, of characters wholly lacking in agency, unwilling or unable to subscribe to an incessantly progress-driven capitalist model of existence.

Time-image cinema. It is a beautiful, beguiling thought. A film that allows space for images to simply exist, exist as loaded, fulsome and profound, or profane, but with no obligation to fulfil narrative function. Jimmy can provide you some examples should you wish to pursue your studies. The opening images of our film Sliced were very much in debt to this idea. Not that anyone really noticed.

Anyway, all our film ideas now have to pass a strict DELEUZE TEST before they can become logged in the official Long Arm Ideas Book (which Jimmy keeps next to his loo). If there is too much narrative cogency then they will be rejected no matter the context or content.

To this end we recently pitched for the gig as screenwriters on the new Transformers film. It took a lot of work to get a script into shape but I think we’ve given it a good shot. We’ve heard nothing back yet but these people are really busy so we’re still hopeful. I shouldn’t make any of this public yet but I think I may just give you a peek at the opening scene. Just don’t sell it to anyone. Please. This really could be our shot at the big time. So here goes.

TITLE:

TRANSFORMERS: LE PETIT LAPIN DE OPTIMUS PRIME

SCENE 1:

LONG STILL SHOT OF A CRUMBLING PARISIAN TOWER BLOCK IN 1968. AFTER FIVE MINUTES (AT LEAST) A CAT PASSES AND THEN PISSES NEXT TO THE FRONT DOOR.

SCENE 2:

A THREADBARE APARTMENT INTERIOR. THERE IS A OLD CHAISE-LONGUE, AN OVERFLOWING ASHTRY AND NOTHING ELSE.

WE STARE AT THE ROOM FOR TEN MINUTES.

SUDDENLY THE CHAISE-LONGUE TRANSFORMS INTO OPTIMUS PRIME THE LEADER OF THE AUTOBOTS. HE FUMBLES IN HIS CORDS FOR A PACKET OF CAMELS, LIGHTS ONE WITH A FLAMETHROWER AND INHALES DEEPLY AS HE STARES OUT OF THE WINDOW.

OPTMUS PRIME
Mon dieu. Such are the vagaries of contemporary existence I feel I cannot adequately express the fundamental truths about leading an army of massive transforming robots in an seemingly endless war against those bastard Decepticons. It’s like really, really tedious.

HE FINISHES THE CIGARETTE AND TAKES ANOTHER ONE FROM THE PACKET. HE LIGHTS IT WITH A MACHINE GUN.

SUDDENLY THE ASHTRAY TRANSFORMS INTO MEGATRON, THE EVIL LEADER OF THE REALLY EVIL DECEPTICONS WHO ARE REALLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

MEGATRON
So you’re there.

OPTIMUS PRIME
Am I? Are you?

MEGATRON
Perhaps.

OPTIMUS PRIME
You’re not smoking.

MEGATRON
I AM smoke. I will be king.

OPTIMUS PRIME
What?

MEGATRON
Exactly. That’s exactly the problem.

OPTIMUS PRIME
Merde.

TWENTY MINUTES ELAPSE. NEITHER ROBOT MOVES.

OPTIMUS PRIME
Did you eat my little rabbit you metal bastard?

MEGATRON
Pate. With an “e” acute. I put him in. The. Pate.

OPTIMUS PRIME
I will destroy you.

MEGATRON
I am. Already destroyed.

A VERY SMALL MERCURY TEAR CREEPS DOWN THE FACE OF MEGATRON. OPTIMUS PRIME CONTINUES TO SMOKE.

TWENTY FIVE MINUTES ELAPSE.

MEGATRON
Fancy a snog?

CUT TO BLACK.

Pretty thrilling stuff hey? No wonder we are excited. Once we get High Tide in the can we’ll be on a plane to California to negotiate our MASSIVE fee. Just need that  phone to ring. Any day now. Any day . . . . .

This. This is a moment for T’Pau

As grumpy French man and beret-embracerJohn-Paul Sartre opined in one of his more fictitious moments, “we are all the stars of our own film”. Except he said it in French so it sounded sexier. Except that he didn’t say it at all. I don’t know a massive amount about twentieth century existentialist philosophy (apart that gleaned from a sketch that my excellent friend Dave wrote many years ago – and Dave actually knows a lot about existentialist philosophy; and planes – in which JPS complains about the unbearable lightness of beans) but it seems like a fair place to start in this “blog” (such a ugly word) which may eventually come to reference something to do with filmmaking. For the second time running. Which is a first. 

