Back To The Future

In my last blog post I briefly mentioned returning to a period of my life that I hadn’t visited in a while, in the form of Filmstock. Filmstock was, and is again. It is a film festival that ran in Luton between 2000 and 2009, running to 11 events in the town (plus one in Hungary) so far. From November 21-24 2019 we will present the 12th edition.

10 years since we shuttered, and 50 years since Woodstock, the event that inspired it all, it is happening again.

Things are coming together slowly. All the ideas and energy are in place and everything else seems to be slipstreaming nicely in behind that.

What we need now though, as any good film festival knows, is films.

So. Get submitting old friends, new friends, and friends not met yet.

As the good Dr would say - Cazart!

On Vulnerability

A few months ago, while in the throes of developing a sales pack for my feature film 'Wilderness' and arranging a series of local screenings in Cornwall to keep momentum going, I was faced with a couple of moments that took nerve to overcome.  I got that nerve largely thanks to my wife who could see that things were getting to me and who helped me send some emails that helped change the course of the film's progress somewhat and helped plant the seeds of this blog (and maybe future writing, who knows?).

Through contacts that our executive producer has we had the chance to screen 'Wilderness' for someone influential enough in film acquisitions and distribution in the UK that their recommendations are taken seriously and this person really liked 'Wilderness' and offered to recommend that a few distributors watch it with a view to buying it. To be honest, this was something I never envisaged for the film. It's super low budget, not easily classifiable in genre terms and has no stars. This person didn't seem to think that really mattered and that the low-budget and unique funding circumstances, plus strong festivals showing, aligned with an improved trailer and new sales deck meant the film could find favour. Before that though, he said we needed the one thing we knew was missing. Quotes from critics, ideally those who write for recognisable publications. Through Filmstock, my day job and the Cinematologists podcast I had made some excellent contacts and indeed had not long published a 6-months in the making episode of the podcast on Film Criticism featuring a number of journalists and writers. This was before Christmas 2017 and so I set about trying to secure a response from critics I knew who write for the likes of The Sunday Times, Film Comment, Sight and Sound and others. 

We'd rinsed the lovely review our friend Ryan Gilbey (The New Statesman, The Guardian) gave us and knew we needed more. So I asked some folks. This was really hard to do in the first place. When Ryan watched the film he said that there was real angst on his part going in. There's always the anxiety of watching work by friends and people you know that it will suck and you won't know what to say. I know this is a critic and programmer. Ryan was relieved he liked it and his review suggests there's no illusion there. 

It was incredibly hard to send the film out to people to ask them to watch and give a quote. Most of the people I sent it to didn't know me as a filmmaker, only through other channels and I could hear in my head that voice saying 'they think you are just a critic who thinks they can do better'. Film critics watch a lot of films and have tight deadlines and the gig isn't well paid. So there's me asking them to watch another film, for no reason other than I need them, if they like it, to say so.

I asked, then chased, then nudged and got the point where I felt I couldn't ask again, anymore. I felt like I had asked and that people's lack of response was down to them not liking it or simply not having time. I respect both those things and was ready to put it to bed.

Around the same time, we were screening the film in Cornwall for local audiences, having been invited by The Poly in Falmouth to screen on DCP in their big room following a disappointing earlier event in November, with Cornwall Film Festival. It wasn't selling well and there was a chance that a prominent critic was going to be there and let us know their thoughts. I hated the idea that our big hometown/local screening for a film written and produced here was going to just fizzle out. I couldn't believe in a school of 600+ students and goodness knows how many staff that no one wanted to see the film that wouldn't have been possible without so many participants from the school. It was all making me pretty miserable. I was ready to throw in the towel regards the film. 

My wife told me to email the critics again. She bugged me and kept nudging me. Saying rightly, what was there to lose. So what if I annoyed them or made them finally say 'yes Neil I watched it and thought it was terrible'. I needed to do it. I couldn't have what ifs, and I'd already laid so much on the line for this film. 

At the same time I thought, the students (and staff) I work with, need to know that the investment in filmmaking (or any art) has emotional tolls on those who make it. 

