Trivial Pursuit in the Kingdom of Brunei

Somewhere in the cobwebbed corners of my increasingly befuddled brain is a line from a film. Or a television programme. Or a play. Or something that someone once said to me in a pub. Or perhaps a synthesis of all of these. Regardless of its provenance, the line is quite clear to me. Clear and, after the week just gone, pleasingly apposite:

Things are going to change around here.

Although that spelling of “going” suggests an English accent and the line in my head is most definitely spoken by an American so I suppose it should be rendered thus:

Things are gonna change ’round here.

In the mind of most British people there are only three American accents. 1 – New York (where we assume everyone speaks like Woody Allen or Larry David); 2 – Vaguely Southern (cf. Bill Clinton or J.R. Ewing) or 3 – Generic American (the remaining 315,566,994 members of the population – thanks Wikipedia). This is clearly nonsense; I know for a fact that there are women in America – I met one once, she was lost just near Piccadilly Circus and asked me the way to Carnaby Street. I gave her directions and she she said “thank you” and walked away. And what a moment that was in the ongoing special relationship between our two nations.

Where was I? Oh yes, change. I like change. I like change in all its forms. I like changing shirts before heading out for an evening on the tiles. I like changing my name to something obscure on the very rare occasions that I buy a coffee from Starbucks just so I can smirk as the poor, underpaid coffee-crunchers (or whatever they are called) try to spell “Demitri on the side of my latte (this makes me a bad person, I do realise this) I like the Jacobean tragedy “The Changeling”. My favourite football team is Changers United. I bank with the National Bank of Change and Reorientation . . . you get the idea. Except that if you do I must admit that the idea is entirely fraudulent because I am actually something of a wuss when it comes to modification, variation, conversion, revision, amendment, adjustment, adaptation; remodelling, reshaping, remoulding, redoing, reconstruction, rebuilding, recasting. In short, I fear change. One look at my sock drawer is testament to this.

But, to misquote Shakespeare entirely, sometimes change is thrust upon us and we must cope with the consequences the best we can. And in the past week, a number of changes have occurred around “here” that have been both exciting and a little bewildering, whatever the accent with which you choose to describe them.

Since deciding to write a blog , the decision taken as I sat over-full and over-whiskied in front of the fire at my parents’ house last Christmas (that is to say an open fire, my parents’ house wasn’t ON fire, if it had been I think stuffing another chocolate into my face and sipping scotch would have seemed a touch insensitive) the readership, such as it was, was overwhelmingly British in nature. My regular badgering of my Facebook “friends” garnered enough views to make me relatively content that the weekly banging of the keyboard was worthwhile. I received a few pleasant comments that my assorted ramblings had been enjoyed – the post about choosing names for characters was particularly well-received but the audience was resolutely Anglo Saxon, aside from a few friends in more exotic places in the world like Japan, Australia and Wales, plus the odd American who must have stumbled into the blog by mistake and then been somewhat baffled by references to “the corner shop”, Brian Blessed and early 90s indie band “Ride”.

And then last week my blog was chosen by the WordPress “team” (and I hope they have a special WordPress kit with long pink socks and shirts with a large “WP” emblazoned on the front – just like Manchester United but with the ability to accurately use the semi-colon and to not split infinitives . . ) to be featured on their “freshly pressed” page. Then everything went mad. Mad in a glorious and utterly heartening way. My blog was now being read by PEOPLE I DON’T KNOW in countries around the world, some of which I didn’t even know were countries and I am usually pretty decent at the blue questions in Trivial Pursuit.

I fear this could all be construed as showing off so please believe me when I say that it isn’t. The whole experience has been hugely pleasing and the WordPress community has been, without exception, generous, funny and supportive in their comments and I would like to take each of you out for a pint of good local ale to say thank you were it not for the twin challenges of distant geography and the ridiculous price of good local ale these days.

But I worry, I really do. I worry that I have misled the peoples of Laos and Armenia, Guatemala and Bhutan. I worry that I am going to let you down. I worry that when you find out that I am really just a bloke from Devon who makes films you are going to stop reading and demand a refund of your precious reading time. And then I worry about all the British idiom and cultural reference, I mean, do they even have “Trivial Pursuit” in Kingdom of Brunei? Do the peoples of Uruguay know that “kit” means “that which you wear when playing for a sports team”? Do they drink beer in Canada? (I am pretty sure they do).