I went to Sainsbury’s earlier. I bought some food. Such is the stuff of dreams. Actually it was quite jolly; there was barely anyone there as most people in west London seem to be dealing with the SNOW APOCALYPSE (about five centimetres or 1.969 inches for the two Americans who visited this blog a few days ago) by staying at home. So I was free to glide around the produce aisles like a hairy Bond, elegantly steering my trolley past the reasonably priced meat and exciting offers on toothpaste. And little by little, tin by tin, I began not to exist. Or rather I did exist but I was able to view myself objectively. I was the star of my own film. I was the hairy male lead in the much anticipated new Long Arm production – “JAMES REMEMBERS THE NOODLES”, a clever and subtle titular reference to the moment when I remembered to, and you’re ahead of me I am sure, buy noodles. And believe me, if the title makes you a little bit dicky downstairs with excitement then that is as nothing compared to actually being there. Actually remembering to buy them.

I am going to hope that such moments are not exclusive to me. I am pretty sure they’re not; there must have been a thousand terrible films that have begun with a breathy late-teenage voiceover along the lines of:

That Saturday in Aspen which is in Colorado in America I dreamt I was the star of my own movie. As I plucked the last of Virginia’s purple hair from my fisherman’s knit sweater I could see myself in close-up; my fingers trembling, my hair strangely retro, as if I were channelling Cheryl Baker from 1981 . . . . .

(Note to Jimmy – get that down pal; we’ve written worse)

The invention of the walkman must have seen a surge in such moments. Suddenly ordinary non-sexy mortals could wipe out the banal, workaday soundtrack of 80s life (the maniacal laughter of coked-up capitalists as they waved their genitals in the faces of the disenfranchised poor; thank God we’ve moved on as a society) and replace it with the hits of Spandau Ballet or Aswad. Now it was possible to scrape the ice heroically from your windscreen with Oscar-troubling intensity to the sound of Adagio for Strings or attempt to leap a small stream whilst carrying a bag full of miscellaneous groceries that you’d bought from Mr Pierce’s now long-defunct corner shop IN SLOW MOTION as you were scored by the theme from Chariots of Fire by Vangellis.

It was ace. And it still is. And now you don’t have to turn the tape over or have your moment of rooster-like strutting in front of some pretty girls ruined terminally by needing to stop and fast-forward through three tedious tracks in a row on Side 3 of Now That’s What I Call Music 10.

And so there go all of us (I hope). All of us matinee idols and screen sirens, stars of our own meta-realities, shot on location and for millions of pounds and showing to an audience of one.

Now that cinema has been around for over a century we are more than film-literate. We are film-unconcious. We direct these internal epics with the skill and flair of a great director. And we do it instinctively. We know the moments that will require the intimate close up or those that would look glorious from a crane shot, the camera shooting upwards as our lives shrink and tilt amongst the boxed fields and arterial roads below. Cinema has given us a whole new concept of self-examination, self-actualisation, and one that could not have been conceivable to our ancestors. Or could it? Did the people who painted the walls of Lascaux see themselves hunting bulls with a camera hurtling alongside them on the back of a Toyota pick-up? Did they wish for Wagner in their ears as they pitched their spears beast-wards? Maybe they did (apart from the Wagner bit – they preferred East European hard trace music) – certainly their images are full of movement and energy. Or in Rome? As the centurions pounded the peoples of Europe with their miraculously advanced weaponry or did that cool thing where they all crouched down beneath their shields and shuffled along, part rugby scrum part drunken conga late at night in some shitty wine bar – did they exchange looks and dream of how amazing it would look shot from above?  Did they think that “this, this is A MOMENT FOR T’PAU) Who knows? But take one look at the friezes around Trajan’s column (not a euphemism) and you’ll see that filmic vistas and the directorial perspective were very much in evidence in 113AD. They just hadn’t worked out how to move the images yet. Or that what they really needed was a shouty Australian man to bring their violent history to life by gurning and waving his arms about like a dick.

Some directors have successfully rendered the experience of “head cinema” (as no one is calling it) and one who I really like is Michel Gondry. At some point in recent years answering “Michel Gondry” when asked about your favourite director has led to a certain amount of derision. It as if he’s become the de facto choice for anyone who wished to impress with a slightly left-field choice but not one so extreme as to put the girl off that you are obviously trying to sleep with. This is a shame. I like Michel Gondy. I think “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a masterpiece. And I am saying that and I don’t want to sleep with you. Carrey and Winslett have rarely been better and for all the broken magic of Kaufman’s screenplay it is Gondry’s realisation of the internal world, the vast majority of the trickery being done in camera, that lifts the film to greatness.

