A fat, ten song nostalgia bomb that has nothing to do with filmmaking (until I scrape together a tenuous link right at the death)

Facebook will be the death of us all. It won’t be long until our collective insecurities, voyeurism and hubris will be cranked up to such obscene levels that we rupture at the seams and explode in myriad clouds of brilliant blue and stained, mucky white. This will then be shared with the world on Facebook.

(Naturally, this post will also be publicised on Facebook).

However, amongst all the nonsense and one-upmanship there are occasionally moments of interest on the old blue and white bastard. A few weeks ago people were sharing their lists of the ten songs that they liked the most. I think the phrasing may have been more elegant than this, songs that defined them perhaps, but this was the gist. I was “tagged” and asked to contribute my own list to be read by a few desperate souls and then forgotten about. And I really meant to get around to it. But I failed. Until now. And given that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands this holiday (I am currently sitting at one end of a long table in a house in the middle of France, nursing a cheese hangover, whilst my French housemates sip coffee and talk about I am not sure what but IN FRENCH) and given that the only thing that I allowed to say about our forthcoming feature film High Tide is that I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING UNTIL MID JANUARY) I thought I might crack on with my list. But in long form. A bit like Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs but not as good.

So here goes.  Actually, before I leap off into the seas of whimsy I’d like to lay a few ground rules for myself:

1. Be honest. Don’t invent choices to make yourself look cooler than you are. As Ben Folds (sadly omitted from the following list) correctly sang: there is always someone cooler than you.

2. Don’t fret about the order. Life is too short. These are the ten songs that mean the most. Their sequence is unimportant.

3. In a recent interview on American television (they have that there) Michael Stipe said that he “despises nostalgia”. So for the first time in recorded history I am forced to contradict the wisdom of Stipe. I am sure no good will come of this and I will soon be begging his forgiveness and complimenting him on his beard.

SONG ONE
SIT DOWN by JAMES
1991 version

For many of the artists featuring on this list it was a tricky task alighting on just one of their songs, however in the case of James the choice was virtually involuntary -it had to be Sit Down. That is not to say that they didn’t write a host of other excellent songs, Come Home, How Was it for You? (about shagging), Laid (also about shagging), Sometimes, Just Like Fred Astaire, and even their most recent album La Petite Morte (a reference to, guess what, shagging) is also really good. However, Sit Down so perfectly captures a moment of time that it is rendered timeless. It is both of its moment and for all time. Not many songs achieve this.

It is structured in the most conventional of ways – verse, bridge, huge, repetitive chorus, verse, bridge, huge repetitive chorus, middle 8, huge repetitive chorus, end, plus Tim Booth’s vocal is far from his best – he’d yet to really experiment with the falsetto noodling that would become his trademark and yet this relative simplicity is why the whole thing works so damn well. The song is a perfectly designed sonic athlete, with no waste, no flab. It is Blake’s Tyger – a creature of such poise and efficiency that it is proof of the existence of God. Not that I am claiming that Tim Booth is divine. Ace, but not divine.

I had a tape of a set by James recorded from Radio 1 in the early 90s. They had been touring the world with Neil Young and playing acoustically (I can’t remember why) but it was a superb set. Their acoustic sound honestly revealed their folky roots and the songs in this exposed form had a depth that had sometimes been obscured on the albums. Once it came to the inevitable version of Sit Down, Tim Booth introduced the song as “an old English folk song” and I can’t think of a better description.

I discovered James, like most people at the time, via this song. Sit Down was the gateway drug to a very pleasant addiction to their music. A lot of my friends at the time suggested that the only reason that I chose to be a James fan was that I could walk around Exeter wearing a t-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front and for this not be a problem. There may have been truth in that. However, there was something about that font with its type-writer “a” and the image of the enormous daisy (especially when worn in combination with cherry red DMs) that made me deliriously happy. There was a satisfaction that even though I was a spotty, slightly awkward and arrogant teenager, I belonged to a tribe that gave me great strength. We wore daisies. And we were happy.

