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The Principle is All

25 September, 2017 (22:25) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

In episode 3 of The Deuce, there is a scene in which Maggie Gyllenhaal is in her kitchen listening to messages on her answer phone. She does nothing except stand there and smoke and react, and yet, by her face and her posture and with every fibre of her being, she tells us everything.

Three episodes in, and The Deuce is must-see TV.

Walk Easy, Walk Slow

25 September, 2017 (22:09) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Nearly 2 years ago, in January 2016, I posted about a Link Wray album. I said I hoped I still had it because it would cost £££ replace. My old copy seems to have disappeared and that’s a bummer. But I finally have a copy again after a period of waiting patiently for one to crop up on eBay at a reasonable price.

Hoorah!

Shed Sounds

18 September, 2017 (22:41) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

35+ years ago, when I was a student the first time, I had, from new, a Pioneer PL-120 turntable. I ran it through a Sansui AU2900 amplifier I bought from a friend. I can’t remember now what speakers I had, but they would have been cheap.

I still have that turntable in a cupboard. It had a new drive belt at some point, and has a new-ish cartridge on it, but it hasn’t been used since I got a Rega Planar 2 (original model) from my brother-in-law. Unfortunately, I no longer have the Sansui amp., and for the life of me can’t remember what I did with it. I really wish I did still have it, but if wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets in the sea, as they say.

Anyway, even though the turntable is nothing special in the great scheme of things, it’s OK and could be put to useful labour in the shed. So I’ve just been on eBay and bought a beat-up Sansui amp., sadly not an AU2900, but an AU-G11X for £30. I reckon for £30 it will do for the shed but it’s not a disaster if it needs to be replaced sometime.

Of course, I’ll need to tidy the shed properly and sort out some kind of stand, but that all gives me time to think about some reasonable 8ohm speakers…

Conservative, but not Entirely Unfun

17 September, 2017 (10:54) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

Always late to the party, I watched Wonder Woman. And… I enjoyed it but, on the basis of the reviews, expected to be overwhelmed. As it happens I was neither over- nor under- whelmed; I was merely whelmed.

You tell him Diana

The film is clearly important in breaking with the testosterone-fest aspects of the superhero genre, and the female leads are all excellent, as is Chris Pine. Gal Godot is an obvious talent who carries the whole 2 hour+ movie, seizing the chance to shine. The cinematography is excellent, though the way the tonal palette shifts with the setting–the events in the ‘human world’ are graded to a desaturated blue-shift after the sunshine of Themyscira and shifts to rich warm tones as our heroine comes into her inheritance–is getting a little formulaic with each passing movie.

Yet Wonder Woman seemed to me to fall short of the rhapsodic reception it received. To be sure, it is leagues ahead of the other Warner Bros./DC fare, and I am not blind to either the importance of the movie in breaking the male gaze or the feminist origins of the character (and message of the movie) but I’m not sure that’s enough.

My touchstone for superhero movies remains The Incredibles, which was pitch-perfect, although it benefits from being animated. The best of the live-action crop, for me, is Logan, which succeeds as a fine super-hero movie by dint of being a fine movie by any standard, rather in the way Jessica Jones was streets ahead of the TV equivalents. Logan also, and notably, largely avoids big set up CGI fests and concentrates on character and personal tragedy. The fight scenes in Wonder Woman worked well for me when it was Diana being badass, much less so when the CGI got involved to create spectacle (something I find off-putting in other movies too).

Oh-oh, shit’s getting real

There is a deeper problem with Wonder Woman, though, as an origin story, one that will have repercussions for the franchise, the same problem that underlies Superman and the same problem Marvel had to deal with in the X-Men comics with Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix: once your lead is established to have God-like powers, or to be a God, you are boxed in because the stakes always have to be higher and the villains ever more powerful, with diminishing returns. Drama requires vulnerability, and that is undermined if the hero/heroine always wins because they are virtually all-powerful.

You might think it unfair of me to contrast Wonder Woman with Logan, as they are very different movies. But that is also my point. Wonder Woman is a good superhero movie; Logan dared to be something else.

Everything is Everything

14 September, 2017 (17:30) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

The opening scene of episode 1 of The Wire, the Who Shot Snot? dialogue, is a classic. McNulty and and un-named witness are talking about Snotboogie, the dead guy in the middle of the road. The dialogue goes like this:

“I’m saying, every Friday night in the alley behind the cut-rate, we rolling bones, you know? All the boys from around the way, we roll till late.”
“Alley crap game, right?”
“And like every time, Snot, he’d fade a few shooters. Play it out till the pot’s deep. Then he’d snatch and run.”
“Every time?”
“Couldn’t help hisself.”
“Let me understand you. Every Friday night, you and your boys would shoot crap, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snotboogie he’d wait till there was cash on the ground, then grab the money and run away? You let him do that?”
“We catch him and beat his ass. But ain’t nobody ever go past that.”
“I gotta ask you: if every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away why’d you even let him in the game?”
“What?”
“If Snotboogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?”
“Got to. This America, man.”