So I emailed the critics. With a nice little get out in case they had seen it but didn't like it - a short statement they could copy and paste and send back to me reading something like 'I've seen it Neil and wish you the best of luck with it'.

At the same time I emailed staff and students pleading with them to come and see the film. Not for me, but because it's a work in the world that has the imprint of so many people's time and emotional investment, and because I'm proud of it in and of itself as well as how it was made. I told the critics and the students and staff how I was feeling. That I was sorry, but that I needed to pretty much beg at this point, that I couldn't just let it fizzle out into nothing. I had to keep trying. 

The results?

The screening was postponed due to snow and the prominent critic still hasn't been able to see it.

The critics got back to me, all bar one who sent profuse apologies, with incredible quotes and reviews. They really liked it, or liked something about me or it enough to provide words that suddenly filled the gap we wondered if we would ever fill. We made a sales deck that drew together the story of how we made it, the festival awards and screenings and front and centre the incredible reviews. These reviews are on the site and featured in our new trailer

Fragoso Review

The friend in acquisitions couldn't believe the reviews we got and helped us make them really prominent in the trailer. He said that a lot of high profile features would kill for quotes like these from writers at the publications we'd managed to snag. We knew that. Oh we knew that. 

The sales deck and new trailer is now being presented to distributors and you never know, you just never know. 

What matters to me, and why I wrote this blog and may write something more academic in the future, is that we share the emotional cost of our creative labour in productive, meaningful and hopefully productive ways. I think auto-ethnographic approaches to academic and creative labour are valid in the academy. It's also I believe vital to teach those who are starting to embark on creative professional journeys of what happens and what is at stake in terms of wellbeing. It's good to remind people of the humanity behind creative acts. Not everything is done with a dollar goal in mind. It is important to build and retain communities of support for indie film and independent creative practice. I am as guilty as anyone of ploughing my own furrow sometimes. 

As an aside, this summer I have and am continuing to make a point of catching up with the work of friends and peers I have promised to read and watch and haven't got round to. We all need to do our part.

Making work and sharing work makes you vulnerable (if you are a human being) at every stage. It changes and eases the older you get and the more work you do but never disappears completely, I don't think. That vulnerability can be part of what makes the work resonate and life is too short to pretend you don't care and that people's apathy doesn't bother you. Having to put myself out there and pretty much beg for people to engage reminded me of my own responsibilities as much as anything else. It's terrifying to share the fruits of our labour, but in film particularly how can we not? Without an audience for our films, what is the point? We have to do all we can to get people to see work we are proud of and I'm really proud of 'Wilderness'. The amazing reviews we've had made me feel like we made something that really connected and that people wanted to be effusive about. 

And I'm about to embark on it all over again as I start to write a new script and put a new short film out into the world. Once more unto the breach. 


The Beneficial Shocks of a Quietus Summer 2018 (and Book Publishing amongst other things)

The first draft of this post included an apology and justification for not writing anything in this area of the site for two and a half years. Why did I feel the need to do that knowing so few people have read or do read these posts? 

For myself maybe? Some of the associated feelings are covered here, in a blog about vulnerability I'm just about to write. 

It's been a strange summer. I've taken a lot of annual leave and fought the stupid attendant guilt that comes with that and for me done very little in the way of writing or putting stuff out there. 

That said, I've not been completely quiet and here are some of the things that have come up and come out that have my name on, over the past couple of months since I broke up from work and we put The Cinematologists on its yearly summer hiatus:

Podcast Book

Podcasting Book Cover.jpg

Dario and I have been working on an edited collection about Podcasting for Palgrave Macmillan, alongside scholar Richard Berry, and we are all delighted to see the book finally out in the world. You can pick it up here:

There will be an accompanying podcast that will air when the book gets an official launch at University of Brighton before the end of the year. 