I will happily admit that when James played in Torquay and the whole audience sat down during Born of Frustration Sit Down then I cried real tears and supposed that life really couldn’t get much better. And who knows, I may have been right.

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Two shorts and the greatest long player of all time

So it appears to be 2014. Unless you are in Nepal where it is 2070. Or you are Jewish in which case it is 5774. However, let me wish you a happy new year regardless of your calendrical preference and I sincerely hope that your next twelve months will be filled with adventure, joy, mild danger and some excellent wine.

2014 feels like a fictional date. You can almost hear the booming American voice-over at the start of some wobbly black and white sci-fi film from the 1950s. “It is the year 2014 and our once beautiful earth has been reduced to ashes by an army of little alien bastards from the planet Haberdasher 4.”. Actually if you’ve looked out of the window in the past few weeks you’d be forgiven for thinking that our planet was indeed under siege from a race of alien invaders whose weapon of choice was WATER and WIND. (Or given the pictures from America at the moment, aliens armed with FREEZE RAYS like in Despicable Me but much, much less fun). However, put your worries aside; we are not being invaded by anyone and these extreme weather events are freakish at best and are not in any way symptomatic of a profoundly terrifying shift in our weather because as our right wing friends will tell you: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLIMATE CHANGE. So please be cheered by this thought as you bail water from your flooded sitting room or dig your car out from beneath a twenty-foot snowdrift: this is all perfectly normal. Nothing at all to worry about. And no, that is not a bear shitting in the woods, he’s just resting on his haunches whilst pondering the political nous of Michael “Don’t mention the war” Gove.

In Long Arm world things are picking up again after a break for Christmas. I spent a very happy New Year’s Eve with Jimmy in Swansea. We went to the beach, played a bit of football, ate curry and then my team beat his at Trivial Pursuit. It doesn’t really get better than that. Look, here we are in one of our now traditional “standing on a beach” poses:

2014-01-04 15.47.11

You will notice that it was my turn to wear the bobble hat.

The edit of our feature film High Tide is progressing well and we’ve had a great time recently listening to drafts of music composed for the film by the brilliant Matt Harding. Gosh, some of it is really, really good. There are various further things that have to be done but you might, and it is just might at this point, be able to see a trailer for High Tide in the not-too-distant future.

In other news we are in pre-production (which sounds very grand but is rather more prosaic in reality and essentially involves making lots of lists and phoning each other quite a lot) on two short films to be shot in February. One of them has been written by Jimmy and myself (and we’ll also direct it too) and is called Ex Libris and is set in a library. The other has been written by High Tide DOP Chris Lang (who will also direct) and is called The Sound of Silence and it involves a pencil. Casting for each, and maybe a few more details to make them sound a little bit sexier and perhaps even watchable, will be announced in the next few weeks. It will be good to be making something again and extra-splendid to spend some more time with our brilliant Long Arm crew who did such an amazing job last summer.

On an entirely unrelated note, I had a few minutes of very minor fame on Twitter last weekend. I say fame, what I mean is that contrary to normal procedure, a few other human beings responded to a tweet that I had released into the electronic wilds. Whilst morosely removing the Christmas decorations from our flat I attempted to lift the funereal atmosphere by listening to one of my very favourite things in the entire world. And so, being modern and daring and spontaneous, I told the world about it. Because I could.

And I stand by what I said. Promenade by The Divine Comedy may just be my favourite forty five minutes of recorded music ever. And I don’t make this claim lightly. I mean what about Parklife? Revolver? Automatic for the People? If You’re Feeling Sinister? The Best of Val Doonican? All wonderful, wonderful albums containing music that moves me in the most profound ways but perhaps none quite matching the genius of Neil Hannon’s second proper album released in 1994 on Setanta records (I can be quite the music geek when I want to be).