I like the fact that his visual style is consistent. Jimmy would probably say that this makes him an “auteur” (when I think of the word auteur I think of the 90s indie band, the lead singer of whom lived next door to my friend Kris) but I just warm to someone who has been playing with the same themes and imagery throughout his career.

One of Gondry’s finest moments remains the video for Massive Attack’s masterpiece “Protection”.

I think this is stunning. And not just because it fits the music perfectly (again that word is not used lightly), not just because it seems to be shot in one take, not just because Tracey Thorn leaning on the kitchen table in her leopard print dress is one of the coolest things ever, but because it is the most faithful rendition I know of those moments when your mind slips out of the window. Those moments when you become the director, panning through the different rooms of your life, capturing yourself in close-up

and then cutting to black.

P.S. – If this phenomena does turn out to be exclusive to me and tedious imbibers of hallucinogens then I sincerely apologise. I am an arse. I do realise this.

STOP PRESS: GONDRY IS NOT AN AUTEUR SAYS FILM MAKER AND LECTURER JIMMY.M. HAY.

I quote –

the only thing I would contest is that I would actually say Gondry ISN’T an auteur, but in fact just a stylist. Like the aforementioned Tarantino, Anderson and Burton, his films all look the same, but is there that much going on under the hood of the car?

So now you know. Gondry isn’t an auteur. He is a car with a low-performance engine.

Quiet is Sexy

I saw “The Woman in Black” last night. Not the film. I can’t abide all that acting that Daniel Radcliffe insists on doing. I’m sure he is a decent chap but when he acts, he really ACTS. You can practically see the acting streaming through his wizardy veins (not that he’d like that adjective that I have just invented) and I just find it all too mannered. But anyway, he thinks I am a cock and that is fair enough. No, this was The Woman in Black in a creaky old theatre just off Drury Lane in London. This production has been running since Chaucer reviewed it for his Observer column in 1378 (“And if you liketh thanne Womanne in Blacke by one assent /Now for to standen at my judgement -/ It was a playe full fearsome / But the ice creams were fucking expensive) and seems to show no sign of closing any time soon.

It is a ghost story. A very silly ghost story really and the whole experience of sitting in that tiny place is close to a fairground ride. Theme park theatre with bangs and jumps, screams and shadows, all designed to make the tourists and the school children spring from the lumpy seats and shout in imagined fear. And my goodness, they do shout. They shout, scream and then shush each other for shouting and screaming. It is a bizarrely self-policing experience. Or maybe it is just a English one. Either way it is amusing.

And you know what, the whole thing works really well. This was the second time I’d seen it so any of the shock value that there had been the first time had largely dissipated but as I sat back and giggled at the silly, shout screamy atmosphere bouncing around the walls, I realised that this was actually great theatre. Not GREAT artistically perhaps, certainly not Mark Rylance in Jerusalem great (mind you, I am not sure I will ever see a finer piece of theatre than that – I was so privileged to see that production and not just because I stood next to Jimmy Carr when having a wee; he’s got really lovely shoes) but a pleasing reminder of what is possible with a couple of actors, a few sound effects, a set that it looks as worn as that jumper you insist on keeping despite the fact that it is threadbare, faded and utterly knackered, and a half-decent script. I’m sure the budget for The Woman in Black was a hundredth of that of Shrek: The Musical, the show that currently occupies the Theatre Royal immediately opposite, probably a thousandth, but it doesn’t matter a jot. It continues to sell, it continues to ply its silly, spooky trade and beguile new converts every performance.

Simple is beautiful. Quiet is sexy. Small is big. Subtle is magnificent.

This is my thesis. For tonight anyway. (I should point out that I adored Skyfall and none of these utterly reductive and downright invented maxims could be applied to that brilliant cavalcade of shooting and jumping and driving badly). However this is what is in my head tonight and so this is what will be forced upon you, like a kiss from an overly-fond Aunt. Yep, think of me as randy female relative with a gin in one hand, a silk cut in the other and something to TELL you.

