25 August 2014

Sean Lock: binge drinker

I'm not advocating alcoholism by the way - I'm just sticking up for a group in society that gets really badly treated, really bad press and is abused and maligned continually. That's binge drinkers. Nobody ever says anything nice about binge drinkers, do they? 'Look what they've done to the town centre'. We didn't ruin the town centre, Tesco and the internet did that. We're just finishing the job. It's like farting in a cheese shop - it's not the main problem. [Or] kicking a dead bird. 'What are you doing?' 'It's dead! Chill out!' Or putting a bit of chewing gum in a mullet.

And it's terrible the discrimination you suffer as a binge drinker. I've been for job interviews where the only reason I didn't get that job is because I was hammered. They couldn't see beyond that. They couldn't see the person behind the man trying to get a sing-song going. 'Where do you see yourself in five years time, Mr Lock?' 'PUB! Haha!'

And the press are very complicit in this. They really like to make binge drinkers feel bad. There was a picture once in the summer of this girl in Newcastle. For a laugh, she kept her clothes on but she pulled her knickers down to her ankles, and she was standing in the centre of Newcastle going 'Wahey!', big smile on her face. And the headline above it was something like 'Oh gawd, oh dear oh dear'. I remember looking at the picture thinking 'What is wrong with that? She's obviously having a brilliant time. You've got to be in a fantastic mood to be in the heart of the town in which you live, you go to work, you meet friends, the very epicentre of your whole life, to go 'Haha!!' [mimes downing knickers]. That's a great moment in your life! I'd put that on my CV. 'There you go: happiest I've ever been. That's also the answer to hobbies and interests'.

- Sean Lock, Live at the Apollo s09e03, 2013

See also:
Comedy: Reginald D. Hunter, 8 May 2014
Comedy: Holly Walsh, 27 April 2014
ComedyJosie Long, 6 May 2013

24 August 2014

Watching the election opening statements (so you don't have to)

Last night, in a cunning ploy obviously devised by our cruel dictatorial overlords the Rugby Party, the opening electoral statements of the main political parties appeared over one hour of primetime telly on TV1, while at the same time on Sky, New Zealand was demolishing Australia at Eden Park. This ensured that only those who dare risk accusations of treasonous disloyalty or who planned to watch it for free on Prime an hour later were watching the politicians. The hour of TV time was allocated according to the size of the political parties, and the running order was more or less in order of size. First up was National. 

The current Government offered a slick commercial interspersed with artfully-shot footage of a coxed eight rowing team on a beautifully flat lake, soundtracked by a tense, moody instrumental 'adapted' from Eminem. The rowing footage is slick, noticeable for its use of a crew of men and women but only containing Pakeha rowers. In a sit-down interview format National's policy platform was pitched by the Prime Minister, with only fleeting glimpses of other National Ministers during transitions. Key was confident and insistent, getting his points across clearly, but it was quite some time before there was even a hint of a smile - which came during a segment on New Zealand's entrepreneurial talents. National's clip extolled the success of having reversed the migration outflow to Australia, which is more likely a result of the end of the minerals boom in Australia than any great policy success in New Zealand. Offering a dig at Australian Labor, Key cited instability over the Tasman to obliquely stoke fears of a multi-party coalition that Labour would need to stitch together if it was to form a government. This emerged as the closing theme of National's polished, 'steady as she goes' statement - New Zealand is heading in the right direction, so don't mess with success and don't 'risk it all on who knows what direction' - this being the cue for a brief visual joke of a rowboat crewed by a chaotic mix of Wiggles-lookalikes primarily in red and green jumpers. 

Next up it was the Labour clip, and leader David Cunliffe clearly got the 'warmth' message because he was smiling until he was fit to burst. As opposed to John Key's smart conservative suit and blue tie, Cunliffe was in a fleece, with a long extension cord flung over his shoulder, because the Labour film is set in a working bee at the Onehunga community centre (a building in which my grandad attended school in the 1920s when it was part of Onehunga Primary). The theme of Labour's clip was 'positive action to make New Zealand even better', and the clip contained almost no criticism of the Government's record. Multiple party spokespeople offered policy proposals in staged conversations with locals, covering the usual bases of the economy, housing, education, health and community engagement. Some of the questioners were a little stilted, but the politicians delivered their pitches fairly naturally. Labour's clip was also noticeably multicultural, as a point of difference from National's. It finished with Cunliffe urging voters to send questions to the 'Ask David' section on the Labour website. One can only hope they've got good moderators to ward off the trolls.   

The Green Party piece was a tag team affair, with co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russell Norman exuding cheerful positivity before a relatively abrupt shift to rather ominous music to draw attention to critiques of National's record, something Labour avoided completely. Turei lambasted Hon Paula Bennett for canning the Training Incentive Allowance that had helped both Turei and Bennett obtain qualifications as single mums, while Norman admitted that he's from Brisbane and hinted at potential petrol-head roots with his statement, 'Check it out! A classic Mitsubishi Magna!' (He used to work in the manufacturing plant, presumably back in Queensland). Metiria managed to embarrass her teenage daughter walking on Piha beach, talking about 'her future kids'. Russell reveals he was treated for cancer aged 15 - which makes this the most personal of the election broadcasts.

A billowing New Zealand flag and a natty black suit signalled the next entry, New Zealand First's venerable Winston Peters, who extolled the virtues of the country's 'serious natural resources'. As opposed to, say, the rather silly resources like the famous jelly mines of Timaru. The NZ First presentation was the usual mix of old-school conservatism with a social conscience, garnished with a topping of anti-immigration and opposition to foreign ownership. Most of Peters' piece to camera was stern and even grumpy, but there's an edit near the close, after which he appears to have been told a joke, because he's almost chuckling as he delivered his closing statement.

The be-quiffed United Future leader Peter Dunne offered a paean to the joys of the middle road in politics. Thankfully there are no bow-ties in sight. In his short time allowance Dunne managed to give a big shout-out to the fishers, the hunters, and the trampers, who he claims to represent in Parliament.

Then it was time for the fun end of the hour, with the unpredictable appearance of exiled former NZ First MP Brendan Horan, who appears with a few colleagues as the mysterious New Zealand Independent Coalition, stressing the importance of re-electing MPs who value local voices in Parliament, particularly if those MPs used to be on the telly and have granny-charming smiles. 

The moderately peculiar ACT leader Jamie Whyte who absolutely, positively isn't racist, appears in the surreal environs of multi-millionaire party backer Alan Gibbs sculpture-studded grand estate with his very presentable Malian wife. Policies are outlined in what looks like a mid-1990s version of Powerpoint with plenty of Times New Roman and lots and lots of yellow. Supporters are urged to back Whyte's colleague David Seymour in Epsom to ensure ACT is represented in Parliament, which is somewhat challenged by displaying a very unfortunate and unflattering photo of said candidate.

