Video Killed etc…

We will soon be overwhelmed with end of the decade round-ups and lists, but I had to share this one with you. Click on the link to find hours of entertainment from this list of the 101 best videos of the last ten years;

I think it’s a pretty comprehensive selection, with something for all tastes. Today’s favourite is the magical promo for Sigur Ros’s Glosoli from 2005’s taak… album:

The Camera Never Lies…

Camera Obscura were in good form last night at the Barras, and although it was a little light in terms of numbers attending, the relaxed mood suited their sound. Special mention to the guy dressed as a cow and his pal who was either Dracula/A Wicked Stepmother/ just an eccentric dresser. The addition of the string quartet on some of the numbers added real depth to music that some accuse of feyity, as if that’s a bad thing. It can be a gamble to throw a Springsteen cover in as they did in the encore with Tougher Than the Rest, but they pulled it off. Judge for yourself from the clip below as they do it for American radio:

Spinning Scotland

Those who are interested in the current discussions about Scottish Literature should have a look at the recently published on-line journal Spinning Scotland which itself is a spin-off from the conference of the same name held at the University of Glasgow last year. The breadth of subject is wide as well as deep, with articles covering time (David Lyndsay to Ali Smith), place (George Mackay Brown’s Orkney to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) and method of delivery (film and comic strip as well as poetry and prose are discussed).
With articles written by authors from inside and outside Scotland this journal wears the nationality of the literature lightly, and contextualises writers as individual as Irvine Welsh, Fionn Macolla and Sorley MacLean by examining the work itself rather than feeling the need to justify why they should be discussed in the first place. A refreshing change.

The journal can be found at spinningscotland and makes for interesting reading.

Making drama during a crisis.

I’ve been given a load of VHS tapes to look through that are proving to be a treasure trove of old Scottish films and TV drama. It made me realise that Scottish TV appears to have stopped making quality homegrown drama, although there are plenty of shows that use Scotland as the backdrop; the recent, risible, Hope Springs being only one example.

The reasons for this situation will know doubt be financial, but after watching Peter McDougall’s Down Among the Big Boys (1993) and the Michael Caton Jones directed Brond (1987), I realised that this was not an excuse during previous recessions. Both of these films were filmed and are set during times of poverty in Glasgow that were far greater than that in which the city, or country, currently finds itself. That also applies to the early 80’s set Looking after Jo Jo (1998) and the sadly forgotten Jute City (1991), which, unusually, was set outside of the central belt in Dundee, something that occurs all too rarely. It boasts a great cast, although the standout for me is John Sessions which makes me wonder why did he not do more straight acting? They’re helped by a fantastic script by David Kane who went on to write and direct the films This Year’s Love (1999) and Born Romantic (2000) as well as perhaps the most recent Scottish ‘drama’ Sea of Souls (2004-07).

Actually, the difference between Jute City and Sea of Souls is telling. The first is a complex three part drama that keeps you guessing until the end. By the time Kane was making Sea of Souls the fashion in TV drama, at least in this country, was to make programmes which had different stories in each episode, a la Taggart (about which more soon). This was so viewers could miss out on an episode or two and not be lost. It was assumed that the watching public wouldn’t commit to three weeks or more of plot. This is palpable nonsense as can be seen with the success of various TV dramas in the US. Programmes such as LOST, Deadwood and The Sopranos demanded loyalty and concentration from their viewers, and received it. Of course this was partly due to the popularity of the box-set and DVR systems, but these programmes were successful as they were screened, and you couldn’t take a toilet break without fear of losing the plot, never mind an episode. It appeared that makers of British TV, not for the first or, no doubt, last time, underestimated their audience.
Surely this attitude should have changed. But if so where are the British True Bloods or Generation Kills? Hopefully the success of the Tutti Frutti (see A slight bruising of the crotch) DVD box set will convince those who decide such things that investing in new TV drama is worthwhile even to those who are more concerned with the balance sheet. It would be fantastic to have series written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, David MacKenzie or, in a perfect world, Bill Forsyth. If TV is healthy enough in the US for Spielberg (Band of Brothers), Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire) and Soderbergh (Unscripted) to be involved surely, at a time when it is increasingly difficult to get feature films made, broadcasters could use the talent that is on their doorstep to make groundbreaking TV drama? When the BBC is under constant scrutiny and attack one way to answer critics is to make programmes that unquestionably justify the licence fee (see Malcolm Tucker, Art Historian). Or they could make another series of Hole in the Wall.
In the meantime here are a couple of clips from two of the programmes mentioned above. The first is a brief clip from Down Among the Big Boys which features Gary Lewis, and, blink and you’ll miss him, a young Glaswegian hobbit:

The following is from Brond. As well as ‘introducing’ John Hannah to the world Brond had a fantastic cast including James Cosmo, Russell Hunter and the statuesque Stratford Johns. Brond is a really interesting drama, and would be well worth repeating (although Channel 4 tend not to do repeats from their early glory days). There are overtones of James Hogg’s novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), and it unusually, and successfully, sets a supernatural thriller in a modern urban landscape. The following is not the most dramatic clip, but it is the only one I can find. If you are lucky enough to have a copy of the series then I hope you share it around:

When in Rome?