But it is true. I like small films. I like moments. I like the pause. Yet I am an amateur in the world of quiet-staring-out-of-windows-oh-are-you-sure-you-need-to-show-that-many-boobs-in-one-film films. This is a job for the other half of what has been accurately been described as those two blokes in Long Arm Films – Mr James Michael Hay.

Jimmy’s watched more awkward foreign films than you’ve had lovers. A LOT more. He knows. He watches. He strokes (HIS CHIN!) and he knows. And tonight I invite him onto our electronic stage to share his thoughts. I texted him earlier and asked him for three films to support my overly simplistic notions about the beauty of simplicity. I gave him an hour to give an answer but not a second more than two minutes and fifty three seconds later he replied. And you know what, I think he was delaying slightly so as not to show off.

So here we are, the official Long Arm Films selection for the SUBTLE, SIMPLE FILMS ARE REALLY QUITE GOOD YOU KNOW (YOU PROBABLY DO) FILM FESTIVAL taking place on this web page this very moment.

Film Choice Number One: BEFORE SUNRISE (1997) Dir. Richard Linklater

American bloke (Hawke) meets French lady (Delphy) on a train. They get off the train in Vienna and then walk around talking to each other. The End.

This is a gorgeous film. I first saw it at University in a physics lecture hall which the Film Soc appropriated to show interesting stuff to those that wanted to leave the bar long enough to attend. I loved it dearly. It was a revelation: you mean films could actually be like this? With just people talking about stuff? It appeared that they could. It was suddenly a kinder, softer world. The sequel is just as good.

Film Choice Number Two: WENDY AND LUCY (2008) Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Wendy is a lady. Lucy is a dog. They walk about a bit . . . . er, Jimmy?

Film Choice Number Three: QUIET CITY (2007) Dir. Aaron Katz.

Mumbling and slightly annoying American bloke meets mumbling and slightly more annoying American lady and they go to a party.

Jimmy made me watch this. And I am very glad he did. It is beautiful and brilliant. And contains this scene which, for us, is close to cinematic perfection:

Plus we have honourable mentions for ONCE and LAST RESORT, both of which were recommended by tonight’s curator.

But finally we have a little bonus feature. And this is a surprising one, at least until you see it. Baz (really? I guess it’s slightly better than Barry) Luhrmann does not do subtlety. He really does not do subtlety. Ewan Macgregor gadding around on top of a massive bejewelled elephant shouting his lungs up out of his throat is a subtle as he gets. And ROMEO + JULIET (and that “+” remains a source of deep annoyance to me all these years later) is a nuanced and pared-back as Brian Blessed spitting that’s he going to FUCKING KILL CEASAR in your ear from a distance of a couple of millimetres.

Until this happens:

And I hand over to Jimmy “The Belt” Hay at this point:

One of the most perfect moments in a film everin a very fussy film, this is a moment of pure, brilliant simplicity; it’s a pitch-perfect combination of subtle camera movement, music and colour that proves without any shadow of a doubt that film can be art

And then he adds:

I fucking love it

(I think he likes it).

Jimmy’s also been in touch with a better summary of Wendy and Lucy:

Tackling themes of alienation and social exclusion in contemporary America, Wendy and Lucy is an intimate portrayal of a young woman’s increasingly desperate attempts to merely exist.

But I am sure the bits with the dog are hilarious.

And thus ends our festival of quiet films. Thanks for coming. Please help us keep the internet tidy for everyone by disposing of your rubbish in the bins provided. Have you tried SANG SANG? – AUTHENTIC CHINESE FOOD ONLY 100 YARDS FROM THIS CINEMA (and you will have needed to have been a regular at The Alexandra Cinema, Newton Abbot in the late 80s / early 90s to fully enjoy that reference).

If you have enjoyed this “article” then please tell someone. If you haven’t then we don’t need to talk about it; I won’t call I promise; look it just happened alright; don’t worry, you won’t see me again; no I won’t tell anyone; not even my friends; okay, okay, if that’s what you want; but listen, it wasn’t that terrible  . . . . . . . . was it? Hello  . . . ? Hello . . . . .?

Press the “Relative Indifference” button

We have a new website. It is not very grand and when we have some more money we will get something more elaborate, one that will make you a cup of tea, tickle you gently under the chin and sing the hits of Aerosmith to to you in an alluring falsetto. But for now you’ll have to make do with a photo of Jimmy and me looking like we REALLY want to be in a band and some embedded videos of stuff you’ve probably already seen. If you haven’t then hasten over there right now and have a watch. Some of it is quite good.