The Deuce; HBO Poster

The scene pays repeated watching because of how its sets out, in just under 3 minutes, the stall for the whole show, including the ghost in the story–the key to the metaphor and to why The Wire isn’t about drugs at all. It’s all in the game, yo, is the repeated motif throughout the show, and the thieves get to play, despite everyone knowing they’re thieves, because the game is America.

Because of the oblique observation, the un-named witness becomes a person, and absolutely not a stereotypical street punk. He becomes a player on a larger stage, not just a dramatic cypher. As the narrative unfolds we pick up other themes within it, and find no overt editorial gaze directing us to a moral interpretation, just letting you make up your own mind as the story plays out; in this it resembles the Icelandic sagas in its unsentimentality.

David Simon returns with The Deuce, a tale ostensibly about sex work and the growth of the porn industry in 1971 New York, but which resonates on much deeper levels. In the first scene after the opening credits, we are introduced to CC and Reggie, down at the bus terminus looking for girls to add to their “herd.” Both are dressed outrageously, straight out of Blaxploitation central casting, but Reggie has done a tour in Vietnam and delivers an acute analysis Nixon’s foreign policy in terms of pimping; Nixon know what he doin’ in Vietnam, bro, he says. He know the game.

And there it is again, the game. A metaphor is floated while simultaneously subverting expectations raised by the initial framing of the characters.

Reggie and CC then discuss their respective business models; I’m looking for a product, not a challenge, says CC, presaging Stringer Bell at business school. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy drives the point home: this is business, with management and workers and tilted scales of work and reward.

I look forward to watching The Deuce develop.

I’ve written here a couple of times recently about the changing nature of television and genre television, usually using The Wire as an arbitrary stake in the ground, a reference point of quality. The Wire also regularly crops up as a signifier in mainstream TV reviews. It was surprising, then, to see a lot of reviewers apparently disappointed that the writers didn’t give us a money shot of meaning right there in episode one, no flashing billboard drip feeding us. But there is nothing about The Wire or David Simon’s other work to suggest any such thing was likely (or even desirable). What we get is an introduction to characters who are given space to define themselves in an emergent narrative that we can expect to build and deepen over time. We get intelligent storytelling with high-production-value filming and unflashy performances (and a great soundtrack). And the blink-and-you-miss-it long shot of the Twin Towers still being constructed was a neat touch.

I have to add: I watched the pilot episode here in the UK courtesy of a VPN. It was released on demand on HBO on 28 August and broadcast in the US on 10 September. It airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on 26 September, by which time US viewers (and me) will already be on episode 3. I understand the issues with piracy and downloads and intellectual property and different markets, but it seems to me that networks too often shoot themselves in the foot with such a big difference in broadcast dates. Both Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks addressed this, and I’m surprised The Deuce hasn’t.

 

Kick out the jams

9 September, 2017 (22:52) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

More jam today: Apple and Ginger.

I used about 3.7Kg of apples, all from the garden–mostly Katy but also Cox’s Orange-Red and the wild apple tree. I cored all of the apples and peeled the wild (green) apples, then put the cores and peels aside. The rest I sliced and chopped. This yielded around 3Kg of fruit (ie without cores). I also grated the rind of two lemons, and juiced them, and grated a couple of pieces of ginger.

I put the fruit, 2.4Kg jam/preserving sugar and the lemon/ginger mix into a jeely pan with about 1.5 pints water. Sugar:fruit was roughly 45:55.

I put the cores and peelings into a pan with 1pt water, boiled, simmered, then pressed through a seive, discarding pips, etc..

I brought the whole lot to a boil then simmered for 1 hr 20, then boiled until it reached 220F

Yield was 13 jars of varying sizes, and it tastes great 🙂

Oh dear me no

9 September, 2017 (00:16) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

Just as Marvel did their Defenders cross-over, CW/DC did the same with their four franchises. Invasion! A DC Crossover Event. You may see it going cheap in your local supermarket and be tempted by its low price; you may think, as I did, it would be a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

Reader, I watched it so you don’t have to. Don’t be tempted.

It is shite.

This and that

5 September, 2017 (17:12) | Goggle-eyes, Rants | By: Ian Burdon

I went back and watched episodes 1 and 2 of the revived Twin Peaks. Unsurprisingly, they cast an interesting light on the final episode, especially some scenes/dialogue in episode 2 I’d forgotten about. I’m not going to make the mistake of imposing meaning on the show, but obviously Lynch and Frost scattered clues throughout the series as to what might be happening, some of which may be red herrings, but the final episode was planned, not random.

I may do a fuller post about the show in the future.

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In my post of 16 August, I talked about various options for improving sound quality on my audio gear.

I confirm that the Sony speakers from eBay, with cable wire from Amazon, are a great success, and have revitalised the old cd player.