In the most surprising offering of the evening, the Internet Mana Party shows where Kim Dotcom's $3m donation to the party went - into a flash, Jetsons- or Ren & Stimpy-esque cartoon with the party's talking cat and two cute kids. It's all very meme-y and quotable ('Futuristic transition!'), but you have to wonder what Hone Harawira makes of it, given there's very little policy laid out, other than the importance of 'awesome radical hoverboards'. Why? 'Because: futuristic reasons'. The clip is linked below, which does not imply endorsement of anything at all, other than of weirdness and talking cats:


Next, would-be kingmaker Colin Craig appears to promote his Conservative referendum-led vision to a small gathering. He wants to 'be the party in this country that takes issues back to New Zealanders'. Good luck with that, Colin.  

Brilliantly, the hitherto and henceforth totally obscure Focus New Zealand leader Ken Rintoul recorded his video message on his home computer's Skype camera, so the screen is letterboxed square and only uses two thirds of the TV screen, and there's constant interruptions from a noisy budgie in the background as he speaks. Highly entertaining, and even better is the fact that Ken hasn't bothered to upload the clip to Youtube.

Perennial triers the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party pop up to broadcast their triennial message into Middle New Zealand's living rooms that smoking dope shouldn't be a crime. A selection of party members each read a part of the script, so I guess you could say it was a joint effort. (Thank you!)

Finally, Social Credit appears to remind people who remember Bruce Beetham that yes, they do still exist. Well done on that front. (What, you've forgotten that in 1981 they got 20.7 percent of the vote? Those were strange days indeed).

My only query arising from the hour-long broadcast is: where was the Maori Party's clip? Did the party's retiring co-leaders not submit an application for free broadcasting time, or not submit their clip in time? The Elections website indicates the party was allocated two and a half minutes of screen time, so it was a huge missed opportunity, if so.

Seals at Red Rocks

A two-hour walk this morning along Wellington's wintry south coast west of Owhiro Bay to the seal colony at Red Rocks, where plenty of furry inhabitants are resting on the shore. One seal was idling very close to the main carpark and gate, presumably having been separated from the remainder of its pod. Note that I have a long lens on my camera, so I don't need to approach the seals too closely to get these shots.

Loner seal, near the visitor centre

Red Rocks. Next stop: Antarctica.

Scritch scratch scritch

They're everywhere!

See also:
Blog: Red Rocks, 25 May 2013
Blog: Island Bay, 5 July 2014
Blog: Tarakena Bay, 6 April 2014

22 August 2014

We're not pawns in any game, we're not tools of bigger men

The Who - four nutters who happened to play like geniuses - perform their track Naked Eye, at the third and final Isle of Wight Festival in front of 600,000 people on in the wee small hours after midnight on 29/30 August 1970. Naked Eye is an outtake that appeared with 10 other rarities on the Odds & Sods Who compilation album in 1974, which was designed to head off a rampant market in unofficial Who concert bootlegs. This performance was cut from the feature-length DVD release of the Who Isle of Wight set, perhaps due to time constraints or due to the washed-out lighting. But as with many Who outtakes, it's still exciting stuff. And loud - did I mention loud? All the film footage was recorded by director Murray Lerner with a view to releasing a Woodstock-style rock movie, but the project fell over thanks to financial difficulties and the film was not released until a DVD issue in 1997. Lerner is also responsible (as co-director with Paul Crowder) for the solid 2007 Who documentary, Amazing Journey.   



See also:
Music: The Who, Monterey Pop, 1967, 31 January 2014
Music: Rolling Stones, Altamont, 1969, 9 January 2010
Music: CSNY, Woodstock, 1969

20 August 2014

Terra nullius

Flying on NZ410, over a seemingly empty North Island

Early morning mist, somewhere in the King Country

Rugged coast south of the Manukau Heads

16 August 2014

To Sylvia Grace Kimmins, from Mother


From the old books table at the DCM Bookfair this morning on Queen's Wharf, Wellington, the title page of a battered compact Bible. Inscription: 'Sylvia Grace Kimmins, from Mother. On her birthday, July 7th 1915. Brooklands, Tonbridge'. Young Miss Kimmins may well have been related to, and named after, the originator of many charitable foundations for poor children in the southeast of England, Grace Kimmins. Sylvia appears to have entered the nursing profession, at least in an administrative capacity, with the British Journal of Nursing from April 1936 recording the following:
It was agreed that Miss Alice D. Dinwiddie, principal Clerk in the Examinations Department, be promoted to the post of Assistant Examinations Officer, and that Miss Sylvia Grace Kimmins be provisionally appointed Principal Clerk in the Examinations Department. 

Stately conveyance

1954 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 346

Hood ornament detail

15 August 2014

Elephant Man

Bo Diddley's Elephant Man is an absolute stormer from his 1970 funk-soul album The Black Gladiator - it's a floor-filler if ever there was one, although don't ask me what the song is about. And you can ignore the visual side of the clip below - I don't know why people bother with video of a record turning when a still of the album cover is all you really need. I first heard this track on the 2004 compilation album Back to Mine: Death in Vegas. As with the rest of the Back to Mine series, it was compiled - in this case by the psychedelic rock band Death in Vegas - to illustrate their favourite tracks for playing after a big night out, the tagline for the series being, 'A personal collection for after-hours grooving'. The album also featured judiciously chosen tracks by an eclectic mix of artists including The Upsetters, Gene Clark, Nina Simone and Joy Division. One common theory is that the physical afflictions of the real-life Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick (1862-90), were caused by an extremely rare disease known as Proteus syndrome, which only currently affects around 120 people in the world.

14 August 2014

Don't visit Antarctica

'Want to impress your friends by visiting somewhere exotic? How about Belgium. Have your friends been to Belgium - no? Then it's exotic to them. And if you simply have to have ice, go to Alaska and tell them you went to Antarctica. They won't know the difference'.

- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 9 July 2014



See also:
ComedyThe Grand Designs theme song, 24 June 2014
ComedyEvery Irish wedding ever, 26 March 2014
Comedy: Colbert Report, 2 August 2013

12 August 2014

Film festival roundup 2014






The Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson, USA, 2014, feat. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson) ★★★

I'd watch SNL compatriots Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in just about anything, and their presence drew me to The Skeleton Twins, a story of a reunion of two long-estranged, emotionally troubled siblings. In their scenes together - Hader as a actor recovering from a failed suicide over a gay romance, and Wiig troubled by her own lack of enthusiasm for her doting husband - there is real chemistry and some pleasing rapport that develops into a genuine sense of fun. This is particularly true for an entertaining musical number set to 80s cheeseballs Starship's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us'. However, the story itself and the relationship it depicts are relatively by-the-numbers and a little predictable. One for fans of those participating, certainly - including Luke Wilson as the dutiful, straight down the line husband.