So either I stop writing. Or I provide a brief guide to modern British tone, reference, idiom; a sort of C21st primer for friends around the world? Well, sadly for fans of brevity and precision in prose writing, I hereby present:

A BRIEF GUIDE TO MODERN BRITISH TONE, REFERENCE AND IDIOM; A SORT OF C21ST PRIMER FOR FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD

1. STUFF WE LIKE

Not liking things. Tea. Beer. Pubs (even though they are now stupidly expensive). Chutney. Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Complaining. The pound. Music. Danny Boyle. London 2012. Laughing at ourselves. Box Sets of superior quality American drama. Judi Dench. Moira Stewart. Stephen Fry. Horses (for riding or betting purposes). Shakespeare. Trees. Generalisations. Curry. The endless grey skies. Football (with a round ball). Music made with guitars.

2. STUFF WE DON’T LIKE

People who are successful. Sincerity.The government, even if we voted for them. Realising that we are not as funny as we think we are. Horses (for eating). Any more of those fucking “Keep Calm and . . .” posters. The endless grey skies. Football (with an oval ball). . . . . . . . .

Do you know what? I give up. You don’t need to know all of this. Any kind of list-making (even satirical list-making) is fraught with risk. I don’t wish to irritate the probably numerous British horse-meat-loving, government-endorising, American-football-enthusing WordPress readers who are already approaching my front door with flaming torches to express their disgust at my heinous dismissal of their passion. Although that said, I did laugh at this poster, created by a reader of the Guardian newspaper in response to a story about our brave and inspiring government’s attempts to put off potential immigrants to Britain from Eastern Europe:

Britain poster

This is very true. You can see some other great examples on the same theme here.

So instead, and to end, I am just going to tell you a tiny bit about me. Should you be interested. Which you’re probably not. But if you’ve made it this far then I am going to tell you anyway.

My name is James Gillingham. Many of my friends call me Jim. Some others call me Badger. You can invent your own reasons why this may be. I make films with my friend Jimmy Hay under the name “Long Arm Films”. This blog is meant to be about the journey towards making our first feature film “High Tide” which is shooting in August of this year. Except that there often has not been much to say about this process so I have instead wandered into the arena of the arcane. (see above).

But if you are interested you can visit our website here. Our Facebook page here. Or our Twitter thing here.

You can even watch one of our short films here:

I feel a bit cleaner now. I feel at least you know where we stand. As the weeks progress then this blog will, hopefully, feature more about filmmaking and less about what I had for dinner or a song that I remember from the 90s. And so let me just thank you for your patience, interest and tolerance. Wherever in the world you may be.

Oh and just so you know, it was pizza from Marks and Spencer and wow, THIS was a hell of a song:

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10 entirely invented motivational quotations for writers

I try very hard not to be a moaner. I mean we all love a good moan now and then: about the government, the football, the shockingly poor selection of cheese available from the corner shop but no one actually LIKES a moaner do they? No one wants to be sitting on the bus, or in the tea room or astride a ski-lift next to someone who is letting rip about the veins in their legs or the price of lawnmowers these days or the shocking state of post-structuralist teaching in some of our second-tier universities. We all moan about moaners. And with good reason. So I do try to avoid the overly-negative in these “blog’ posts; I try to look towards the light and not the dark, celebrate rather than denigrate, be silly rather than cynical. Sometimes I succeed (I bought some new boots this weekend; they are brilliant! – see, just like that), but at other times I fail (Peanut butter is disgusting and anyone who says otherwise is on the devil’s payroll – yep, like that) and I am sad to say that this is one of those times.

So here goes. Existence: feel my wrath!

You know what really annoys me? Quotes. And not just the fact that the noun is “quotation” which EVERYBODY GETS WRONG ALL OF THE BLOODY TIME (although this does make me cross and repulsively self-righteous, so much so that at times I do want to punch myself in the face) but also the fact that they get plastered up everywhere as if somehow such gobbets of wisdom could be of actual use to ANYBODY when in reality they’re just further examples of the reductive and under-baked nonsense that passes for thought in this so-called “Twenty First” century of ours. (Gosh, I am grumpy this evening).

Bruce Robinson, author of “Withnail and I” reportedly had a sign on his typewriter which read “Write damn you; it’s the only thing you’re good for”. I like that. That one can stay, that one is allowed but all other quotATIONS that are plastered around the walls of student flats and schools and pubs (those ones particularly grate – I don’t need Samuel Johnson’s reassurance that drinking a pint of ale is like kissing a princess or something – I KNOW IT IS) should be made illegal from tomorrow. No, earlier than that. They should be made illegal from this very moment. From now. That’s it. I’ve passed the law. They are now illegal and the punishment for displaying even the most likeable aphorism in a public space will be punitive and entirely unfair. And if you post one on Facebook then the keys on your keyboard will secrete superglue before becoming electrified. And that is for your first offence.