Promenade was very well-reviewed at the time of its release but sod all people bought it. I discovered its charms retrospectively having been alerted to The Divine Comedy by Chris Evan’s Radio 1 breakfast show back in the mid-90s heyday of that which became known as Britpop – although The Divine Comedy had as much to do with Britpop as I have to do with posing pouches. However, Chris Evans played Something for the Weekend from the almost-as-brilliant follow-up to Promenade, an album called Casanova. The song appeared to be referencing Stella Gibbons’ superb novel Cold Comfort Farm and it was overblown and silly and Neil Hannon sang with the kind of baritone voice that one associated with music long, long ago and I was hooked. I was sort of in love.

Having devoured Casanova I searched the racks in the now-defunct Solo Records in Exeter for more Divine Comedy and I discovered Promenade and my life was immediately improved – and you may think that is silly hyperbole, you may think it romantic nonsense but I tell you that is true. The album is actually a “concept” (shudder) album and tells the story of the day in a life of two lovers. It is hilarious, moving, pretentious (one track, The Booklovers, just lists famous writers alongside a quotation from Horace and some deeply silly impressions), uplifting and indispensable. It references French New Wave cinema, Chaucer, Atheism (albeit with an interruption from God), nostalgia for lost childhood and the pleasures of drinking too much.

I could go on.

I am sure you have your own equivalents. I love it when you find something that you care about so deeply, whether it be football, food, The West Wing (still the greatest show ever, although having just started Series 6 of Mad Men it is running Jed Bartlett’s administration pretty close) and then you hear yourself become like one of those prophets on the wall in The Life of Brian: proselytising to anyone who will listen, and many that won’t, about how they simply MUST watch, listen, eat, kiss the thing in question. I love it when something like that matters so much and, for me at least, it is when talking about great art that these feelings are the most profound and transformative – and of course it is also brilliant that both “great” and “art” are so damned subjective (although trust me, I am definitely correct in this particular case).

So do give Promenade a listen if you have a spare forty five minutes and I do recommend listening to the whole thing in one sitting. You’ll have to buy a second hand CD on ebay (vinyl copies sell for over two hundred quid) or download it from itunes or failing that pop around to mine and I will make you a cup of tea and we’ll listen to it together. Although you won’t be allowed to talk. Not until afterwards and if you don’t ABSOLUTELY ADORE it then I may well cry, so perhaps itunes is the safer method.

And with that let me leave you with one Promenade’s finest moments: the unsurpassable Tonight We Fly. If you’ll forgive a saucy simile this is a bit like cutting straight to the orgasm and forgoing all the fun of the journey, given that this track is the album’s final musical moment, but hey, it is wonderful in every way and when I die, as I surely will, I want this at my funeral. Just so you know. Not that I plan on holding this event any time soon.

(happy the man and happy he alone, he who can call today his own, he who secure within can say, tomorrow do thy worse for I have lived today).

(Promenade in-joke).

Sam Green and the Midnight Heist to appear in High Tide

And so begins another week. And with it the promise of several announcements from Long Arm Films that, even to the most world-weary of observers, should prove to be of some interest.

And to us, let me tell you, they are unbelievably exciting. So exciting in fact that I get a little bit dizzy when I think about them. And then need a cup of tea and a good sit down; two of my favourite things in life, so basically it is win-win.

So, with news of casting for “High Tide” scheduled for revelation later on this week, let me take this opportunity to announce the signing a brilliant band who are going to appear in the final third of the film. Without giving too much away, the two main characters end up at a party taking place at a house next to the sea. And what a party it is. The kind of party that you would scarce believe could even exist until you actually found yourself there, bottle of beer in hand, smile plastered widely across your face, as a gentle summer breeze, thick with scent and pleasure, carries the sound of music and laughter across the garden to where you stand. You look around. You belong. You are drunk and you are very happy.

That kind of party.

And so we needed a band to provide the music. A band to appear in the film as themselves, to look great and sound wonderful.  And I am delighted to say that we have found them.