We Are The Nobles (Nosotros los Nobles, dir. Gary Alazraki, Mexico, 2013, feat. Gonzalo Vega, Karla Souza, Luis Gerardo Mendez) ★★★

An old-fashioned Mexican farce about a tycoon who tricks his spoiled young adult children into thinking their fortunes have been reversed so they have to go into hiding, penniless. Cue pampered socialites and playboys having to get a job and actually work for a living in the real, dog-eat-dog world. This is solid, traditional comic fare, and it's not hard to see why it's been the most successful Mexican film ever in its native land. While the film has broad appeal, particularly for the performances of the wastrel siblings who fritter away their Papa's money on foolish pursuits, a few more doses of social satire would have been welcome. As it stands, the plot is fairly conservative and predictable: lessons are learned and family values are reinforced. This film could easily have been made in any of the last nine decades. On the plus side, poverty causes the son who lusts after older women to ditch his inexcusable hipster moustache, and a greedy blackmailer illustrates the useful contemporary adage that one should never trust a man wearing orange trousers.


Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets (dir. Florian Habicht, UK, 2014, feat. Jarvis Cocker) ★★★★

I have to try to be dispassionate about this review, because I'm a massive fan of Pulp and Jarvis Cocker, and for me this film was a proper thrill. So in attempting to appraise how good a film it is, I have to admit that for someone who is unfamiliar with the work of Sheffield's finest band, this might be an odd experience. There are no huge insights into the psychology of the band members or their indefatigable lead singer, and while the snapshots of regular folk from Sheffield in the weeks leading up to Pulp's final UK gig in December 2012 are often appealing, they provide no enormous insight into life there. For a tale of utter devotion to a band that attains almost mythical proportions, see Shane Meadows' recent Made of Stone about the Stone Roses' reunion gig, which is a more coherent film documenting the rush of public enthusiasm and climaxing with a lengthy gig workout. Taking a different approach, New Zealand director Florian Habicht does sprinkle his film with selected highlights of the Sheffield gig, which capture the band in fine form, but most of the film prefers to amble about the city in a series of hit-and-miss interviews with fans and passers-by. Some of the staged scenes work well, re-setting Pulp material in a local context - my favourite being the collection of moderately decrepit folk in a dingy canteen performing Help The Aged.



Jimmy’s Hall (dir. Ken Loach, UK/Ireland/France, 2014, feat. Barry Ward, Simone Kirby) ★★★½

Ken Loach here offers the true story of the persecution of Irish communist James Gralton and the free-thinking community hall he built to give poor local folk in Effrinagh, Co. Leitrim, a place to gather away from the arch-conservative clergy and their reactionary allies in government. Set in Depression-wracked rural Ireland in 1932, the film depicts Gralton's ambition as simple idealism against the colluding forces of ultra-conservative Catholicism, the intolerant right-wing victors of the Irish Civil War in the early 1920s, and de Valera's government in Dublin that will brook no dissent. The achievement of replicating the hall and the community that thrived within it is impressive, and for Ireland this film must be a valuable social document. For outsiders unfamiliar with the source material, however, Jimmy's Hall is more of a curiosity. Barry Ward gives a strong performance as Gralton, but the script lays on the saintly saviour of the people theme rather thickly. (This from a confirmed urban liberal viewer!). The hall scenes are impressively realised, but feels like a mistake to cast the much-loved Jim Norton (of Father Ted's 'Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse' fame) as the controlling and draconian Father Sheridan, who gives a good performance but is given almost cartoonishly one-dimensional villainous lines that it's hard not to laugh at. Similarly, some of the cast are amateur actors and while this helps to keep costs down, their performances are often jarringly noticeable. Still, this must have been a hard film to get made, and a highly uncommercial project, so it's impressive it's made it to screens across the world at all.


Diplomacy (Diplomatie, dir. Volker Schlondorff, France/Germany, 2014, feat. Niels Arestrup, Andre Dussollier) ★★★★

I love a good play cleverly transferred to the big screen. Diplomatie is such a play, with two experienced actors locking horns in extended dialogue scenes, often in a single room. In portraying the true story of a Swedish consul who tries every possible approach to convince the German general commanding the doomed defence of Paris in 1944 to disobey Hitler's order to destroy the City of Light to delay the Allied advance, and to wreak revenge on the city for outshining bomb-ravaged Berlin. Obviously the viewer knows the end result, but the film displays commendable skill in depicting the seemingly impossible task of the consul Nordling to save the city he loves from devastation, by convincing the ageing warrior, von Choltitz, to betray everything he holds dear.


The Double (dir. Richard Ayoade, UK, 2013, feat. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska) ★★★★

Richard Ayoade (Submarine) is growing into a compelling storyteller and a reliably watchable director, and in The Double he has created the ultimate love-letter to Terry Gilliam, specifically to his 1985 masterpiece Brazil. Jesse Eisenberg's Simon is an anonymous worker drone in a grim, Orwellian dystopia, longing forlornly for the company of pretty loner Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a co-worker in a drab, highly regimented nightmare workplace so fondly depicted in Gilliam's films. Simon is soon unnerved by a new co-worker James, who boasts not only the same face as him, but the same clothes too, but none of Simon's insecurities. What follows is a bleakly humorous retelling of an 1846 Dostoyevsky story with two impressive lead performances from Eisenberg as the increasingly paranoid Simon and the confident, striving James, building to a pleasing climax reminiscent of the clever 60s and 70s fantasies that Ayoade understands so well. Replete with stylish camerawork, expertly crafted lighting and well-chosen music, and featuring cameos from numerous young British acting royalty, The Double is a minor gem in the black comedy genre.



The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (dir. Dayne Goldfine & Dan Geller, USA, 2013) ★★★½

Part historical documentary, recounting a notorious 1930s scandal in the far-flung Galapagos, and part sociological survey, searching for the character of the human inhabitants of the islands and what drives them, The Galapagos Affair is a commendable fusion of styles. When exiles from Europe were drawn to the uninhabited isle of Floreana to live out a fantasy escape from the Depression, Nazism, consumerism and society in general, they find the aberrations and conflicts of the civilised world are harder to abandon than they first imagine. Splicing together the various written narratives of the German settlers who lived and mysteriously died on Floreana, the film may not have clear answers but it shows the larger-than-life characters in all their glory and idiosyncrasies, particularly the Nietzsche-quoting, unbending Dr Ritter and the fantastical, hyperbolic Baroness von Wagner with her scandalous harem of two devoted male servitors. In allowing the modern descendants of the survivors of Floreana to give their views, the film provides an interesting glimpse into the soul of some of the most physically isolated people on the planet - all of whom are impressively articulate story-tellers in their own right.


Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/UK, 2014, feat. Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender) ★★★½

Frank is certainly hard to classify, but its charms are insidious. Domhnall Gleeson is the white-bread keyboardist Jon, accidentally parachuted into the intentionally unpronounceable and mostly f***ed up band 'Soronprfbs' with a trio of glowering musos backing the bizarre genius lead singer Frank, who is never seen out of his giant papier-mache head, even in the shower. (The head is a tribute to the real-life outsider artist Chris Sievey, who wore the head while portraying his character 'Frank Sidebottom'). There are bleakly funny scenes in a dank Irish wood as the band spend a year getting around to recording an album, and once Jon hears Frank actually performing he knows underneath the fake head there lurks a major (if somewhat twisted) talent. But the other band members, particularly the menacing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) seem to do everything they can to prevent Frank making accessible, popular music, which infuriates the hugely ambitious Jon. When his secret Youtube videos and Twitter posts land them a gig at the prestigious SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, it's time to see whether Frank is a mad genius or just plain mad. This is an odd tale, but its pleasures lie in its unpredictability, its wry humour, and the odd burst of legitimately excellent music. You can only wonder how hot it must have been for Michael Fassbender inside that head in Texas!


The Salt of the Earth (Le sel de la terre, dir. Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, France/Italy, 2014) ★★★★

Wim Wenders' profile of the hugely influential Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado is a co-production with the photographer's son, and takes us through a 40-year career documenting momentous events across the world. Salgado made his name with arduous multi-year projects to capture frequently astonishing images of human life, often in the very poorest regions. His photographs are always powerful and expertly composed, but the messages of his most challenging work in places like famine-torn Ethiopia and the Sahel in the 1980s and in genocide-riven Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are particularly indelible, and have helped to build global consciousness of the effects of famine and mass refugee displacement. Indeed, watching the utterly grim images of massacres in Rwanda it's astonishing that Salgado emerged with his own life. His psychological response to documenting decades of human cruelty is revealed at the film's end, and is ultimately encouraging. Salgado's photographs deserve the exposure that the big screen offers, and this film is the perfect vehicle.


Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater, USA, 2014, feat. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane) ★★★★★

12 years to make one film - checking in with the cast each year to film new scenes in the developing story of one boy, his sister, and his separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) - equals an enormous and ambitious endeavour, and one that has paid huge dividends. Boyhood is both compelling and engrossing, and it's a rare compliment to emerge from a 164-minute film wishing there was more to see. There are no villains and no saints, just a very real depiction of a series of friends, stepfathers, relatives, boyfriends and girlfriends that spread out over more than a decade in Texas, director Richard Linklater's own home state. Young Ellar Coltrane as Mason and Lorelei Linklater (the director's daughter) as his sister Sam sprout before your eyes from a mop-haired kids to college-departing young adults, making this the dramatic equivalent of the famous documentary Seven Up. It's remarkable how effective the narrative remains when it could easily have been disjointed, and how the segments combine into a seamless mix of drama, comedy and social realism. The performances are all uniformly excellent, too. Boyhood is an absolute treasure. Someone should put it in a time capsule immediately, because film-making doesn't get much better than this.




The Lady from Shanghai (dir. Orson Welles, USA, 1947, feat. Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth) ★★

A historical curiosity - an onscreen pairing of the then-married Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, the year after her heart-stoppingly alluring performance in Gilda and the year before the couple's divorce. While those involved are illustrious, the film itself is a dog's breakfast of unbelievable characters and far-fetched plot contrivances, no doubt at least in part due to the savage cutting and re-shoots ordered by Columbia's president, Harry Cohn, who was completely at odds with Welles' first cut. The film is also famous for Welles' secret plot with Hayworth to lop off her famous long red locks that had helped make her a star in the first place; the studio was furious at their dyed-blonde star. Wish I'd known it was Errol Flynn's yacht they used for the sailing scenes, so I could've looked out for him in the background of the cantina scene.


Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/USA/France, 2013, feat. Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris) ★★★½

I was expecting a bonkers Korean sci-fi set on a post-apocalyptic train circling the ice-clad Earth and containing the last remnants of humanity, and that's what I got. Whether it amounts to a great movie, I'm uncertain. It definitely looks fantastic - the sets are superb as the oppressed and beaten-down Tail-dwellers fight their way to the Engine through a myriad of bizarre carriages. There are good performances, particularly from the always watchable Tilda Swinton - every scene she's in, she completely reigns over - and Chris Evans provides a suitably chiselled and emotionally tortured action hero. There are pleasing elements of humour sprinkled through the narrative, as befits a script derived from a French graphic novel, particularly in Swinton's delivery, and a short cameo from Alison Pill as a brainwashing train school-mistress who leads her charges in a devotional song to the train's great leader. The film is far from perfect - its violence is needlessly drawn-out and brutal, the dialogue is strictly conventional, and the ending is both over-long and faintly ridiculous. But the world is a slightly better place for the fact that a film this odd and this technically proficient made it to cinemas.


National Gallery (dir.Frederick Wiseman, USA/France, 2014) ★★★½

With a thoroughness that borders on fanaticism, National Gallery illustrates the working life of Trafalgar Square's northern linchpin, one of the finest art galleries in the world. The sense of completist scope is evident in its three hour running time - this documentary is not for the faint-hearted or those with short attention spans. The largest portion of its running time is devoted to fly-on-the-wall glimpses of curators, guides and restorers lecturing to gallery visitors and guests, and there are no voice-overs or captions to lead the viewer through the process. Nor are they necessary, which leads me to believe more documentary makers could trust their audiences in this way. There are also a few judiciously-chosen meetings filmed, to show the administrative side of the gallery's business, but luckily these are in the minority. Mostly, the art is allowed to tell its own story, amidst the sea of visitors from all over the world.