The experiments in the living room have been a mixed bag: resiting the speakers on bamboo boards has worked as has isolating the cd player and amp. I think the semi-isolation of the turntable has worked a bit as well. I’ve run into an odd problem though. I am losing a little high-frequency hearing, and that has been behind some of my dis-satisfaction with the sound; but improving the isolation of the components has had the odd effect of improving LPs and cds with open production and showing up the problems with source discs where the production is more muddy or compressed.

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And further to my post of 6 March, Googling is still a pain for some kinds of initial research, ie for identifying a first swatch of references to get me going with the real research. This has caused me to curse several times recently when looking for background material for writing. Attempting to find serious commentary on anything to do with the Hebrew Bible, the early church, or gnosticism, immediately threw up either evangelical or esoteric sites for the first several pages, with no sign of what I really wanted. Likewise trying to dig into anything to do with “Celtic” mythology brings up loads of new age, Wiccan, or other modern mystical sites. I’m not knocking those who find that material meaningful, just moaning about the difficulty in getting to dryer academic sources.

Through the Darkness of the Future

4 September, 2017 (15:05) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

I’m still processing the final two episodes of Twin Peaks. While watching I jotted down

  • Episode 17: wow!
  • Episode 18: what?

And that about sums it up. Just for the avoidance of doubt, I loved it.

Laser Eyes, Moron

30 August, 2017 (23:49) | Goggle-eyes | By: Ian Burdon

Further despatches from the frontier of my TV viewing:

Game of Thrones Season 7 has just finished, and I enjoyed it. There has been criticism of the pacing and telescoping of plot, amongst other things. The criticisms are valid, I think, but I’m not that concerned in the long run. We’ve had 6 seasons of manoeuvering and subtle politics, and now crunch time is here and choices are forced by events.

Supergirl Season 2: A year ago I wrote about Supergirl as a surprise hit for me. I have nearly finished season 2 and continue to appreciate it: it is solid and enjoyable and more confident than season 1. Sure, it’s a little too clean-cut, and I get weary of inspirational speeches and occasionally strained dialogue, but not so much that I stop watching. Equally, though, the criticisms I had of it a year ago, when I compared and contrasted it with Sense8, still hold true for me. Global problems are still coterminus with “National City” rather than, er, global, and the Big Bads don’t begin to approach Bond super-villain class for that reason; it isn’t really a global threat if it only impacts on an industrial estate in Vancouver. Drama needs conflict and peril, but some of the drama in Supergirl seems somewhat forced rather than arising naturally out of what we know of the characters, especially from episode 14 onwards (and I’m not sure how Cadmus came to have a fully functioning FTL spaceship just hanging around.)

Genre television is in transition, but lots of of shows still cling to old norms (42 minutes plus ads, villain of the week, season long story arc, 20-odd episodes) and Supergirl is one of them. I’m hardly the target demographic, but I think that, enjoyable as it is, Supergirl could be better.

Jessica Jones is an interesting contrast to Supergirl, not just because of the Marvel:DC split; it is clearly aimed at a different audience. Jessica Jones doesn’t stick with traditional comic-book tropes, as Supergirl does; it deals with the upclose and personal and has more of a graphic-novel vibe. We engage with our titular heroine because of deep characterisation and a compelling narrative which is truly character driven. The drama never feels forced or false, and the show is populated by a convincing group of primary and secondary characters who are sharply delineated (and very well played by an ensemble cast).

And it looks and sounds ravishing.

If I have one reservation about Jessica Jones, it’s that I sometimes felt that they were told they had 13 episodes and wrote 13 scripts, when the story itself probably only needed 11 episodes to tell.

Jessica Jones seems to me to be much more in sync. with how genre television is changing than Supergirl, and all the better for it. I’m not suggesting Supergirl should be dark and gritty or that Kara Danvers should become a hard-assed, hard drinking woman with self-esteem issues and untreated trauma, but that with some thought the show could elevate itself further (it certainly has a cast capable of carrying that off). I doubt it will, though, because it sits in a CW/DC Universe that is much more attuned to classic comic-book tropes (acknowledging that it handled the coming out of a lead character with sensitivity and wit, and graced with a formidable performance from Chyler Leigh.)

A year ago I wrote:

Now: it would be wrong criticise Supergirl for not being something that it has never set out to be. Supergirl is no more Sense8 than Mary Poppins is an homage to Akira Kurosawa. And that’s fine, it takes all sorts to make a mix of entertainments. I enjoyed Supergirl season 1 and I’ll no doubt enjoy season 2 when it comes along.

But Sense8 seems to me to be an event which will be a reference point for future writers, directors and producers in the same way Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek were and are. Supergirl is entertaining and fun, but it isn’t a game-changer.

A year on and I could write the same, swapping out Sense8 for Jessica Jones, and, in a weird sort of way, I regret that.

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Added: Supergirl season 2 ended in melodrama and emoting; so far so normal. It got noticeably stronger whenever Calista Flockhart was on screen. In the bigger picture though, it was still melodrama where Jessica Jones was drama, and the difference is telling.

I noticed towards the end of the last episode that Supergirl had her ears pierced; how did they manage that?