Beneficial Shock

It was a real honour to be invited to contribute to the third issue, the 'Sex Issue' of this new iillustrated film magazine. I wrote a piece on unusual cinematic relationships focusing on Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude, Spike Jonze's Her and Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl. The piece was exquisitely illustrated by Sophia Martineck and it's a beautiful artefact. One of my favourite ever pieces to write and you can buy it here. Please support original indie publishing.

PS. Those aren't my hands.

The Quietus

It's still a thrill to write for one of my favourite websites, The Quietus, and this summer I interviewed the brilliant Jake Meginsky about his incredible documentary Milford Graves Full Mantis, one of my favourite films of the year, and write about the lovely Conny Plank documentary The Potential of Noise. Here are the links:

The Big Picture

The last piece I wrote for outgoing editor Georgina Guthrie was a personal recollection of The Big Lebowski and a piece of quasi-memorabilia that still means the world to me. Check it out -

Directors Notes

My good friend and great editor MarBelle approached me to write about Christine Franz's incendiary music doc on Sleaford Mods, Bunch of Kunst, and interview the filmmaker. Needless to say I didn't need much persuading -

Media Practice & Education

My first sole authored, peer reviewed journal article also saw the light of day. It was the written version of the conference paper I delivered at the 2017 BAFTSS/MECCSA Media Practice Symposium and it was my critical account of the 'Wilderness' filmmaker in residence project that incredibly, still rolls on. See the vulnerability blog for a film-centric update. It was great see one of the BTS images make the cover, just a shame the journal is not a print one any longer, if indeed it ever was.

Anyway, if you have access and are so inclined, here's the link -

Spooky Sounds

Once the thrill of selecting records and playing them out to nodding heads and tapping feet has been experienced it's very hard to shift. It never leaves you, just lies dormant.

On Thursday night past I had the joy of participating in a vinyl night - 'bring your records, play your records' - at a groovy local coffee house. It wasn't DJing per se but it came close. And, it rekindled the fire and brought so many memories rushing back from those days when DJing was such a prominent part of my life. 

I played 6 tracks for the 'Spooky Sounds' Halloween themed night. The joy of unsheathing the plastic, laying the needle, lining the beat and flipping the fader washed over me like a warm wave. It felt good. 

I played:

Twisted Brain by The Surgens

Black Cat by Jarvis Humby

Ha Howa Ha Howa by Sexwitch

The Bloody Fruits Of Barrow by Brian Reitzell (from 30 Days Of Night OST)

Wizard Motor by Mogwai (from Les Revenants OST)

Puttin' On The Ritz by Gene Wilder & Peter Boyle (from Young Frankenstein OST).



Walking home from seeing Acid Mothers Temple play live in town last night I received a text from my partner about going to see Stewart Lee. 

"I know you like to do these things" she wrote.

She's referring to going to see live music and live stand up and she is correct. I do. One of the beautiful things about my partner, aside from the fact she goes to these things with me sometimes when she would rather not, is how she has made me much more analytical and critical of myself. I use those words with their most positive connotations intended. I spend time wondering why I love live music, live stand up etc. It is hard to put into words. It's very much an emotional thing and goes beyond the shared communal aspect. I like that aspect but there's more to it. 

Walking Bailey this evening I listened to the latest in the always compelling podcast series from the New York Public Library. On this episode, Patti Smith talks about her new book and discusses the connection she has with graves of artists she admires as well as their notebooks, their artefacts etc. This is something I share with Patti. I like being near the graves of loved ones and artists I admire. I like museums, particularly tactile ones where an artist's life is on display and can be grasped and smelled and soaked up. 

This is something I've struggled to really put into words but Patti nailed it for me in the podcast. She says for her, it's the proximity. That's what it is. It sounds ridiculous and pretentious and that is largely because it is so difficult to put into words but proximity matters to me. It gives meaning to things that a digital engagement cannot. 

I like first editions. When my partner asked me why I couldn't answer. For a while I wondered if it was just snobbery. But it is the proximity, I think. It's not the proximity to the author, but the moment. I feel, at risk sounding horrifically sentimental and yes pretentious again, that the proximity of the artefact to the moment somehow causes transference so that when I fall for something I fall deep and gain some connection to the moment it was created. Like I said, sentimental, nostalgic and pretentious.