The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (L’extravagant voyage du jeune et prodigieux T.S. Spivet, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France/Canada, 2013, feat. Helena Bonham Carter) ★★★★

This splendid work of imaginative film-making is perfectly in its element on the big screen at the Embassy in Wellington - glorious 3D cinematography displayed to full effect on the largest canvas possible, allowing the Spivet spectacle free rein. Young T.S. (Kyle Catlett) is a gifted 10-year-old inventor who receives an invitation to the Smithsonian in Washington DC to receive an award for a remarkable invention, but only because the museum doesn't realise he's only a boy. Striking out on his own from his home in the Rockies, this is an impressively rendered fantasy suitable for most ages (apart from some naughty swearing near the end). It's a pity that most people may end up seeing this on DVD release rather than on the best screen possible, because it really does make superb use of the visual storytelling power of properly-thought-out 3D film-making. Now if only the boy could be convinced to speak his lines a little more clearly so we could make out exactly what he's saying, it would be near perfect.



Show People (dir. King Vidor, USA, 1928, feat. Marion Davies) ★★★★½

What a delight - this restored silent classic may be missing a few frames here and there due to celluloid decay, but even so it makes for a surprisingly modern and utterly charming satire of the Hollywood film business that still resonates with today's audiences. Marion Davies is hugely endearing and consistently silly as the comic hero Peggy Pepper, brought by her father the Colonel from the plantations of Georgia to take the silent film world by storm, which she promptly does thanks to the aid of slapstick comedy actor Billy Boone. But Peggy has aspirations to be a 'serious actress' and falls in with a high-falutin' starry set. Will she forget her daft-as-a-brush heart? Of course not, but there is tremendous fun while she works it out, from a tortuous scene where her jolly nature prevents her from crying on cue despite an exasperated director's every outlandish effort, to her hilarious chipmunk-toothed expression as she tries to mimic a 'proper celebrity' (probably screen siren Gloria Swanson), to Peggy meeting 'herself', the actor Marion Davies, at the film studio lot and clearly not being impressed in the slightest. Show People is a dotty, warm-hearted circus, and it deserves a far wider audience in the 21st century to appreciate its great showbiz spirit and the winning comic performance of Miss Davies.



Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes, dir. Damian Szifron, Argentina/Spain, 2014) ★★★

Oh crap. I know I'm going to be out of step with nearly everyone when I say I didn't enjoy Wild Tales. This Argentinean film is an impressive achievement, well constructed, and boasts some strong performances in its six comic tales of people behaving badly. Very badly. But apart from the final wedding scene, I struggled to enjoy the film due to its bleak vision of human nature - every scene brings out the worst in its characters, and if something can go horribly wrong, it does, and then it goes even more wrong. I was reminded of the first main scene of Lars von Trier's Melancholia, which was also a technically proficient film that attained critical acclaim, but which I strongly disliked because every character featured in it seemed to be a complete cretin. The aforementioned wedding scene was probably my favourite because it was the most conventionally farcical, and boasts an excellent performance from the increasingly psychotic bride. But like I said, most other people in the audience enjoyed it greatly, so don't let me put you off!


Particle Fever (dir. Mark Levinson, US, 2013) ★★★★

This solid, rewarding documentary follows several personable theoretical and experimental physicists through five years in the life of the hugely ambitious Large Hadron Collider project at CERN in Switzerland, from its tentative early steps through to its first major release of data. What could be a thoroughly dry, obtuse subject matter is explained at a perfectly pitched level for general audiences, with just the right amount of detail to interest without baffling viewers. Judicious use of graphics to illustrate the physics concepts helps a great deal too. And the scientists on screen are characterised by their immense passion for their jobs, and for the all-consuming desire to Know The Answer. The film might not give you all the Answers because we don't know them yet, but it does hint at the possibility that we're getting ever closer to the truth (are you Team Supersymmetry or Team Multiverse?). Trivial niggles include the somewhat overblown music cues, which are a tad patronising, and the sci-fi captions for interview subjects, which makes the names harder to read. But these are minor concerns, and it's the small details that make this an excellent film: I love the notion that CERN physicists are font trolling the world with their Comic Sans use. Bloody boffins.

See also:
Movies: Film festival roundup 2013, 12 August 2013
Movies: Film festival roundup 2012, 14 August 2012
Movies: Film festival roundup 2011, 31 July 2011
Movies: Film festival roundup 2009, 4 August 2009

10 August 2014

Watching Seven Sharp (so you don't have to)



The recent controversy about the appointment of the right-wing TV presenter and talkback host Mike Hosking as the compere for the TVNZ general election debates reminded me that for me, Hosking falls into a category of New Zealand social phenomena that most other people in the country probably know about. I've never heard his radio show because I don't listen to talkback radio, and I've never seen him on TV before. TVNZ's decision to have him host the debate is of course nonsensical from the perspective of someone who wants to hear an intellectually stimulating, free-ranging exchange of views between our would-be elected officials, because only last year he endorsed the Prime Minister's re-election campaign personally ("We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government,'), and is therefore hopelessly compromised.

But Hosking's involvement is a moot point really, because the argument that his conflict of interest disqualifies him from hosting the debate only works if you assume TVNZ operates in the public good and is motivated by the best interest of the New Zealand democratic system. Of course, it doesn't. It only operates to deliver financial return to the Government by selling airtime to advertisers, and anything that gets in the way of that, like journalistic impartiality, is largely irrelevant. In TVNZ's view, the simple equation is: Hosking is the host of our prime-time magazine show, so building his profile is vital, so he must host the debate, whether he'll be good at it or not. Hosking has claimed he'll try to do his best in the role, and that in any case, he's a presenter, not a journalist. Glad that's been cleared up.

In any case, this discussion about Hosking's biases and ability reminded me that while I've always presumed his 7 o'clock show Seven Sharp was rubbish, it was unfair of me to hold this view without ever having seen it. So recently I set the recorder and captured Seven Sharp's output from 28 July to 1 August, and gave them an airing to get a sample of the programme's output. How did it turn out?

Monday

So. The opening credits and synth music are inoffensive and bubbly, as if for a Saturday morning kids show. The fonts used are crayon-like and unintimidating. There are two beaming faces behind a desk, in the now-traditional format of middle-aged male anchor with a younger, heavily-coiffed female sidekick. Hosking's famed midlife-crisis hairdo and outfit tries to pull his image, screaming and kicking, back into his thirties, but no-one's fooled; sidekick Toni Street has a broad grin (well, so would you if you were on telly getting paid wheelbarrows of cash) and the sort of hair only women on telly with professional hair wranglers have. Toni is thirty years old, from the provinces, is sporty, and thanks to Hosking we soon know she drinks gin and orange, which is code for being a bogan. 