I am sounding entirely unlikeable aren’t I? I do try not to be wherever possible. Perhaps I should be a little less misanthropic; after all, if a well-chosen quotation gets you through your day then what the hell does it matter what I think? It doesn’t matter a jot, of course it doesn’t. But do a quick google search for “inspirational quotations” and be prepared to vomit all over your pyjamas – even if you have to cross the sitting room, go up the stairs, past the bathroom and into your bedroom where you open the second drawer on your chest just to find your pyjamas in order to vomit over them. Listen up world, you don’t need the blessing of someone most likely dead (and certainly as flawed and farty as you are) to kickstart your chosen career. Writers seem particularly needy in this respect and whilst I know only too well the challenges involved in sitting down and ACTUALLY WRITING SOMETHING I don’t see how a phrase ripped entirely from its context and then rendered in a twee typeface gets you closer to finishing your masterpiece. Did James Joyce have a little sign blue-tacked up in his garret as he wrote Ulysses which said “Words are like rain. Just put out a jar beneath a piece of guttering and assuming that it is a rainy night then after a bit you’ll have lots of them“? Well if he did, it would certainly weaken my point so let’s just agree that he didn’t.

If you are the type of a writer who needs an aphoristic jump-start to get you going in the morning then at least let me help you; let me save you the searching and the sifting through thousands of trite and largely useless scrapings from the barrel of human thought by providing you a list of handy phrases to set you on your way. For this there shall be NO CHARGE. Yes, the following is absolutely free. It will cost you neither pound nor dollar, neither Yen nor Euro, as I present:

LONG ARM FILMS’
TEN ENTIRELY INVENTED MOTIVATIONAL QUOTATIONS
FOR ASPIRING SCREENWRITERS

Bill Murray quotation

1. “Even Bill Murray has days when he is not Bill Murray”. – C14th Estonian Proverb

2. “Good writing is like good jam: sweet, fruity and sealed with a floral lid”
– Sarah Basterds – “The Impish Sentiment” (1932)

3. “Film is the distance between onanism and quantum theory” –
Prof F.J. Ruislip – “Once upon a time in the Western Avenue” (1998)

4. “The perfect screenplay is like the footprints of a deer across a Scottish hillside. I don’t need to sodding explain why.”
Alice Childress – usherette at the Alexandra Cinema, Newton Abbot, 1985

5. “Working hard is almost always relatively useful”.
Edgar Sirmadam, (19th philanthropist and sausage pioneer

working hard quotation

6. “Love yourself. Frequently”.
Sir Francis Walsingham

7. “Take doubt out to dinner. Give good chat to doubt. Let doubt linger over dessert and coffee then stab doubt repeatedly in the taxi on the way home”.
Mary Quite, “Fish and Chaps” – The birth of seaside homo-eroiticism: (1974) 

8. “Choosing the right words is less important than order them the putting in right”
Geoffrey Chaucer -“The Screenwriter’s Tale” (1378)

9. “Belief is the fart that warms the duvet of talent”.
King Christian VII of Norway addressing the Oslo branch of the WI (1802).

10.  “When people ask me why I write, I tell them it is to nourish my soul. When people ask me how I write I tell them that I use my fingers on a computer keyboard and press letters in a pre-determined sequence, that I began to learn around four years old and really haven’t stopped working on since, which in turn creates words that are understood by speakers of the English language and then I repeat this process until I have created something that is maybe just a shopping list or maybe the libretto for an opera it just depends on how sexy I’m feeling”
Hadrian Patel – Winner of the Branston Prize in 2005 for his novel “Balls”

belief quoteFeel free to pin any of these up by your desk and reap the creative and inspirational benefits.

You are welcome. I do it because I care.

“Boomaloomabangbang”: a guide to scoring your screenplay

It is everywhere. This sound. It’s at the meeting of your eyelids as you drift sleep-wards after a deathly day of toil. It’s buried in the fumes and dull frequencies of the A40. It’s there when you yawn. It’s in the creak of the floorboard as you step up to the kitchen and in that secret sigh of pleasure you make when you kiss; the one that even you don’t know about. It’s there in the rush of wind that laps across your face as you stand on Saddle Tor and inhale the landscape. It’s in water. And in the crunch of frost-hardened grass. It’s in an iamb by Shakespeare and a trochee by Eliot. It’s in that dream you always have. It’s in the wine, the bread, the stars and fields; the good and the bad, the promise, the light. It’s elemental. This sound. Incessant and clawing. Clogging. This sound.

