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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The High Tide party scene: twelve months on

As I sit in a quiet house watching a large amount of rain throw itself to the ground with alarming gusto, I can’t help but reflect that exactly a year ago today I was rushing around a garden in Wales setting up for what was to be both the busiest and most remarkable day of shooting on our feature film High Tide.

Jimmy and I both watched near-complete drafts of the film yesterday in preparation for a short ADR session next week (and there I go waving around acronyms like ADR without a care in the world – ADR or Additional Dialogue Recording means getting your actors back to rerecord dialogue that was imperfect on set. Many films, particularly those with huge special effects sequences, are almost entirely composed of ADR work, but for High Tide we need only record a small amount. Gosh what a thrilling piece of parenthetical filler.) and one of the highlights of the whole piece is the twenty or so minutes we spend at the party scene that we shot that day.

Having the wonderful Sam Green and the Midnight Heist play live in the garden was a real treat (especially for the neighbours) and the general good grace shown by everyone ensured that the day was a success, even if Jimmy and I did have to spend the dying moments of the evening rushing around like crazy things in order to get everything shot by the legally-binding working curfew. Most people were a bit drunk by then; we were very sober!

Anyway, I don’t want to chunter on about it so I think I will curtail my reminiscings there. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the day and thanks to anyone who cares enough to be patient for the release of the finished film. It is coming, I promise you.

Here are a few images and videos from the day:

party2 party1 2013-08-08 15.43.27 2013-08-08 20.02.28-3

 

 

 

 

Boyhood and the exquisite pleasure of now

I don’t remember a point in the last ten years when I saw a particular film more than once in a cinema. I must have done so since the new millennium but I am struggling to think when and what it would have been. This contrasts with my heady and unhealthy student days of the late 90s when I would regularly visit the wonderful City Screen in York to see some obscure piece of art-house fare. And if I liked what I saw, as I often did, then I would frequently go again the next day. This was less to do with a raw passion for the cinematic medium but rather I had little better to do, or at least could spare a few hours to sink into the not-overly-comfortable seats and disappear. And plus it was really cheap. I remember I saw a screening of Der Himmel uber Berlin on two consecutive days; the first time with a pal, and the next trying to impress some girl (who was so resolutely unimpressed that she fell asleep within ten minutes). I also saw Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour uncut 70mm rendition of Hamlet THREE times in that cinema because I found it utterly wonderful and, as the two regular readers of this blog will know, I do sort of LOVE Kenneth Branagh with a singular passion. Plus Hamlet as a text is, you know, pretty alright.

However I really can’t think of a time where such multiple cinema visits to the same film have occurred this century. That is until this past week when I’ve had the utter pleasure of seeing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood being twice projected onto a large screen.

Boyhood-poster-I-

I’ve written before about mine and Jimmy’s adoration of Linklater’s Before trilogy and so I was very much coming at this as a fan; despite this I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was, hyperbole aside, one of the most moving, humane and unpretentious pieces of storytelling I’ve ever seen.

The premise is brilliantly simple: Linklater filmed the same set of lead actors for a couple of weeks every year for twelve years and thus when edited together the audience is able to watch them grow. The eponymous boy is Mason who we first meet lying on the grass outside his primary school and whom we leave on his first day at university. The effect is almost overwhelming as we are confronted by the sheer speed with which time passes, the bewildering consequences of choice, both good and bad, the twin pride and terror of parenthood and the astounding capacity that we have to survive and even thrive in the most trying of circumstances.

Boyhood-Ellar-Coltrane-Ethan-Hawke

Linklater’s direction is, of course, sublime and on second viewing I was able to enjoy shot after shot of his typically unfussy style. There is one shot during Mason’s high school years in which he talks to a classmate who bumps alongside him on her bike. They talk, they walk forwards and the camera stays one step ahead of them moving backwards. No cuts, no singles, just a backwards tracking two-shot that seems like it had to be done in one take. You can see this shot again and again in the Before films and it is suggestive of a director utterly confident in his own craft. A scene requires two characters to have a conversation so Linklater just lets the camera do only what is necessary to allow us to witness what is being said. Anything else would be artful and extraneous.