It's why I like old records, as well as old books.

It's why I chose to see Patti Smith and her group perform Horses in its entirety earlier this year. It was a no-brainer and wouldn't matter who else was on another stage at the same time. To be close to the woman who wrote that record as she sings that record (with Lenny Kaye playing alongside her of course) meant proximity to what I believe is greatness. I can't wait to read M Train, in hardback, Patti's follow-up to the astounding Just Kids. 

I also think it's why I like podcasts but simultaneously why I can only listen to them through headphones. The intimacy of the voices is vital and when they escape speakers into the air it's not the same and I can't focus and concentrate and take it all in. I like the proximity of the voices. 

Writing this has made me realise even more how much I miss my partner. Our long distance relationship is necessary for now and we both lead excellent, fulfilling lives but I miss the proximity. Because, when I'm in her proximity it all makes sense and the deepest connection I've ever had is renewed in its tactile intimacy. It is a tactile intimacy which surpasses all things digital and all the idiocy I conjure in my head. 


Summer 2015 Round-up

I've had quite a productive summer in terms of getting film content and writing out there into the world. Here are the links to some written pieces:

Interview with Alex Ross Perry for The Quietus

Interview with Penelope Spheeris for Directors Notes

Orson Welles for Directors Notes

Lost Classic: Prince Avalanche for The Big Picture

I was unsuccessful with a piece about The Way, Way Back and teenage nostalgia for Bright Wall/Dark Room, but I like the piece so I may get that up here at some point.

Also, the first part of The Cinematologists Port Eliot special can be streamed on our site or downloaded from iTunes.


Directory of World Cinema: Britain 2

I'm delighted to announce that DWC: Britain 2 is finally out. I think. 

This is the first published work I have in book form. I'm very proud of my piece on Manchester Movies, despite two glaring errors that my girlfriend noticed pretty much as soon as it dropped into the letterbox. 

Anyway. Here's the link should you wish to purchase it:

DWC: Britain 2 @ Intellect Books

It is available despite the site saying it isn't and claiming it was released in December 2014. I know.

Anyway, here's the Amazon link as proof:

DWC: Britain 2 @ Amazon

Bright Wall/Dark Room & The Need For Diverse Film Writing

One of the proudest achievements of my writing 'career' is the association I have with Bright Wall/Dark Room. BW/DR is an internet film magazine par excellence that has grown from a cult, idiosyncratic Tumblr to one of the most respected sites (as in location) for film writing online. It is featured on the acclaimed and is celebrated by the likes of Indiewire. 

I've been published once in the incredible magazine with a piece on The Broken Circle Breakdown and before that I had several pieces featured on the website. Writing for BW/DR is one of the most joyous and demanding and introspective challenges a film writer can undertake. I've had the privilege each time of being edited by the incredible Elizabeth Cantwell and I've always come out the other side a better writer and person.

My dream is to have a piece in the magazine illustrated by the mercurial Brianna Ashby, in-house artist. Her iliustrations are eye-wateringly good. 

The magazine is cheap considering the diversity, depth and emotional heft of the material they deliver each month. It's a recurring UK £1.49 per month subscription. 

However they, like so many ambitious and devoted cultural sites, are struggling to make it a going concern and continue the high quality output and ensure that the undertaking pays Brianna, the writers and doesn't kill the Svengali editor Chad in the process.

So yes, this has all been a pitch for cash. Each month they give a free article away to entice you in, and links to my pieces that are online can be found above. Though please, don't stop there. There are some incredible pieces by incredible writers that far exceed my modest offerings. I link you to them as a way of showing what they are about. But seriously, a subscription, or more vitally, a pledge on Patreon, can ensure the deserved and continued growth of a unique endeavour. I don't use that word lightly. There really is nowhere else like BW/DR. Don't let it die. 

The Saddest Girl You Ever Met: Revisiting The Misfits

Some films don't end as they should and are forgiven.