This damned sound.

(insert fart gag here)

This is sound of the wait.

Guess what? Jimmy and I are waiting for something. And yes it would have been far easier to begin this latest bloc-note of electronic nonsense with this simple statement but I once again I insisted on flicking the “flowery prose-poem” switch on the Blogpanel (TM) and well, you’ll have read what happened. It could have been worse, the Blogpanel (TM) also has a “dance dangerously naked” button (only to be used for job interviews or when making presidential addresses) and one labeled “coffee” which, as you’d suspect, produces coffee (but only when I’ve filled the drawer with some more of those damned-expensive capsules which to be honest isn’t going to be any time soon).

And in an artistically arsey way, I can’t really say what we’re waiting for, except to let you know it is has been quite a long time now and, please, please, please, oh please for the love of everything holy it WILL be worth the wait.

Which leaves me again with nothing “High Tide” related to write about. So I suppose I should probably stop this entry now and start work on a new script. Or maybe watch a film. Or make a soup. Or anything really. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen and I am going to (word) press on with some assorted musings (although of course you are free to stop reading at any time – although if you do, please remember that I know who you are and come the revolution, well, let’s just say we’re going to need someone to do the bins . . .).

More specifically I am going to write about my friend Bob. At least to begin with. Now then, I’ve known Bob for many years. Even back to the early days of university from which I still remember his campaign slogan for election to the JCR chairmanship – Bob for Chair? Yes please! (or something, it was a fair few years back now). Anyway, I would then go on to see Bob at least twice a week when he would come to our house in Shepherd’s Bush and rehearse with (another dear, dear friend) Mark as part of their band E-bru. Bob and Mark would make very loud and very wonderful electronic music whilst I tried to sleep in the room next door. I got very good at sleeping through VERY LOUD ELECTRONICA which has been very useful since my marriage to one of the Frenchmen from Daft Punk.

It’s always worth a link to some of their stunning music.  This track is particularly redolent for me; that chorus still echoes somewhere around the vaults and arches of my brain – “all my liiiife, I feel like I’m a failure . . . all my liiiiife . . .” 

Bob would later go on to be one half of the truly brilliant Etherington Brothers who have produced a whole shelf-full of wonderful comics – you can see some their stuff for sale on Amazon here. Here is a picture of me and another great pal Kris Dyer enjoying the free booze at the launch of one of Bob’s books. Bob is the cool one on the right.

Kris and Jim and Bob

I like this photo. It reminds me of old times and the fact that in the caption Bobby calls me talented IS INCIDENTAL AT MOST. And I really like that jumper. That may have been one of its last great nights. It now lies tired and bobbled (no pun intended) in my wardrobe – maybe it’s time to put it out of its misery . . .

And the point of all this is what? Well it is a tenuous link at best but in the early days of The Etherington comics, they’d put a list of songs that they’d listened to when writing in the back of every issue. “Written under the influence of  . . . ” I thought this was great. Some writers require silence to work, others prosper with a jukebox packed with excellent tunes to get the fingers typing. I am somewhere in between the two. But one thing I have noticed is how radically the tone of a piece can alter depending on what is coming through the speakers. This can be inspirational or it can be stunting or it can lead to the performance of entire Beastie Boys albums in your sitting room with headphones clamped to your ears and an imaginary microphone in your hand except for during “Sabotage” when, clearly, you swap it for an imaginary guitar. This has happened. More times than I care to admit.

Let me give you a little sample of how influential music can be when hammering out a screenplay. I am going to write a scene and then play various clips (provided for your interactive pleasure) and you can see what happens to the writing. It is definitely going to be WORTH IT. Alright? Okay then; let’s begin.

TITLE:  BOOMALOOMABANGBANG
(a tragedy)

It is a sunny day in Simon’s west London flat. The windows are open and SIMON enters in his boxer shorts with a cup of tea. His girlfriend, CLEOPATRA, is sitting on the sofa completing a massive sudoko the size of a pillowcase.

SIMON
Morning my love.

CLEOPATRA
Morning darling.

SIMON
Thanks for the great sex last night.

CLEOPATRA
My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed it.

SIMON
It was ace-a-rama. What you doing?

CLEOPATRA
I’m doing a massive sudoko.

PLAY CUE: RADIOHEAD – HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY

SIMON
It’s too bright. Why the sun? Why now? Every tick-tock moment of this morning is too much. Already too much.