SAM GREEN AND THE MIDNIGHT HEIST are going to be massive. Believe me, I know about these things. (I don’t, clearly, but if I say it assertively enough then you  may believe me.) They describe their sound as a “Footstompin’, harmonica wailin’, lapslide guitar pickin roots music” and I am not going to disagree. They are an incredible live band who have been sending crowds all over the country into paroxysms of musical pleasure on their recent tour. And some of them are from Devon which, in my eyes, makes them closer to godliness than most other bands. And if that wasn’t enough, then they have just been booked for Glastonbury this year. So there.

You can have a good look and a listen to them in action by clicking on the video below:

See? Told you they were ace.

Their debut EP “Miles Away” is available now. Here is me looking smug  (and slightly alarming) with my copy:

sam_green

Right, there now follows a list of model verb phrases:

You can buy a copy of “Miles Away” here.

You can follow the band on Twitter here.

You can Like their Facebook page here.

And you can visit their website here and find out when and where they are playing. 

And finally you can listen to the EP via the thingy below (but only if you promise to buy it afterwards):

(and you can call me Al)

Gosh, there is a lot you can do isn’t there? That should keep you busy for hours. We are absolutely chuffed that the band are going to appear; it was very important for us that we chose a band we not only liked but one that was also right for the scene. We are convinced that Sam Green and the Midnight Heist are going to look and sound wonderful in the film. And I am sure we will share a few ciders and spin many yarns together about life in Devonshire after the cameras have stopped rolling. (Given that we are shooting on digital, any rolling among the cameras will mean that someone has left the equipment truck on a slope without first applying the handbrake. This would be a bad thing).

Before I finish, let me just refer back to last week’s “big” news: the launch of our Internship Programme. Since staring Long Arm it has been important to Jimmy and I that, with any success that comes our way, (and we are yet to have any!) we should try and make it easier for people like us to make some progress in this most tetchy, closed and idiosyncratic of industries. Our Intern Programme is a very small gesture in this direction. Full details are available on our website and if you do know anybody young and talented and living in Wales then you may wish to point them our way.

And that’s it for now. Please excuse the lack of blather and nonsense (for some of you it may well be a blessed relief) but the more actual film stuff I have to write about, the less time I have for musings on (and let me just check my notebook) – cheese, PJ Harvey, the dearth of “Hello Mum” signs on modern television, the genius of Mad Men and the nicest bottoms in film (both naked and sheathed). So if any of these subjects crop up in the coming weeks, you’ll know things are not going well.

Oh yes, around the middle of the coming week we are going to tell you something amazing. So amazing that I still think it is probably an elaborate conspiracy to make me look silly and then to break my heart  . . . . So let’s hope this isn’t the case.

Broadly sunny with extended spells of Michael Stipe

During the chorus of REM’s cynically titled “Pop Song 89”, the opening track of “Green” the band’s first album for Warner Bros, Lord Michael of Stipe (to give him his full baronial title) sang the following over a heady mix of jangling guitars and soaring harmonies, “Shall we talk about the weather? Shall we talk about the government?“. Well after the past week in British politics I am going to steer well clear of all things governmental (although if you do want a refreshingly honest and humane account of you know what then you would do well to read Mark Thomas’s article published in the Independent last week) and instead revert to the stereotype and enthusiastically take up Stipe’s invitation to talk about the weather.

Although before I do, let’s enjoy REM’s wonderful (and as yet officially unreleased) Unplugged performance of the song.

Stipe looks so young. And they were already over a decade into their career. If this were a national border of cool and you were a burly customs official rifling through my cultural satchel I would have to declare a very longstanding and profound love for REM. At some point when I have a little more time (and this may be about a decade from now) I will write a blog entry reviewing every REM album from “Murmur” all the way through to “Collapse Into Now” in meticulous and irritating detail. Bet you can’t wait. (Should this never happen, I will give you a couple of hints now – “Reckoning” (1984) is as close to a perfect album as you are ever likely to hear; “Automatic for the People (1992) IS as good as you remember it, assuming that you do; “Up” (1998) is an underrated gem of an album; and “Around the Sun” (2004) is as terrible as everyone thought at the time, perhaps even worse).