Last year, Tom Cruise should have died in Edge Of Tomorrow (Dir. Doug Liman). That's what should have happened. There's a different ending, but the film is such a refreshingly fun and smart blockbuster throughout that the cop-out Hollywood ending can be forgiven. Just about. 

The Misfits, The John Huston film of Arthur Miller's screenplay from 1961 doesn't end as it should and is forgiven for a different reason. To end the film logically would be to enter a black void from which it would be incredibly hard to return. This film about broken people who cannot help but break each other careers towards oblivion in a cocktail of rage, insecurity, bitterness and loneliness.

The layers of sadness and despair pour from the screen and overwhelm. Most have entered the cultural consciousness to varying degrees. 

Arthur Miller writes a character for his wife, that is his wife, causing her to perform in a maelstrom of the futility that is his love for her. He, like the audience that watches and watched Marilyn, thinks he can care for, understand and tame her. But she cannot be, because she is not of hers, or any time that has yet been lived. 

She exists above The Misfits. Clift is a Misfit due to his sexuality. Gable is a misfit because of his age. The closest emotionally to his character in a literal sense, he is truly a man out of time, left behind. Wallach is a misfit because he doesn't fit in the triangle. He is perennially outside. He is also the voice of Miller most clearly, directing an ire at what he adores but cannot have. He seeks to destroy, out of rejected and impotent lust. 

Marilyn is the misfit. She doesn't fit in the film, she doesn't fit on our planet. Destined to always be alone. We never knew what to do with her so we consumed her, as she is consumed here.

Watching the film in this age it still rages. Poetic dialogue throughout. A dustiness that is rivalled in Mad Max: Fury Road but that seeps into the pores even more so. A timid beauty that emerges in fleeting bursts. Very few films have ever got close to speaking to 'the moment' as vitally as this. Thanks to Marilyn when 'the moment' comes she lifts it to the stratosphere and for a moment suggests that things may work out. 

We know they won't though. They can't. Not for the wild ones, the mavericks, the true outsiders.

The sequence with the wrangling of the mustangs still rankles and stings. It's so real. Because it was. Real horses being wrangled. It smarts because it doesn't happen anymore. The Misfits now, is not merely a lament for a time and type of people that have passed but for a time and type of cinema, namely a cinema of scale that feels alive and real and tactile.

Clearly wrangling horses in the way depicted here is problematic but we live now so distanced from so much on screen that there's little chance to feel anything. That's one of the reasons Fury Road hits so hard. You can feel the dust, the sweat. In The Misfits you can smell the booze, you can taste the lemonade, you can touch the fabric of Marilyn's cherry summer dress as she bats the ball. 

And it's done with such love. It's sad, and angry, and bitter but still beneath it all beats hearts that love and that need love. That's why the merest glimmer of hope that appears at the finale of the film is forgiven. There are no victories here. Everyone is adrift and out of place and left behind by the world. Giving them a glint, or some of them a glint, is not a cop-out. It's a gesture of love, and of thanks, for being wild and trying to be free in a world that won't allow anything raw to thrive. 



Digging To The Bottom Of The Page: An Evening With Simon Armitage


I've just returned from a beautiful lecture by the poet Simon Armitage. It was his final address as a visiting professor within the School of Writing & Journalism at Falmouth University, where I work.

His talk was on the importance and increasing loss of place, and the sense of place, in poetry. It had an effect on me that I wanted to record. It made me think about cinema, my own writing and teaching. Some of the 'quotes' may be clumsily paraphrased due to my scribbling as he spoke.


He talked about how he feels that the sense of place is being lost in poetry, to something ephemeral. He claims this makes it difficult to grab onto and understand the heart of a poem. This feels relevant in contemporary cinema, or at least mainstream cinema, where so much of what is shown is fantasy, made up worlds with increasingly minimal relation to the real, physical world. Even 'real' places such as Tony Stark's New York feel truly Baudrillardian. 