Simon sinks to his knees and in slow-motion his cup of tea crashes onto the floor. Cleopatra looks up from her sudoko and runs her hand through her hair. She sighs, stands up and wraps the pillowcase puzzle around Simon’s shoulders.

CLEOPATRA
Let it go Simon. Get rid. Shed your skin. Live again. Dare. Dare yourself to live bigger, better than before.

SIMON
It’s fucked. Everything’s fucked. I’m buzzing. Like a fridge.

CLEOPATRA
Like a detuned radio.

SIMON
That’s fucked too.

PLAY CUE: ALEXANDER BORODIN – IN THE STEPPES OF CENTRAL ASIA

Simon wipes the tears from his eyes and climbs to his feet. He takes Cleopatra by the hand and they move towards the window. They stare. A wind gets up and their hair is tousled in a slightly sexy way.

SIMON
Hark.

CLEOPATRA
I’m harking.

SIMON
Hark and you will ken that change is on the wind. Like a great eagle. Or a plane or something.

CLEOPATRA
Who is Ken?

SIMON
Change. Change and hope. Hope. Hope and change. And damn it Cleopatra, we shall be in the vanguard. We shall chase the dawn of this new change and raise the flag of hope.

He turns to her.

SIMON
Promise me. Promise me something from the bottom of your soul. From the soul of your bottom . Promise me that this change and this hope that I am pretty damn certain is heading right for us will be given a place in your heart. A place. In your. Heart. Next to the place I already claim there as my own.

CLEOPATRA
Oh yes Simon. A thousand times yes! A place in my heart and in my womb and in that special drawer where we keep the tin opener and the rubber bands.

SIMON
Kiss me! Kiss me now!

PLAY CUE – STARSHIP – “NOTHING’S GONNA STOP US NOW”

They kiss in super-slow motion. Jump cut to an empty beach. SIMON AND CLEOPATRA run along the sand. Then put up deck-chairs. Then SIMON smashes a coconut on the head of passing poor person and he pours its milk all over CLEOPATRA’S body and she laughs as if this is the funniest thing that has ever happened in the history of humanity. They kiss some more. Then pray. Then run again.

PLAY CUE: DON’T IT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD BY STEFAN DENNIS WHO PLAYED PAUL ROBINSON IN NEIGHBOURS BLOODY YEARS AGO NOW

SIMON and CLEOPATRA draw knives and repeatedly stab each other to death. Their blood pours onto the sand and stains it crimson.

THE END

Wow. I don’t know about you but I feel purged. It really is a tragedy for our time. And one that could not have happened without the shaping power of music. So now you know the secret, now you have the power, please use it wisely. And don’t underestimate the intoxicating effect of Paul Robinson from Neighbours. Many have erred in this fashion AND NONE OF THEM ARE STILL ALIVE.

Be warned.

And Bobby – I salute you sir. It has been too long.

Ben Affleck’s lovely hair as a metaphor for the human condition

I am pleased to be able to begin this latest (assuming that you’ve have not read any future entries before this one) instalment of vaguely film-related whimsy with another exiting addition to the team for our forthcoming feature film “High Tide”. Step forward Mr Lewis Gillingham, joining the crew as stills photographer and marketing artwork coordinator. I have just made that second job title up; what I actually mean is that he is going to be taking the photographs that will form part of the film’s poster. Except I think “Marketing Artwork Coordinator” sounds a bit sexier. I do recommend setting up your own film production company, not least for the fact that you can invent your own job titles. I am Writer / Director on “High Tide” but I am also “Lord High Admiral of Artist Relations” and “First Lord to the Treasury of FUNK”. And no one can do a damn thing about it.

Anyway, back to Lewis Gillingham. The more sparrowhawk-eyed amongst you will have noticed that Lewis and I share something (and not just a love of Mid C18th porcelain); yep, that’s right – Lewis is a Gillingham. And he is my cousin. Don’t you just hate it when people give jobs to their friends and family? It is like the Cabinet – all Tory boys together, all schooled at the same bejewelled palaces of privilege and all related to each other’s cousins. It makes me sick. It is a disgrace.

But in my defence, I would have given Lewis a job even if he wasn’t my cousin. Because Lewis can do this:

I hope your browser allowed that slideshow to function correctly, otherwise it will seem like I am celebrating my cousin’s ability to write a URL. Which I am sure he can. But that’s not why we’re employing him. If it did work properly, I am sorry about the oddly-shaped box in which the slideshow was displayed. I am not clever enough to work out how to change it.