Seven Sharp operates on innocuous banter peppered with tiny VT items, as short as possible so they can sometimes fit two tapes into the space between the ad breaks. The first item of the week is a bit of Fair Go advocacy by Heather du Plessis-Allan, who has a lot of names and shares an acronym with both the Hoboken Dart Players Association and the Hellenic Data Protection Authority. She trawls Courtenay Place bars in Wellington, measuring the number of millilitres issued when she orders shots of whisky. Thereby she locks up the viewing loyalty of a nation of shot-drinkers, although its unclear whether the purchased liquid was actually consumer by the journalist during the production of the item. Her Twitter feed does mention testing a few more whiskies with Jacinda Ardern the following week, so perhaps this item was a case of incorporating one's personal interests into one's day job. In his curious accent, Mike offers his views on the economics of drinking spirits: 'People have got money to burn in this country if they're out there buying the nine dollars whiskies and the chips and dips'. Social commentary, that. In any case, have I mentioned that Seven Sharp is brought to you by Rabobank? Which I like to think is a Scottish-Irish corporation: Rab O'Bank. (Thank you). 

The Commonwealth Games are on in Glasgow this week, so there is a brief discussion of New Zealand's cycling progress, but most time is devoted to a Scottish athlete who proposed to his girlfriend at the games. Mike interviews a New Zealand judo organiser, which is a commendable focus on a niche sport until you realise that it was only selected because Mike used to do judo. (He was a white belt, you know. Which is the lowest or second-lowest belt there is in judo.)

A brief and relatively lazy segment follows, which could be titled 'Shit We Found on the Internet'. It includes a Youtube clip of a beach-going Mexican couple whose video selfie near Cancun is disturbed by an impressive lightning strike behind them. Mike and Toni affect bewilderment at the explosion and ask to see it again, and then once more in slo-mo. Yep, lightning is definitely a thing. Then the show proceeds into a trifling glance at current affairs, with a 'body language expert' casting her eye over election billboards of the major candidates. Her verdict? None of the politicians emerge with honours, so instead she picks a mocked-up one showing the Seven Sharp chap interviewing her. Much hilarity ensues, and the point is clearly made that the default setting for Seven Sharp stories is to make the presenter as much a part of the story as possible. Luckily, this wasn't much of a story.

Just before the end credits, it's time for the immediately hilarious editorial section, where Toni and Mike offer their views straight to camera, vox imperator/imperatrix/dei. The only thing missing is an actual wagging finger. Toni provides an update on a child trafficking story, which we all agree is Very Bad Indeed, while Mike has decided that he 'can't see the Conservatives getting over 3%' at the election, which is a rather precise prediction, and would make me wonder what his sources are if 1) he hadn't arrived at the figure whilst interviewing his laptop, and 2) I didn't agree with him.
   
End credits. Toni wears Karen Millen!  What Mike wears is apparently best left uncredited.

Tuesday

This episode kicks off with a piece from a techno-school in Hobsonsville in the Upper Harbour electorate, which mixes gizmo-centric new-fangled pedagogical practice with calling teachers by their first names malarkey. The children interviewed seem to enjoy it, but then who wouldn't enjoy mucking about with robots and watching Youtube clips at break-time? The show leaves us little room for ambiguity by captioning a school spokeswoman as a 'Forward-thinking deputy principal'. Tellingly, and developing a theme that would recur later in the week, there are almost no brown faces on display at this very nice and well-equipped school. The school appears to be an innovative and commendable initiative, but you can't help but wonder why it's happening in a comparatively well-off white-bread area when it could be of so much use in, say, South Auckland or Porirua.

In the grab-bag section Mike and Toni return to the sporting extravaganza in Glasgow, but only to talk about romance, because sport is clearly boring for viewers and advertisers, but anything that leads to shagging is fine. There is also a brief flirt with politics in two micro-items. Lorde's voting drive video targeted at young 'uns is played briefly ('Only 2000 hits', Seven Sharp sniffs), as is a presumably hilarious clip of Hon Judith Collins dancing vigorously at some community event, as only happens in election years. On the latter, Mike remarks 'I'm so impressed'.

After the break, a moderately useful VT item on an arts programme in Nga Wha Prison in Northland (which has two reviews on Google Plus), where wood carving and other art skills are helping to rehabilitate prisoners, or at least keep them occupied. This starts a trend of the week: pretty much the only Maori faces on Seven Sharp this week happen to be prisoners in correctional facilities. Unintentional, no doubt, but rather telling.

To shoe-horn a link for the next item, Mike and Toni are, unfortunately, talking about nudity. It's traditional in these schticks for the talent to hint at a sexual frisson between co-hosts, but this is more or less the only outbreak this week, when Mike remarks to Toni that 'We thought if we got you naked, it might get people tuning in'. To which the correct response is to say, 'F**k off, Mike'. Toni doesn't say this, though. The item is even less impressive than the intro - just a bunch of micro-trailers for a new wave of nude (a.k.a. crap) telly shows from America, for which the inventor of modern onscreen pixellation software has a lot to answer for.

The final VT for the day is a 'health' item about fist-bumping instead of handshaking that is so trivial I can't even be bothered to discuss it. In the editorial outro that follows, Toni praises the integration of para-sports into the Commonwealth Games proper, and Mike offers his wisdom to parents of kids who play sports. Turns out you shouldn't flog the little shits after all.

Wednesday

All through this week the shows have started with a shiny sports trophy on the Seven Sharp desk. (I hadn't mentioned it before now because it's all very inconsequential). This time it's the Melbourne Cup. The presenters promote their own sporting prowess and vow to bring in their best presentation cup from home, thereby leaving the nation gasping with anticipation until the end of the week. Toni will probably win, because she used to keep wicket for Central Districts Women, i.e. has actually played sports properly. Jocularly, Mike refers to Toni as 'the Streetmeister'. I'd like to say that no-one in their right mind uses such feeble and outdated terminology to refer to their colleagues, but I'm probably wrong.

I now detect a pattern in the blink-and-you'll-miss-'em 'news' updates that follow the greetings. There's one actual news item (5 seconds on Gaza!) and two absolutely not-news items, surfing squirrel-style. Can't over-tax the viewers' cerebral cortices, can we?

Item 1 is a Hosking interview about the newly-released Police report on their deeply troubling conduct over the Crewe murders in 1970.  Mike interviews former National right-winger and Police Red Squad member (during the '81 Springbok tour) Ross Meurant, who despite his conservative background is commendably frank about the Police cover-ups and evidence-planting during the investigation. Meurant believes a prima facie corruption case against two officers existed, but was never followed up. Which begs the question (which Hosking doesn't ask) why couldn't Meurant do something about it when he was an MP for nine years? But Meurant does come out with the pithy observation that 'Police should have the proper scrutiny of the courts, not this mongrel Independent Police Complaints Authority'. Hard to argue with that.