The revisited furore over Roman Polanski raises fascinating questions over the relationship between an artist and their audience, and between the moral and the artistic. It can be reduced to one conundrum; namely does the private life of an artist/writer/performer affect the way that we interact with what they create? Does the fact that Polanski is, by his own admission, guilty of ‘unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor’ affect how we view his films? Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and Tess are three groundbreaking movies and show what a great film maker Polanski can be. But does the private life of the director prove problematic when it comes to enjoyment of these movies? I think, on some level, it must.
My worst dilemma arose with Woody Allen. He was (is?) such a hero of mine that I went through a period in my life where I would watch at least two films of his every week, and could recite ever word from Sleeper, Play it Again Sam, Annie Hall, Manhattan and Love and Death. I loved the man and his work unashamedly and without equal. Then came the scandal and sensation over his relationship with Soon Yi Previn. Now this is not an easy situation to understand, particularly if you don’t wish it to be. Allen was never married to Soon Yi’s mother, Mia Farrow, although they were a high profile couple for around 12 years, and they actually lived separately in different apartments in New York. Soon Yi was adopted by Farrow and her then husband Andre Previn. There was never a legal relationship between Allen and Soon Yi, and they are still together 18 years later with children of their own. So arguments can, were, and are, made to the effect that while this is a messy and unusual situation, there is nothing Woody has to answer for. Then you take into account the assessment of Ronan, ne Satchel, Farrow who is Mia and Woody’s son. He says: “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression. I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with my father and be morally consistent…. I lived with all these adopted children, so they are my family. To say Soon-Yi was not my sister is an insult to all adopted children.” It is a powerful argument that should provoke second thoughts in even the staunchest Woody Allen supporter. Of course questions of morality, like artistic value, are actually individual even when they appear to be otherwise, and in the end how we come to view Woody’s, or Roman’s, films will change from person to person. All I know is that although I still watch Woody Allen movies, some of the magic has disappeared.

I also wonder if the perceived worth of the art, and therfore the artist, has a bearing on how we view the ‘crimes’ of the artist? Apparent objective moral probity often seems fairly random. Jerry Lee Lewis is still the butt of jokes concerning his relationship with his 13 (or 15 depending on who you believe) year old cousin Myra Gale Brown, while Elvis Aaron Presley, who at the very least was dating the 14 year old Priscilla, escapes most people’s opprobrium. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is to ask ‘How would the world have treated Gary Glitter if he had been in The Beatles rather than fronting The Glitter Band?’ I would hope such things don’t matter, but the example of Roman Polanski, and those who have vocally supported him, suggests they do.

The artist is trying to convince the world that their ideas, ideals and beliefs are the ones that others should share. I’m sure that many would protest that the work itself is the argument, but how convincing can that argument be if the life is not consistent or convincing? The important thing is to make up our own minds, and not have them made for us.

Sons and Daughters, love and laughter…

I went to see the Pixies play at the SECC on Sunday and they were blinding. I had been braced for disappointment from those who had seen them previously, but, for whatever reason, they were on the top of their form. After playing the whole of Doolittle, as advertised, they then came back on for an apparently spontaneous 40 min encore of early material and favourites. It was one of those nights where band and audience went for it together and this turned the cavernous, and normally vacuous, exhibition centre into a Barra’s like venue for the evening, a first for me.

The Pixies were more than ably supported by Sons and Daughters, and I want to ask why it is that Glasvegas are lauded yet Sons and Daughters are rarely seen or heard? Both deal in west coast influenced rock, both California and East Kilbride, but there is a sense of humour and style in the latter that is clearly absent from the former. Maybe it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt but my heart has begun to sink whenever I hear James Allen’s honking vocals (in both senses of the word), and I would go for Sons and Daughters every time.

It’s purely a matter of preference but ‘mon the Sons:

BPE: Before Postcard Era

The music documentary Caledonia Dreaming was repeated recently as BBC4’s This is Scotland season began to show signs of padding. The programme takes the formation of Postcard records in 1979 as Year Zero for Scottish popular music, and dismisses what went before as fey disco/pop (Middle of the Road and Tina Charles being the examples cited) or sweaty rock (ie: Nazareth, Stone the Crows and Frankie Miller). While I love Postcard and the music they inspired more than most things in life it is far too simplistic to dismiss earlier Scottish music. For a little taste of the good things that were on offer BPE I thought I would post three musical clips, one each from the 1950’s, the 60’s and the 70’s.
The first is of the man born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, as Anthony James Donegan but better known as Lonnie Donegan. This is a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Gamblin’ Man, but he makes makes the song his own by shaking it to within an inch of its life:

Donegan has been cited as an important early influence on The Beatles, amongst many others, and the ferocity and verve of his music hinted at the energy that would fuel rock n’roll.