Despite his disgustingly few number of years on this earth Lewis can take photographs that make you sigh in wonder. Our eyes are filled with a parade of ugliness at nearly every second of every day: images of hate, exploitation, tedium and greed, all of them churning and churning, a kaleidoscope (which is a tricky word to spell I’ve just discovered) of badly-exposed and shoddily-framed crap and then along comes Lewis who takes a picture of a tree and suddenly all of the horror begins to fade. Maybe it is because he grew up in a field (in a house in a field, but still basically in a field) so he has something of instinctive connection to the landscape or maybe that’s just a load of pretentious Wordsworthian (and there is barely anything more pretentious that the adjective “Wordsworthian) twaddle and he’s just bloody good at taking photos. Whatever the truth, he’s great and we’re lucky and delighted to have him aboard the Long Arm carnival.

All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with what I wanted to write about this evening. In fact, what I am about to write has nothing to do with I wanted to write about this evening. Because what I wanted to write about this evening is not going to be possible to write well enough before the hour becomes unhealthily late ahead of the usual horrors that lie in wait amongst the half-light of a Monday morning. So instead I am going to prattle on for a few paragraphs about something that Jimmy and I have often mused about when not writing scripts or wrestling on the carpet. And I am sure there is a cogent and pithy way of expressing this but for the moment it eludes me so instead I am going to clump all the following thoughts together under the leaden title:

Why small stuff in films and sometimes television is actually more revelatory and moving than exploding planets or robots beating the bejesus out of each other and as such should be encouraged wherever possible

I have watched “Argo” twice in the past week and a bit. I enjoyed it both times. It is very well shot, the recreation on late 70s Iran seems flawless (not that I have the first clue about how accurate it is – for all I know, they could have shot it on the moon and slapped on an Instragram filter and I would have probably believed every moment, such is my dearth of knowledge about this part of the world) and the narrative is compelling, not least for the fact that is largely based on truth. And Ben Affleck’s hair is genuinely excellent. In fact, thinking about it, Ben Affleck’s hair was probably the most enjoyable part of the film for me. Whether it was “best picture” material is a largely pointless debate although I suspect that it’s overly-sentimental final seven minutes certainly did not hurt its chances in this respect. Yep, it was Hollywood who saved the escaped hostages, AND NOT CANADA WHO ACTUALLY THOUGHT OF THE PLAN AND WERE LARGELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS SUCCESS. But saying that to Hollywood is like eloquently elucidating the rhetorical flaws in the argument of Nathan “Basher” Duncombe just before he looks at you blankly and then punches the shit out of your pasty Westcountry face.

However, there was a moment in the film that I found particularly moving. Inside the house of the Canadian Ambassador, one of the escaped Americans is washing up a wine glass. After weeks of being trapped inside the house, the pressure is clearly beginning to show and she breaks the glass against the tap and begins to cry. It is a small moment, almost incidental but it contains such a truth about humans under pressure that it makes for a very compelling piece of filmmaking. We’ve all been there, we’ve all broken wine glasses, or plates, or fallen over, or dropped armful of folders and we’ve all cried as a result (or sworn and looked to the sky) not for the loss of a glass but because life is sometimes so damn hard. And baffling. And you don’t need to be in hiding to feel these things, you just need to be human. Which, if you are reading this, I assume that you are.

Aaron Sorkin is a master of these small but profound moments of humanity. (And yes I realise that this  is about the fifth time I’ve mentioned Sorkin in a blog post but I JUST LOVE HIM AND I WON’T BE HAPPY UNTIL WE’VE KISSED). The West Wing is strewn with such moments and I suppose they are all the more successful in this context because they are contrasted with events of global import. There is a particularly excellent episode (although this a little like saying there is a particularly good bit of painting by Michelangelo) from Series 4 called “Evidence of Things Not Seen” in which the West Wing staff are debating whether it is possible to stand an egg on its end during the equinox  – and then there is a terrorist attack on the White House. Thanks to the dirty brilliance of You Tube you can see an extract below – go on, treat yourself:

For me, that is brilliant writing. The juxtaposition between the kind of ridiculous and wonderful chatter that we all engage in (especially after a couple of drinks – with some old friends many years ago, we came up the sport of Fox Crashing after a night on the red wine – what you do right, is find a fox, get him drunk then MAKE HIM RUN!) and moments of terror and threat . . . well, maybe it is not a great leap to suggest that it works as a metaphor for human life in general. Aren’t we all just balancing eggs in between attempted terrorist attacks?

Er no, clearly we’re not. I am an arse. But I hope you at least pretend to understand my meaning. Even if you are doing so because you feel sorry for me. Thanks.