For item 2, Toni's linking ability might need some polishing, because all she can come up with is 'Okay, we should probably talk about pigs now'. Must we? The purpose of this story is to show city folk that piglets are cute. Oh so cute! The reporter is delighted at all the pulchritudinous porcines presented. Delighted, I say! It's a 'freedom farm', and the irony is hammered home with sledgehammer subtlety when it is revealed that the pig farm is actually run by Christchurch Prison using inmate labour. What, another Corrections puff-piece in the same week? Anyway, the piggies look very nice and all is sweetness and light until one worker slips in that for their labour the prisoners are paid 40c an hour. Urk! Can't have politics intruding on a feel-good story, can we? Virtual slave labour wages, no thank you. Again, more Maori faces onscreen as the prisoners are interviewed. Well, the bottom half of their faces anyway, so they can't be recognised, except to anyone who's ever met them more than once.  

Item 3 is a stilted video link-up with Glasgow to speak to gold-medal-winning swimmer Sophie Pascoe. The long satellite delay doesn't help, and nor does Pascoe's ultra-conservative media training, which prevents her saying anything remotely controversial and also anything remotely interesting, apart from revealing that she's 'fighting a wee infection'. Which is a bit personal, if you ask me. Still, we wish her urinary tract well because we like it when people win shiny things overseas.

In a link, Mike disses his own son for getting aspects of an inconsequential school haircut rules story wrong, and then we proceed to a follow-up piece on a Nelson pensioner whose flat has been insulated thanks to TV exposure-garnered charity. We like this because chilly pensioners deserve our charity, except the ones who aren't on television.

In the editorial outro, Toni (who always has to go first, junior partner and all) promotes a local lad who dresses up as (mostly female?) celebs to garner Youtube hits. Mike offers his take on the Novopay teacher salary system scandal, briefly criticising the 'accident prone' Ministers Hekia Parata and Craig Foss but then notes that 'Good old Mr Fixit Stephen Joyce was rolled out' to fix the problem, or not as the case may be. To wrap up, Mike provides his only profoundly stupid statement of the week, when he reckons it might be teachers' own fault for having such a complicated pay system. Only one outburst of imbecility in a week is fairly good going for a talkback host promoted to live primetime TV.

Thursday 

Mike reveals his age by asking the rhetorical opening question, 'who doesn't want to see Kenny Rogers?' Kenny Rogers is 75. Toni ribs Mike for also extolling the virtue of Dolly Parton in an earlier show. She is not, unfortunately, arguing that country music is shit; rather, she is lampooning Hosking's fuddy-duddy tastes. Hosking's wikipedia page lists his birthdate as 'born c. 1965'.

VT item 1 for the day is a trip to Sydney to interview the young New Zealand jockey James McDonald who is only in his early twenties but drives a new BMW 428 Sport. (This is apparently a good thing). More importantly, he wins a jockey championship, which is no mean feat in the competitive Sydney racing circuit. The main take home message from this item is that the winter weather in Sydney is a piece of piss, which is presumably why the reporter wangled a flight budget to get over there.

Item 2 is an interview with a proper politician, sort of. Georgina Beyer was a Labour list MP for eight years until 2007, and was the world's first openly transsexual MP. Now she's standing for the Internet Mana Party, although she's not in the 15-strong party list so stands little chance of being elected. She shows the cameras her regular regime of dialysis for her kidney disease, discusses the privations of being an ex-MP on the dole, and reserves a choice barb for the impertinent reporter's question of why she'd want to go through the whole political circus once more.

After a recurring theme of Commonwealth Games photobombing (this time, the Duke of Cambridge), item 3 is a cook-off following the rules of a new cookbook designed to show how people could live on a mere $2.25 a day. It's all in a good cause, and celebrity chef Annabel Langbein pops along to judge a cook-off between two Seven Sharp presenters. Langbein utters the immortal line, 'Imagine living on $2.25 a day when my latte costs $4.50', which is a reminder of how very, very middle class Seven Sharp is. The $2.25 campaign is highlighting the challenges of poverty in New Zealand, but Langbein and the reporters spend most of the clip laughing uproariously. It's all so much fun pretending to be poor! But at least they've mentioned the concept that people in the real world might actually only have that much money - half a latte, OMG! - to spend on food per day. Neither reporter wins the cook-off, but later it is revealed that the perma-chuckling Matt Chisholm has cheated, so he is disqualified. Someone cut off his bennie immediately!

Toni's editorial piece is about new breastfeeding research, and she as a new mother has Views, which she Expresses. I could probably work in a joke about expressing milk there, if I was interested enough. Mike lauds legislative changes benefiting war veterans, because they 'can't get enough support', which only goes to show that there are plenty of beneficiaries that conservatives actually do like. 

Friday 

The much awaited cup-off between Mike and Toni kicks off the final episode of the week with a fizzer. Toni's two cups are for small sporting achievements, but Mike's minuscule trophy is from his own children for being a great dad. Although they're unlikely to be an unbiased sample, I would've thought. And as Toni points out, the metal is suspiciously clean, leading one to wonder if Mike dashed out earlier in the week to get the thing made for himself. The one serious, two silly format for news clips follows: Gaza! Bloom vs Bieber! A Katy Perry video is made by a New Zealander! My IQ is draining away, ever so slowly.

Another limp intro from Toni: 'We should probably talk about Ebola'. Should we really? They manage to shoehorn in a clip from Contagion, just in case you'd forgotten what a fictitious pandemic looks like. Mike talks to a health expert in Washington DC to ask if we should all panic and begin to eye up frail and youthful relatives for the inevitable descent into organised cannibalism. The answer is no, it turns out.

The penultimate item of the week (although Seven Sharp would probably never use the word 'penultimate') is about a reporter. Wait, there's more - it's about a reporter accompanying the Bledisloe Cup on a plane to Sydney. That's all it is. I can't remember if it was the same reporter who interviewed James McDonald on Thursday's programme because all the reporters tend to merge into one amorphous blob of self-promotion, but let's assume it was. He is a nincompoop who knocks the venerable Cup loudly while carrying it down the plane aisle.

Seven Sharp then takes a brief detour to the mean streets of Wellington's expensive suburb of Seatoun, where the local decile 10 primary school is kindly participating in a scheme where cute little children wear earmuffs to remind them that deaf people exist, and so their teachers can practice swearing at them without the kids hearing.

The final VT item of the week is by Seven Sharp creative producer Dean Butler, formerly of the excellent Funny Business troupe - here he is looking young, with Lucy Lawless. Dean is assigned to run the Skytower challenge with a young chap running for leukaemia research. Not at all predictably, the relatively 'mature' Butler opts for the lift instead.