So Michael, let’s indeed talk about the weather because today it is absolutely glorious and in true British fashion the entire population of the UK seems to have gone absolutely insane as a result. In fairness, the weather is a national obsession, the de facto topic of conversation with family, lovers and indeed strangers. This is partly due to the fact that as a nation we will go to great lengths to avoid talking about anything remotely consequential (and last week’s national braying at the death of you-know-who is evidence that we perhaps should never be allowed to talk about anything that matters) and we do have A LOT of weather in the UK so the subject never tires. I suspect if you lived in the middle of a desert then you’d find other ways of passing the time (counting camels, refining oil, making hourglasses) such is the invariance of the climate. However, in London yesterday it poured with grey rain (which admittedly is the usual colour, don’t go thinking that sometimes we have green rain, or orange rain or, avoiding the all-too-inevitable reference to Prince, mauve rain. For us, Prince means William and he is too posh to be rained on in any colour – the Royal Family carry around small immigrants on sticks who spread their little limbs as far as they can so as to avoid any moisture whatsoever collecting on the brows of our entirely “saved” hereditary monarchy) and today the sun is bright, the wind is warm and sweet and when I was putting the bins out earlier I saw a man walking down my street wearing a tiny pair of shorts and no shirt, his pasty white flesh presumably confusing pilots of passing aeroplanes looking for the landing lights on their approach to Heathrow.

The weather in the UK has been particularly insane for the past few years and so we have more to discuss than ever. Earlier this month we had snow. Snow in April. In London. Exactly a year earlier it was 24C (or 75.2F for American viewers). We have had no summer whatsoever for the past two years save for three days last August when I was in Devon on the beach, along with every other single human being for a radius of 100 miles (160.935KM for the French), all of us kneeling on the sand, in wide-eyed obeisance towards this yellow god who’d finally got his bloody hat on; “hip-hip-hip hooray” we yelled, achieving a level of lyricism that would make even Lord Stipe wince in jealousy. By the way, if you ever forget how to kneel or indeed are a little hazy the reasons why one would want to then help is at hand from the ever-essential Wikipedia:

Kneeling makes it easier to reach the ground.

How ever did we manage before the internet?

So we are a sun-starved, rain-sodden, cold and tired nation. Climate change is undeniable by anyone apart from hardcore pillocks (good word), the economy is still tanking and we are being governed by a set of overly-priviledged, self-serving bastards who seem to see no contradiction between slashing welfare, hacking into the public sector and then ensuring that the richest in our society are made even richer with a series of tax cuts. But at least today the sun is shining. It will most likely be rubbish again tomorrow so let’s carpe our diems and join the rest of the nation outside, trying to ignore the stiffening breeze and frolicking like we lived in Barcelona.

Back the world of Long Arm Films we have had a busy couple of weeks as pre-production for “High Tide” continues. We went to France for a spot of cheese-eating and location-scouting (both of which went very well, especially the cheese bit); we made some more lists and we stood in front of yellow crane. This is us standing in front of a yellow crane:

big yellow crane

I am the one in the middle.

After our French adventures, we have THREE exciting Long Arm Films announcements in the offing over the next week:

1. The name of the band who are going to appear in a sequence of scenes towards the end of the film. They are amazing and we love them. And you will too. (but they are not REM).

2. The name of our utterly brilliant and unbelievably well-connected producer.

3. The very first CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT for the film. An announcement that is so ball-bouncingly exciting that I can barely stop myself from blurting it out right now . . . . but I mustn’t. I must tease you a little longer. But we promise that it is, for once, brilliant and profound news for Long Arm Films and Jimmy and I have to keep pinching ourselves (although that is for entirely different reasons).

So there I will leave you, as I make haste towards the front door in order to enjoy these golden rays of pure Vitamin D . . . . oh balls, the sun’s gone, the wind’s got up and I think there is rain in the air. Better stay in and watch old REM videos on youtube instead. Here’s one from the VERY early days and it is glorious:

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:

“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 . . . .