So, artists of the world, more of this stuff please. You don’t need to blow up a planet to move me to a state of quivering emotion, you just need to break a glass. Although I am sure that Aristotle said all this over two thousand years ago so there’s nothing new in it. And then of course there was Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.

Bloody late C18th bastard. Why couldn’t I have thought of that? Two lines! Two arsing lines! It took me 1459 words and still I’ve come nowhere near such clarity of thought. I guess that’s why he’s a dead genius and I am just some knob from Devon.

Although a happy one. So I won’t complain. Now, talking of wine glasses . . . .

Westcountry Paradiso

One of the drawbacks to blog writing (I am sorry, I cannot bring myself to use the verb “to blog” in any conjugation) is that along with the weekly scrabble around for “content” (another ugly word, apologies) and the fact that I now regularly clog-up your Facebook and Twitter feeds with rushed and probably overly-effete pleas for you to read all this nonsense (although it is not as if your social media feeds are a thing of beauty that I am despoiling; if they are anything like mine they’ll be a collage of babies, drunks and aphorisms lifted from greetings cards and then “liked” the hell out of as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls – which don’t have a FB page, I checked) but it does give me another excuse to be forever online. The WordPress “Stats” page is another utterly brilliant way of using time that would be better spent having sex, or saving the world or contemplating cheese. Or even writing. It gives you all sorts of exciting statistical breakdowns (and I am sure there’s a joke about the AA to be made there but I can’t think of it) about who exactly is visiting your blog, what they are reading and where they live. It also lists search engine terms by which people have found your blog. Today someone banged this, not unreasonable question, into Google:

“anywhere in Gillingham to get my tongue pierced”.

Aside from some quite terrible mental images conjured by this phrase, one can only imagine their disappointment to be confronted by, well, this.  I am sorry. I’ve never actually been to Gillingham (with a hard G in Dorset) or Gillingham (with a soft G in Kent) let alone know the intimacies of their darkened alleys in order to point you towards Eugene’s Pierceorama or suchlike. When I was a boy the man who ran the corner shop at the end of our road was called Mr Pierce, although as far as I am aware he sold only milk and sweets in those tall glass jars from the 1930s, I don’t think he would have given you a Prince Albert. (Don’t do a Google image search for that phrase, just DON’T).

All of which is utterly unconnected with what I am intending to witter on about in the overly-numerous subsequent paragraphs. Actually, that is now not entirely true, given the memory of Mr Pierce that snuck in to the paragraph above. Mr Pierce is a character from my distant childhood in Devon. If you are reading this in America then Devon is very much the Manhattan of the country you call England. Yes indeed, Devon is just like Manhattan. Only sexier and with more murders. That is if your boat is floated by cross-dressing Young Farmers and you count the  slaughter of cattle in the murder statistics. We lived in a very large village, a village so large that it is now actually officially a town. I lived at Number 12 and Jimmy lived at Number 18. This is true, although it does seem unlikely. Now is not the time to share the many “Jimmy when he was a boy” stories (of which there are many) suffice to say his sartorial elegance started VERY young; one remembers particularly his knitted Thomas the Tank Engine jumper, which had “James” on the front and “Hay” on the back. It was that season’s must-have item and is surely due a renaissance.

This particular story takes place in our then village which is now a town and it is one that I’d forgotten altogether until clicking through a few videos on Youtube the other day. I’d read a review of the most recent film (see? this IS a film blog) by Guiseppe Tornatore (it is called “La migliore offerta” and is apparently not very good, although I haven’t seen it so this may be nonsense) and the journalist inevitably referenced Tornatore’s most famous, most successful film “Cinema Paradiso”. As I have mentioned before Cinema Paradiso was a film that you used say that you loved in order to impress a certain type of bookish-but-still-pretty girl. It was a cipher for literate sensitivity. Oh yes, you’d say overly-loudly, I just adored Cinema Paradiso . . . it is like so moving and like really well shot and like everything like that and do you fancy a drink or maybe a snog? And the girls who were pretending not to listen but actually were would think wow, this guy likes foreign films, and not only that, foreign films about childhood and memory and the transformative power of art . . . gosh, I really, really want to walk right over there and snog his spotty face right off. Except that didn’t happen. Ever. At least never to me or none of my similarly pretentious friends who tried the same trick. Anyway, even now I am still very fond of that film (and hopefully now for more genuine reasons) and the final sequence in which (deep breath) the main character who had been a boy for most of the film, splices together and then projects all the kisses that had been cut from the films that he watched in the cinema in which he formed a sort of friendship with an old man who worked there as a projectionist (and exhale) remains a moment of magic (and yes I know that was a terrible sentence). Here is the scene in an illegal Youtube video version:

It is a beautiful moment. What do pretentious people say? A “hymn” to the power of cinema. Well it is clearly not a hymn as it does not involve people standing in a church and loudly celebrating in organ-driven song form all things bright and beautiful, but it certainly delivers a moment of sentimental, slightly saccharine, but still irresistibly lovely charm. It is a genuine celebration of the moving image.