I am no film academic and if you want a near-definitive account of Linklater’s work then look no further than our pal Professor Rob Stone’s excellent book: The Cinema of Richard Linklater – Walk, don’t Run. Rob is clearly a man of vast intelligence and insight (as well as being pleasingly ready to take the piss out of Jimmy’s levels of personal hygiene) and he writes with a rigorous passion for Linklater’s work and succeeds, through a jealousy-inducing series of interviews with the man himself, in exploring the films in comparison with each other as well as illuminating the many and diverse films that have influenced him throughout his career. It’s a great read. I recommend it heartily.

As Rob explores with greater insight that I could ever muster, time does not really work in a conventional way in Linklater’s films. This is particularly the case in Boyhood which despite seemingly locked into a structure that forces its audience to confront time in all its unflinching and relentless forwards motion, paradoxically removes its characters from a temporal context almost completely. This is a film of the moment, a film of now. There is very little in the film that looks backwards and that which looks forward is only the usual cliche of expectation that others force upon Mason. What any of the characters really aspire to in the film is making sense of the current moment; that is all that really matters. No film I’ve seen in a long time is as preoccupied with the present. And it is all the more refreshing for it. The only false moment in the whole near-three hour wonder of the film is when there is a moment of narrative resolution for an immigrant builder whom we’ve seen, briefly, in an earlier scene. For me this felt like a misstep; a nod to the conventional story arcs that Linklater so successfully eschews in the remainder of the piece.

Anyway, I’ve started to use words like “eschew” so it is probably time to stop banging on. But I urge you to see Boyhood. I implore you so to do. It really is most wonderful.

There’s a line very near the end of the film in which a character says something approximating that in life it isn’t really a case of seizing the moment, it is more that the moment seizes you. I think that is utterly beautiful and no better epithet for the wondrous strange thing that is all of our lives. Just keep letting the moment seize you, says Linklater. And you’ll be okay.

p.s. I think I love Ethan Hawke just as much as Kenneth Branagh now. Even Ethan Hawke with a terrible moustache.

p.p.s. High Tide is VERY NEARLY finished. More news very soon.

p.p.p.s. We have been working some more on the screenplay for our second feature film. Jimmy is not letting me get away with anything remotely rubbish – my favourite comment from his recent edits – “is this a reference to old vaginas? If so, I don’t get it”.

p.p.p.p.s. It wasn’t. But now I kind of wish it had been.

Words on film (it’s a global conspiracy actually).

There’s an odd disquiet in the air this evening as the sun wanes a grubby orange and London’s throaty roar thunders more angrily than ever; a noxious Last Post for a city slowly eating itself. Maybe I should just shut the window; maybe I should reign-in the hay-fever pills a little or maybe I should load up my fingers with words and tap out the bellicose rhythms of a linguistic war upon my battered keyboard.

Or maybe just get on with it.

I am bothered by the stats page on my WordPress site. I pretend not to be. I feign indifference like a recovering smoker shrugging at the pub on a Friday afternoon as a forgetful friend offers him a fag even though it’s been nearly seven weeks since he’s last smoked. He declines politely. He pretends not to care. He ignores the raging beast of nicotine addiction stomping around the wires and neurones of his brain – yes, he thinks, yes for the love of all that is holy and grand, please just let me smoke. But he says nothing. He smiles. He is fine. Really he is.

My name is James and I’ve given up smoking. This makes me simultaneously very happy indeed (and god, do I feel better for it) but also a tiny bit sad.

Anyway, this analogy began sometime in the late C19th and let me try to bring it some sort of, inevitably disappointing, conclusion. Yes, the stats page. I pretend to be immune to its charms but the last few days have seen the longest period so far during which nobody on the planet has read anything that I’ve published here. This blogging duck (a cricket metaphor, sorry American readers – hi Julia) was broken today by a single view of my (ahem) award-winning post about motivational quotations for writers from a reader in Djibouti. Which is a very hot country on the East coast of Africa. I know this because the internet has just told me. So anyway, time to tap my way back to a few more readers.

There’s a fair bit of Long Arm news on the horizon; something about a finished feature film, a trailer for said film; some exciting developments about our short Ex Libris and a draft of a new feature script that features a man called Spider and a lady who keeps a shotgun in her bra. However, none of these exciting headlines can be supported by much detail just yet although we do hope to expand on these themes in the coming weeks. We should be able to show you something exciting in roughly a fortnight. And I don’t mean Jimmy’s bum. Although clearly for most rational human beings, things just don’t get more exciting than this.