To close the week, Mike goes on a rambling critique of politicians who have chosen to go teetotal for the election campaign. He extols the virtue of a glass or three of vino with such vigour the viewer might stop to ponder if he's over-keen to get to after work drinkies. The production crew 'surprise' Mike with a clip of him at his studio desk 'singing' 'Hey Mr Tambourine Man' badly. It's not particularly amusing, but it does occupy 10 seconds of airtime, so it's a win in production terms.

Verdict

Now that I've finally seen Seven Sharp I'm pleased in a way that Mike Hosking wasn't particularly disagreeable. Apart from his numbskull comment about teacher salaries, he didn't say anything remotely offensive in the week I watched. His sidekick Toni Street is, likewise, blandly inoffensive. The levels of perkiness and cheer in the show are in direct opposition to the levels of actual information imparted to the viewer, but realistically Seven Sharp is not a current affairs programme. It is a magazine programme designed to attract high enough ratings to bridge the gap between the news hour and the primetime scheduling that follows. That's all it's there for, and it does that job pretty well. Certainly, the service Seven Sharp offers to its advertisers is unparalleled. In a commercial half-hour there is under 22 minutes of actual content; more than a quarter of its running time is advertisements. Much of its screen time is devoted to bigging up the 'personalities' of its reporters, who must by law be seen to be good keen jokers and sheilas, constantly on the verge of a massive belly-laugh which is ostensibly about the story at hand, but more likely simply a reflection on the wondrous affirmation that comes from knowing you're on the telly, and people who are too lazy or set in their ways to change the channel will therefore recognise you in Countdown.

Seven Sharp's pursuit of advertising-driven ratings is a relentlessly middle-class affair, so many aspects of New Zealand life are ignored. Despite this, Seven Sharp is mostly harmless, a tepid bath of banal trivia designed to numb the brain and pass the time until the sweet release of death. But if this is what many New Zealanders are spending their precious time watching, you have to ask how our collective standards slipped this low.

See also:
TV: TV flashback 1971, 10 April 2014
TV: The remuneration whoopee cushion, 8 February 2013
TV: Saving appearances, 22 October 2012

07 August 2014

New York 1949: The settlers give it passion

"There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second there is the New York of the commuter -- the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last -- the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York's high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company. 

"The commuter is the queerest bird of all. The suburb he inhabits has no essential vitality of its own and is a mere roost where he comes at day's end to go to sleep. Except in rare cases, the man who lives in Mamaroneck or Little Neck or Teaneck, and works in New York, discovers nothing much about the city except the time of arrival and departure of trains and buses, and the path to a quick lunch. He is desk-bound, and has never, idly roaming in the gloaming, stumbled suddenly on Belvedere Tower in the Park, seen the ramparts rise sheer from the water of the pond, and the boys along the shore fishing for minnows, girls stretched out negligently on the shelves of the rocks; he has never come suddenly on anything at all in New York as a loiterer, because he has had no time between trains. He has fished in Manhattan's wallet and dug out coins, but has never listened to Manhattan's breathing, never awakened to its morning, never dropped off to sleep in its night. 

"About 400,000 men and women come charging onto the Island each weekday morning, out of the mouths of tubes and tunnels. Not many among them have ever spent a drowsy after noon in the great rustling oaken silence of the reading room of the Public Library, with the book elevator (like an old water wheel) spewing out books onto the trays. They tend their furnaces in Westchester and in Jersey but have never seen the furnaces of the Bowery, the fires that burn in oil drums on zero winter nights. They may work in the financial district downtown and never see the extravagant plantings of Rockefeller Center -- the daffodils and grape hyacinths and birches and the flags trimmed to the wind on a fine morning in spring. Or they may work in a midtown office and may let a whole year swing round without sighting Governors Island from the sea wall. The commuter dies with tremendous mileage to his credit, but he is no rover. His entrances and exits are more devious the those in a prairie-dog village; and he calmly plays bridge while buried in the mud at the bottom of the East River. The Long Island Rail Road alone carried forty million commuters last year; but many of them were the same fellow retracing his steps.

"The terrain of New York is such that a resident sometimes travels farther, in the end, than a commuter. Irving Berlin's journey from Cherry Street in the lower East Side to an apartment uptown was through an alley and was only three or four miles in length; but it was like going three times around the world." 

- E.B. White (author of Charlotte's Web), Here is New York, 1949, quoted in Delanceyplace.com

See also:
Blog: Once upon a time in New York, 1 July 2010
Blog: They've all come to look for America, 14 October 2007

06 August 2014

The legacy of Mary Whitehouse

From the end credits of the 2008 telemovie Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, which features Julie Walters in the title role, the final title card details one of Whitehouse's 'victories' over the permissive BBC in 1972:


I was planning to embed the actual clip - from the post-Xmas episode of Top of the Pops on 28 December 1972 - but only until I watched it and realised the bell-related illustrations were provided by a sketching Rolf Harris. So maybe not. To be honest, it is a dreadful song too. And it's definitely about a penis.

05 August 2014

All standards of human decency abandoned in Carterton

Drivers 'ignoring' one-way system

Claims have been made drivers are ignoring Carterton Railway Station's one-way system in their haste to exit the carpark.

A regular train passenger who didn't want his name published told the Times-Age he feared someone was going to be run over because commuters coming off early evening trains were scrambling to beat each other out of the carpark.

"They are ignoring the one-way system and are taking off out of the entry-only entranceways."

He said the system was relatively new and some drivers might genuinely not have caught up with the rules but daily commuters would have no excuse.

- Don Farmer, Wairarapa Times-Age, 2 August 2014

See also:
NZ: 'Masterton actually doesn’t feel like Detroit or Juarez', 6 April 2014
NZ: 'Psychics' 'helped' search, 3 April 2014
NZ: Best NZ provincial news item ever, 19 November 2013

04 August 2014

Parliament commemorates the 100th anniversary of WW1

Photographs from this morning's ceremony on Parliament's steps, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I - or at least, the 100th anniversary of Britain entering the war. Due to the time difference and the delay in telegraphy, New Zealand didn't formally declare war on Germany until 5 August 1914. The occasion was marked by the first 100-gun salute in New Zealand since the coronation of George V in 1911.

The crowd gathered at Parliament

Remembering the fallen

Cavalry trooper in WW1 battledress

Infantry trooper in WW1 battledress

Hewett Humphrey reads the King's telegram from 1914

The Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key

WW1 cavalry trooper boots & spurs

RNZAF band sergeant

The Leader of the Opposition, Hon David Cunliffe

16 Field Regt's 100-gun salute