But remember when you watch Stuart and Kate  – KATE DOES NOT EXIST. Thanks. It probably could have been clearer in the film.

Now of course when doing anything online these days you have to have a “social media strategy”. We now have a lovely woman doing this for us. She is called Nat (hello Nat) and she is the one behind  both the Long Arm Twitter account and the Facebook page. Nat recently went to Canada and spent some time gadding around wearing snow shoes. This makes her officially a good thing.

And so we are forced to join the fug of electronic noise bouncing around the planet in order to tell people who are mildly interested that we are making a film. To not do so would be putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage and as long as we have someone as supremely competent as Nat at the helm (of our metaphorical social media ship which, bizarrely, is shaped like a modest willy) then those that subscribe will receive only relevant and diverting material.

I am on Twitter. Is “on” the right word? It makes it sound like a drug. Which for some it may be. I am rubbish at Twitter. Those that follow me do so out of pity mostly. I used to agonise over crafting subtle, arch and ever-so-pointed tweets that I hoped would be pinged around the world like a million tiny parcels of my god-damned genius. It never happened. The most retweets I ever received was three when I oh-so-brilliantly called George Osborne a posh, self-serving wanker. Which he is. But it wasn’t worth repeating. When I was first “on” (in? amongst? beneath?) Twitter I tweeted etymologies of interesting words that I had found in a slightly obscure book secretly hoping that logophiles and Guardian readers would flock to my account and be so wowed by my diverse and witty observations that they’d tell their friends who read the Independent and little by little, floral print by floral print, I’d accrue the numbers of followers enjoyed by Pegg and Fry and then I would lead my new army to VICTORY OVER THE IGNORANT. And there I’d be in my new palace made of gold and poor people, my face on a massive painting like Kim Jong-Un, passing down decrees about spelling and Bill Murray.

Again, no one was interested. So if you do decide to “follow” me then be warned, it is no fun. Unless you like plugs for Long Arm stuff  or potty-mouthed insults of the government, particularly the odious Michael Gove.

Oh goodness, I can’t allude to North Korea without thinking of this. Utter genius.

And as for Facebook. What can you say about Facebook? Actually the Guardian today said that it was shedding users like a balding man sheds hairs. Although not quite in those terms. We all know Facebook is evil don’t we? We all know that we’ve essentially entered into a Faustian pact, albeit a rubbish one because we don’t get unlimited knowledge and pleasure we just get to look at that bloke from school who you didn’t like very much getting drunk in a tedious nightclub. And then getting married to someone who is not very pretty. And yet we all offer up our souls willingly.

I saw a tweet recently (see, I am addicted too) which went something like this: celebrate the joy and wonder of your friends brining a child into the world by repeatedly “liking” their photos on Facebook! And we all do it. And then post photos ourselves. And pretend that we don’t care about the numbers of “likes” we gather but secretly keep a spreadsheet with in-depth analysis. If I post a picture of my (admittedly beautiful) son, the “likes” go off the scale. When we first announced that we’d made a short film I think I had about three. Not that it matters. But Facebook sort of pretends that it does and then I DO start to care and that really, really bothers me.

And then there is the LIKE button itself. What an invention. I realise that complaining that Facebook is reductive is akin to leaping into a river and complaining that you’ve got wet. But that won’t stop me complaining. It is binary thinking: yes or no, good or bad, LIKE or ignore. There is no room for nuance. I’d like a “HMMMM, THAT’S QUITE GOOD” button or a “WOW! HE’S GOT OLD” button or a “RELATIVELY INDIFFERENT” button. We are complex, subtle and changeable as a species and the LIKE button reduces us to the level thoughtless drones with a stick taped to our forehead hammering one of the two very large buttons on the desk in front of us. We are digital woodpeckers, but with a lot more flesh. And wind.

Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” may not have been an allegory of Nazism after all. From this perspective he seems to have foreseen the age of media; technology that purports to collectivise but in reality atomises us and makes us think that we are more important than anyone else.

And I am one just like all the rest.

That said it is useful for telling people that I have written more of this nonsense and for that I am grateful. Hypocritical to the point of crisis but grateful. I am delighted that so many people have been reading my recent wonderings and drivel but promise to write more about the film we are making when I have something of interest to say. Honestly I will try.

But if by any chance you do like what you’ve read on this blog, be a poppet and pass it on would you?

Maybe even press LIKE. (I am clearly keeping count)