So to continue a theme that I began in my most recent post (which was published a blushingly large number of weeks ago) I thought I’d write a little about something very close to my lungs. Nicotine. No, not nicotine. I am over nicotine. Smoking is SO OVER. No I mean scripted dialogue. As ever I don’t profess to being any sort of expert on the subject but as a writer whose written more of the stuff than I have anything else, I do feel that I have a few observations worth sharing.

There are manifold challenges for the screenwriter as he or she sits down to write some dialogue for a scene. Not least the fact that people are rubbish at talking. Real people in real life spew a never-ending shite-stream of piss-poor construction and half-remembered cliches. To quote them directly would render your script utterly turgid and sound like the average chat on an episode of Masterchef –

“I’m going to give it everything to reach the next level and cook outside my comfort zone and nail these dishes like one hundred and twenty percent and if I go home today I will be just like gutted because this competition is the most important thing that has ever happened to a man or a woman ever”. 

No one wants to hear people talk like that (says the man who gets very upset if he misses even five minutes of an episode of Masterchef) and so writers are forced into playing a game with the audience in which they attempt to fill their characters mouths with words that SOUND as if they could be actual spoken at some point by a real human being but are in actual fact as highly constructed as an oil painting or a giant medieval tapestry. Oh I do love a giant medieval tapestry.

Great dialogue writing is really about how far you can push the characters’ language towards unreality before anyone notices or, more importantly, before anyone gets cross. Some writers are masters, absolute masters at pushing this tolerance threshold to a point so distant that it becomes irrelevant. Take Noel Coward for instance; no one in England has ever spoken with the spontaneous beauty of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Not even when England was black and white and we drank our tea from bone china tea-sets.  But the audience does not give a solitary fig (roll) because the language is extraordinary:

Alec: I wish I could think of something to say.

Laura: It doesn’t matter, not saying anything I mean. 

Alec: I’ll miss my train and wait and see you into yours . . .

Laura: No. Please don’t. I’ll come over with you to your platform, I’d rather. 

Alec: Very well. 

Laura: Do you think we shall ever see each other again?

Alec: I don’t know. Not for years anyway. 

Laura: The children will all be grown-up. I wonder if they’ll ever meet and know each other. 

Alec: Couldn’t I write to you? Just once in a while?

Laura: No Alec please. You know we promised. 

Alec: Oh my dear. I do love you. So very much. I love you with all my heart and soul. 

Laura: I want to die. If only I could die.

Alec: If you died you’d forget me. I want to be remembered. 

brief_encounter

Swoon! Tears! Coward was a genius. And Brief Encounter, for me, represents perfection in film making. There is not one second that is misplaced or anything other than luminously brilliant.

Compare this to one of the more abject examples of dialogue writing that, for some reason, has stayed with me for well over a decade. Remember the X-Files? Of course you do. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Mulder and Scully running around in the 90s with poor quality torches in search of extra-terrestials? It was ace. Remember the X-Files movie? The first one? Er, not so much. But I do. And I remember this speech with dizzying clarity:

Bartender:  So, whaddya do?

Mulder: What do I do?

Bartender: Mmm hmm.

(Mulder takes a sip from his new drink, puts it down and begins his tale.)

Mulder: I’m the key figure in an on‑going government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrial. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet. (he laughs) So, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit‑storm of all time.

Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. To be fair a lot of the work required of dialogue in the average film is to get plot across to an popcorn munching, girlfriend snogging audience (not a problem in a Long Arm film of course due to Jimmy’s wholesale rejection of anything remotely resembling a story) but really, credit the audience with a soupçon of narrative literacy please. And poor David Duchovny. He had to sit for a day and repeat this speech countless times without ever being able to rip off his own nipples in disgust. This may have had something to do with the paycheque he was receiving of course.

And then of course there is Aaron Sorkin a man who, as regular readers of this blog will attest, I love more than I ever thought possible. In his West Wing pomp, Sorkin was untouchable as a writer of dialogue; at its zenith I’d suggest that it beats pretty much anything else I’ve seen on television. And I’ve seen Rentaghost. Again it is no more real than an episode of The Simpsons, in some ways far less real, but when the President of the USA chastises God for killing his secretary in a car accident IN LATIN then you either throw a grenade at the television in utter disgust or you just stand to applaud and marvel. And I did just that.

And yes Martin Sheen is a genius. And yes I now do want a cigarette.