Now, it was only when watching this moment again the other day that I remembered that we had a Devon equivalent. I had to check with my sister that I hadn’t imagined it but she assures me that it is at least largely true. There was a chap in our village who ran what he called “Film Shows” in the hall of our junior school at the weekend. How frequently they occurred I have no idea but it has to be more than once for me to remember all these years later. I even remember the chap’s name, although I won’t repeat it here. These “Film Shows” involved stuffing the local children into the hall, selling them cheap crisps (my sister remembers the crisps particularly) and then showing them bits of relatively old films hacked together. You’d get maybe a whole “Tom and Jerry” or “Roadrunner” cartoon just to ease you in and then you’d get six minutes of Star Wars (one of the boring early scenes on Tatooine, never the cool bit at the end with the X-Wings and the Death Star) and then five minutes from “Herbie Goes Bananas” and then just as Herbie was about to drive into a lake the film would smash-cut into sequence from what I now think must have been (after much Googling) Disney’s “The Black Hole”. For a film I have never seen since (not that I saw much  of it then) I remember this sequence very clearly: children are in space, somehow, and they are running away from huge orange fireballs; they keep running and the flaming balls keep tumbling. It is quite thrilling. At least it was to the eight-year-old me. I remember thinking that the fireballs looked like giant balls of marmalade which suggests that, even then, I dedicated too much brain capacity to thinking about food.

This may have been my earliest experience of projected cinema. (Although I do remember that my godfather took me to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema but I think we left before it started because I got scared; a common occurrence in my early years – LIKE YOU CARE. Apologies, you really don’t need to know all this). It prefigured by many, many years the private montage that many people insist on curating for themselves as they sit at the television or the laptop and watch no more than ninety seconds of anything before jump-cutting to the next, increasingly deadening stimulus and in many ways, ways of nostalgia and romance, this was our own version Cinema Paradiso in South Devon, one with crisps and a small, pasty Westcountryman instead of a immaculately-suited, weeping Italian.

There is probably a blog post to be written about the top ten montages in film (it must have already been done, I am not even going to check) but for me the word immediately takes to me Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s unmatchable “Team America: World Police”.

And now oh-so-overly-contrived link is out of the way I must inevitably spend a few moments talking about Parker and Stone’s “new” project “The Book of Mormon” which I had the utter pleasure to see in London this week. (I know it’s not a film but I can’t NOT write about it) I really don’t want this to slide towards smug twattishness as I show off that I have seen what’s going to be THE SHOW in London this year but I must, must mention it. Thanks to the brilliance of my composer friend Andy and the fact the he knows one of the cast members, myself, Andy and Rupert had tickets for one of the preview performances of The Book of Mormon last Wednesday. I’d read a lot about the show and given Stone and Parker’s track record, I had expected to like it but I’d really no idea that I would leave the theatre thinking that I had seen a masterpiece.

But that’s what I did. Because it is that good. It is the kind of show that afterwards makes you just want to rush up to strangers, grab them by the shoulders and beg them to buy a ticket. You want all of humanity to go. Even those who would be offended by the miraculous swearing, ESPECIALLY those. You want to seek out others who’ve seen it and just sit next to them, hold their hand, and not need to say anything because THEY UNDERSTAND. They’ve been there. They know.

I have never seen a show so gloriously funny, so incisive in its satire, so completely tight as a piece of musical theatre that over two hours disappears in a moment. And did I say it was funny? That does not even come close to describing it.

See I am becoming all smug and twatty so I will stop. But please go. PLEASE go. Even if you have to wait two years until you can get a ticket. PLEASE GO. It not so much rips up the musical theatre rule book but  . . . . . (and you can finish your own version of that cliche – but if you are true to the show, ensure that it involves shit and hell).

Here’s a clip from one of the songs performed at the Tony Awards. And all the stuff about Mormonism; that’s true.

“A warlord who shoots people in the face; what’s so scary about that?” 

And that’s not even close to the best moment in the show. Five days later I am still smiling.