From the sixties here’s a clip of the one and only Donovan. Perhaps the only man to come out of Maryhill declaring love and peace, at least until Alan Rough played for Partick Thistle. There was none more sixties than Donovan, and he was an influence not only on the hippy movement, but on the second summer of love in 1988. Sean Ryder was so impressed that he sampled Donovan’s music, appropriated his lyrics, and married his daughter Oriole.

Donovan is oft derided as a hippy who spent his time trying to get high on smoking banana skins. In reality he is a fascinating musician whose music endures.

And so to Alex Harvey and his Sensational Band. The following clip is one of my favourites. It’s from a 1973 Old Grey Whistle Test performance, and it is their cover of Jacques Brel’s Next:

Alex Harvey’s story is a fascinating one, from his childhood in Govan in the 1930’s and 40’s, to being cast as Scotland’s answer to Tommy Steele, to fronting one of the most individual and interesting bands of any time. The above clip shows Harvey’s ability to mix touching vulnerability with the threat of impending violence. For those interested you should check out John Neil Munro’s biography The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Harvey fronted a fantastic band, but he was the one who made them great. I cannot think of a more charismatic front man. Sensational.

Account of Banks.

I mentioned in a previous post that every new Iain Banks’ novel is heralded as a return to form (see Transmitting Transition ). Such claims can lead to disappointment but this time, with his latest work Transition, the hype is justified. In a sense Banks is cheating by claiming this as a mainstream novel as if it is not strictly science fiction, then it is at least fantasy. But he makes the rules so he’s entitled to break them. Banks has previously blurred the lines between his mainstream and science fiction writing in Walking on Glass and The Bridge, and it would be churlish to criticise him for that.

Transition is almost like a greatest hits novel, dealing with favourite themes of sex, death, politics, morality and personal responsibility. Banks is one of the most nakedly moralistic writers at work today, but where some readers may view this as problematic I think it is his indignant, barely concealed, anger that makes his writing exciting. However his writing is most successful when the anger is woven into the story rather than simply placed in the mouths of characters. Banks works best when he shows instead of tells. By his own admission he is prone to railing at the world through his novels, and The Steep Approach to Garbadale and Dead Air are two recent examples where the desire to express his world view overshadows plot, character and story.
I suppose that that if you are a fan of Iain Banks you’ll read Transition, and if you’re not then I don’t think this is the novel to win you over. But if you haven’t read anything for a while, perhaps since his critical heyday of The Bridge, or commercial peak of The Crow Road, then this would be a good place to renew an old acquaintance. You could call it a return to form.

More tea vicar.

BBC4’s Scotland on Screen was a curates egg of a programme. It was always interesting, and the premise of returning to the locations of some of Scotland’s best loved films was a strong one, but surely the BBC should have made a 4 or even 6 part series. This would have enabled more films to be discussed, but even more importantly they could have used the fantastic guests and talking heads that they did have to much better use. David Hayman, Peter Mullan and Andrew McDonald were all under employed, but the real sin was to take The Wicker Man director Robin Hardy and Gregory’s Girl writer/director Bill Forsyth back to the scene of their movies and then only giving them a couple of minutes on-screen time. This brings me to the second problem with the programme. Alan Cumming is, I think, a charming comic actor (although I may be biased as I have happy memories of Victor and Barry’s pantos at the Tron theatre as a child, which were built around Cumming’s and Forbes Masson’s comical Kelvinside parodies) but he doesn’t strike me as a film buff. His insights and questions to those involved in the film were naive bordering on painful. His appearance only made sense when he was interviewing a group of ladies, and one hugely uncomfortable minister, from Morningside about the influence of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Here the natural performer appeared and charmed and disarmed the group.

Surely it would have made more sense to have had the film fronted by a director, producer or critic, or at least some one who has a reputation for their love of film. To have film critic and presenter Andrew Collins as one of the talking heads, and then Cumming presenting, appears to me a waste of both their talents, and a simple swapping of roles would have rectified this. Perhaps I’m being a touch harsh, but when Cumming’s role as presenter and guide is compared to that of Peter Capaldi doing the same job brilliantly in A Portrait of Scotland (see Malcolm Tucker, Art Historian) he can only suffer. In fact how perfect would Capaldi have been fronting Scotland on Screen? Not only is he a writer and director but his first film role was in Forsyth’s Local Hero. I would have loved to have seen Peter Capaldi and Bill Forsyth reunited and reminiscing on screen.
If you get the chance to see the programme I would recommend it, but with the knowledge it could have been so much better. To see a real film lover talking to Bill Forsyth about his work, in this case Local Hero, have a look at Mark Kermode’s film for The Culture Show from earlier this year. It not only captures the charm and magic of the original film, but he allows Forsyth time to inform the viewer about how Local Hero came into existence.