But not every writer can be Sorkin. And nor should you even try so to be. I often get my work sent back to me by Jimmy with comments such as NO ONE EVER SPEAKS LIKE THAT. And OH PLEASE. And THIS IS LARGELY PISS. And for this I am grateful. Jimmy is a brilliant man. A man of images. A man of vision. And these little spats between us (and goodness, the making-up is always SO good) are indicative of an inescapable tension between the image and the word. Film is by definition a visual medium and for the first thirty-ish years of its existence got on very well indeed without any words whatsoever. Words bastardised the medium, diluted the purity of the form. And the two have been competing ever since. What are the greatest ever moments in film? The door to Michael Corleone’s office shutting on Kay at the end of the Godfather or “Here’s looking at you kid”? I guess it is a matter of taste.

Do we forgive Star Wars “It’s the ship that made the kessel run in less that twelve parsecs” or “Luke, run away, far away. If he can sense your presence here then just leave this place” just because you know, it is Star Wars? Well millions upon millions do.

But for some of us, despite its inherent friction with the genre in which it exists, there will always be a greater thrill from watching someone on a huge screen say something really, really cool.

“Go and never darken my towels again”.

And from Groucho to a pair of Swedish sisters who make lovely music. And no, there is NO connection whatsoever. But I’ve been listening to this a lot this evening and I think you should do so too:

Notes from beneath the smog pancake (the drugs barely work).

I think it indicative that my initial attempt at an opening paragraph for this blog, a  paragraph that I’d been tinkering with for the past ten minutes or so and then in a fit of mighty good sense expunged via a haughty flick of my right index finger, was dominated entirely by musings on the weather. I am passing through this week like a slightly portly zombie, my senses dulled by the antihistaminic battle raging along the snotty corridors of my sinuses between my rubbish body and the thick layer of dirty fog that has been sitting over London like a limp pancake for the past few days. The drugs don’t work, they just make you worse, or rather the drugs do work to an extent but render you dulled and limpid and trick you into believing that opening a blog in a fashion such as this is in any way helpful to humanity.

Anyway, it’s been a trying few days and although I have been prompted back to the keyboard by the flat line at the top of the WordPress window showing that the number of visitors to by blog today has been “0 visitors 0 views”, I really won’t keep you longer than I can possibly help. Think of it like going to a party of someone that you probably don’t like as much as you should; I mean you go, because you are British and therefore somewhat self-hating when it comes to social convention, but you then neck as much free wine as quickly as you can before smiling and pretending that you’ve got a crate of venison being delivered to your local butcher which you’d forgotten about but really must collect immediately. And yes it is odd that a butcher is open on a Friday night but you know, old Barry Sinew and Sons knows his market and so there must be sufficient demand for after-hours game in the West London area.

Back in the world of Long Arm Films (which in the distant past was the reason that this blog existed in the first place; that was until Jimmy booted it off our website because I’d upset too many important people with my fingers) Jimmy and I have had the very pleasant opportunity to spend a few long phone calls actually talking about stories rather than any of the other production stuff that often dominates our chat. We’ve got an idea for a new script. We think it might not be terrible and I am off to France next week to write the first draft. Actually that sounds far too grand and deliberate. No, what I mean is I am going to France next week anyway and while I am there I will attempt to write some of the new script. You can therefore expect several thousand blog words about cheese, wine and what a heart-clefting horror it is to have to sit down and actually write something. Which of course it isn’t. But yes, I am very much looking to writing.

This is not writing. Clearly.

In other utterly unrelated news, I took a well-aimed swipe at the pervasion of Facebook meme things which I could of course turn off but don’t because I like being grumpy. Eat my satire world!

(or rather, satire COMMA world – “satire world” sounds like a theme park for Guardian Readers where idiots like me and my pals can swan around in pastel shades and ride on THE ROLLER- HORACE or the er, BUMPER RORY BREMNARS   . . . time to exit that particular piece of imaginary nonsense  . . . although it would probably still be better than Trago Mills (very, very specific Westcountry reference)).

Screenshot 2014-04-03 21.38.50

I apologise for the unnecessary vulgarity. At primary school people would say that “twat” meant a pregnant goldfish. I have no idea if this is true or not (if only I had instant access to some worldwide repository of human knowledge). As far as I know it means “vagina” which probably makes me seem like a misogynist on top of everything else (which I am not, although there is a pleasing grammar joke to be made about “on top” being the most appropriate preposition for a misogynist – although I won’t be making it). For most of my teenage and university years calling someone a “twat” was pretty mild and actually a phrase like “come and sit over here you big twat” was actually so redolent with love and desire that it was akin to a proposal of marriage. At least that is what I was told. I spent a lot of my university years alone.

Kenneth Branagh! There I’ve said it. I bloody love Kenneth Branagh. I thought I saw him in town earlier this week. Turned out it wasn’t him at all. But this fascinating episode did remind me how much I loved him. (I even shouted out and called this faux Branagh a twat. This went badly). Watch his Wallander. Watch his Henry V. Watch his Hamlet – all four and half hours of 70mm brilliance of it. Watch this:

A speech that Shakespeare geeks like me will smugly remind you is not in the First Folio of 1623 but Branagh wisely restores it from the earlier Second Quarto of 1604. And oh that language in the mouth of a great actor . . .

And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds . . .

Yep. This is the good shit alright.

And in another leap of utter disconnection, thanks once again to the unmatchable BBC 6Music, I’ve discovered a man from Canada called Mathias. His band is called The Burning Hell and they are a bit like They Might Be Giants crossed with someone else. Here they are playing to a bookshop-full of nodding Germans:

Their track “Amateur Rappers” is ace too. Check them out!!!

And check me in. Up. And out of here. As the antihistamine claims me and I sink back beneath the smog pancake. And the rest is silence.

(Good luck with selling this one on Twitter Nat).

 

 

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).

That was the Two Thousand and Thirteen that was

It is one of those days when you are white-knuckled and sweaty just from holding on. As December waxed and now wanes I find myself fighting off all manner of bastard bacteria, sniffing and coughing my way through the days and hoping that the holiday really is just over the crest of the hill and not some elaborate deception created by the government to heap more misery on the already bedraggled.

It is December and I am tired.

Not that it should matter one jot to you out there along the hills and dales of the internet. You are most likely sipping mojitos served to you on a platter made of dreams by a bevy of beautiful men and women who not only find you simultaneously exciting, attractive and inspiring but think your joke about the fridge and the Bolivian ambassador could just be the funniest thing ever uttered in the long and tattered history of this thing we call humanity.

Or you could just be on your sofa munching on a mince pie. Either way the numbers that have any interest in my health are significantly less than significant and so I will press on to matters less dull.

There is something irresistibly summative about this time of year; something about the approach of a, let’s be honest, relatively arbitrary sub-division of infinity that pokes all of us into the type of largely vacuous self-evaluation that was forced upon us at school. Everywhere you look, or at least read, at the moment you are greeted with an endless dance of Top 10s (I blame the internet): Top 10 films (and I was very pleased to see Before Midnight quite so high up the Guardian list, as indeed was the utterly splendid Behind the Candelabra); Top 10 albums, Top 10 idiotic remarks made by politicians, Top 10 sits down, Top 10 underpant adventures . . . . I’m not quite sure why we feel the need to be such compulsive listers but I suppose, like time itself, we find it comforting to impose some sort of order on the spiralling chaos of life. So in the face of such overwhelming cultural hegemony I am not going to do what any self-respecting artist should do; I will not be cocking-a-snoop and purring smugly to myself as I sing snide songs from the sidelines, I am just going to don my trunks and dive into the pool like everyone else. In other, less absurd terms, I am going to bash out for you a festive Top 10.

But whither Top 10? I could give you my ten greatest moments of personal idiocy from 2013 (and God knows there are plenty of contenders from which to choose); I could give you the top ten times when one drink fewer should have sufficed; or my top ten text messages to Jimmy (and that is a list packed to the gills with quality) but I suspect none of these would propel you willingly towards the end of this article SO instead with some pride, modest fanfare and a fair amount of bronchial crisis I will now unveil:

TEN MEMORABLE LONG ARM FILMS MOMENTS IN 2013

Number One

It was bloody freezing and it was February and we were standing on the beach in Swansea. Jimmy had a piece of gaffer tape stuck over his mouth and I was embarking on a not-very-funny reference to nineteenth century miserablist Thomas Hardy. This was the filming of the video to launch our crowd funding campaign for our debut feature film High Tide and we’d dragged DOP Chris out into the freezing wastes to film us. We’d watched a lot of other such begging videos and so we hit on the brilliant wheeze of asking you to give us money by telling you NOT TO GIVE US MONEY. Brilliant. What a pair of knobs. For what it’s worth here’s the video in full:

Number Two

For about two weeks in May 2013 we seemed to upset large numbers of the entertainment industry on a daily basis. We didn’t mean to. It just sort of happened. But we were called “unprofessional”, “idiotic” and “utterly misguided”. And that was just from my Mum – not a bit of it, my Mum is ace. But yes, we upset a lot of people and were told we’d never work in this town again. Luckily we were in Newton Abbot at the time. At one point I had to physically restrain Jimmy from “going round to sort out” someone very famous and powerful. Looking back now, I should probably have let him.

Number Three

The realisation that some people are absolutely bloody marvellous. At times we felt like a right pair of pricks when repeatedly asking for donations to help us make our feature film. It was something that neither of us enjoyed doing, although making the repeated videos did turn out to be rather fun. Some of our friends resolutely kept their wallets shut (and fair enough too) but some people, some wonderful, beautiful people, some of them complete strangers to us, were generous beyond reason and as the counter ticked down to our crowd funding deadline we sat at our computers feeling blessed and somewhat astounded by people’s faith and generosity.

Number Four

It was a good few days into the High Tide shoot; the days were long, the pay was awful but thankfully the actors and the locations were simply astounding. This update from the beach at Three Cliffs captures some of the magic of the shoot and I think you can tell that I felt somewhat blessed to be alive and making our film.

Number Five

Before Midnight was released. There was much rejoicing.

Number Six

We’d set up base-camp for High Tide in an extraordinary house that we’d rented for the duration of the shoot. We were using the house for several important scenes in the film and we decided that we may as well live there too. This turned out to be a very good idea. On the first official day of the shoot, I sat in the sunshine with acting coach Tom Walker whilst Melanie Walters and Sam Davies read through the script that we were about to shoot. You know those moments when you can scarce believe something is happening? Yep, it was one of those.

Number Seven

Jimmy and I sat outside a cafe in France and drank some coffee whilst watching the rain. This was better than it sounds.

Number Eight

Our friend Tom made this. It is better than the the film it was trying to raise money for.

Number Nine

(taken from my blog entry written just after the shoot)

It was the day of the party scene. We’d always planned for this to be the final day of the shoot but for various reasons this turned out to be entirely inaccurate. However, it was still a big day and our house was filled with crew and actors and friends and family from about eleven in the morning. And then the band turned up. Sam Green and the Midnight Heist unpacked their vans, lugged their equipment up the tiny lane to the house and then set up in the garden. And then they played. And it was brilliant. A few hours later we shot a scene where the host of the party introduces the band and everyone begins to dance. Jimmy and I watched this scene from the back of the garden with tears in our eyes: if ever on the shoot there was a moment where we allowed ourselves the briefest moment of pride, this was it. The sun was shining, the garden was full, the band were brilliant and the whole thing was being recorded for our feature film.

Number Ten

It was day after the High Tide wrap party and it was time to go home. I looked at Jimmy and my hang-dog-tired face was reflected in his. We muttered a few “well dones” to each other, yawned and then hugged. Nothing more to be said. We’d done it.

And there you go. Ten moments from dozens that helped to make 2013 not too shabby at all. Sadly I didn’t have space for High Tide’s Charlotte Mulliner’s stunning punditry about Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory . .  oh sod it, here it is in full:

(Apologies Mullinator).

Thank you to everyone. Thank you to our friends, our families, to those that we love and have neglected, those that have helped us by giving us a few quid or just by caring enough to ask how it is all going. Thank you to the wonderful High Tide crew (who, thrillingly, will be reunited early next year – more news on this to follow anon) and finally, thank you to my pal, my partner, my brother Mr Jimmy M Hay. It has been a hell of a year for us. And just you wait until the next.

I might text him and say cheers. Not that he’d reply.

Happy Christmas to you all. Eat, drink, love and drink some more. And then do a bit more eating. And definitely some more loving. This blog will return in the new year (or maybe before; it rather depends on how the new script is going – if lots more blogs appear in the subsequent three weeks you can assume that the script is in all sorts of trouble) but in the meantime thanks for reading in sufficient numbers to have kept me motivated to keep at it all year.

With love,

James / Jim / Gill / Badger / The one in Long Arm Films that is not Jimmy