He alludes to film a lot. He uses filmic references when talking, such as claiming Heaney takes the 'director's chair' in his work. His discussion of playlet poems such as Heaney's A Constable Calls as 'storytelling in reduced allegorical form' echoes the all too often neglected potential and aims of cinema. 

Discussion of James Fenton's Tiananmen brought to mind the power in cinema of (visual and spoken) repetition and the underused (visual) pun.

I loved how he said that British and Irish road movies can only ever be 'an ironic undertaking' compared to their U.S. counterparts. This is something I have always thought and a true, un-ironic British or Irish road movie has always been an ambition.


He talked about how it is almost a given that poets teach and normally teach poetry. The idea of earning living from writing poetry, of being a professional poet, is something that is viewed as incredibly difficult so supplementing an income by teaching is considered valid. Increasingly, the idea of creative practitioners not only supplementing their income through teaching but teaching being the primary source of their income is becoming commonplace. Indeed, at universities it is more and more attractive to employ those who work on the financial peripheries of a creative industry. They have that valuable 'real world' experience in a professional context and can share that with aspirational graduates who we are told value employability above all else. Will it ever be valid and commonplace for film professionals to teach film but still consider themselves practitioners foremost? Will students ever see them as anything other than lecturers?

This is something that I think about due to its relation to my own life and career. To me it would seem common sense given the nature of film practice industrially at present that practitioners teach for the benefit of future creative professionals and their own mortgages. But then I am biased.

I see writing and teaching as part of the same core of what I do. As a person I like to learn, and share what I learn. Sometimes I learn by consuming, sometimes by doing and sometimes, like tonight, by listening. 

Simon Armitage also lectures and teaches poetry. He likes it now, later in his life and creative journey, as he feels he has more to say and offer. He seems to draw on a fundamental relationship to poetry that expands far beyond his practitioner status. He seems more interested in what poetry is and can be than how it is done, or how he does it. That was vital, fascinating and liberating. 

He read and talked about Ted Hughes's Full Moon poem. He picked out the line 'cows are going home in the lane there' and picked on the importance of the word 'there'. The way he responded to that simple word in the middle of the poem and drew out its elegance and imagery reminded me of the value of language to a screenwriter. Often, we are told to be simple, direct and refrain from clutter, not to overwrite. However, one word in the right place can do so much to create a true image in the mind. It's craft and skill without ostentation. In the example of the poem the impact comes from one word everyone knows. It can have an unconscious effect that thrills and enthrals, almost unknowingly. It makes it 'local and true'. The specific is universal. We are taken 'there' even though we can't see or know 'there'. The 'there' is here, inside us. 

My own writing

More and more I confront my own work, my limitations and my desire as a writer. A lecture on poetry had more impact than I imagined. That crisp, elemental relationship of word and image is what I am increasingly interested in on the page. Before attending the talk I read Mark Cousins's latest column in Sight & Sound and am reminded that my desire as I've got older is to talk less on the page. To live more in the space of imagery, silence and time. I talk too much in life. I can be nervous of silence for I fear it will betray my secrets. Namely expose my frauds.  I talk for a living, filling hours with oratory. My increasing aim, on the page, is to be more elemental. To do the most with the least. I guess that's everyone's aim but it's taken me a long time to get there and I'm only at the awareness stage, a long way from mastery.

His analysis of the final stanza of Gunn's Epitaph For Anton Schmidt was a masterful dissection of structure, craft and discipline. He broke down how the final four lines work.

Line 1 is location. Line 2 is description. Line 3 is action. Line 4 is implication.

Powerful and elemental and applicable to screenwriting. I may also use it in teaching screenwriting. 


A Constable Calls by Seamus Heaney. Full Moon and Little Frieda by Ted Hughes. Thomas Hardy. Charles Simic (the modern Hardy, albeit more filmic and absurd, according to Armitage). An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley. Tiananmen by James Fenton. Duffy's Circus by Paul Muldoon. Adlestrop by Edward Thomas. Dylan Thomas. William Wordsworth. John Cooper Clarke. Terry Street by Douglas Dunn. Epitaph For Anton Schmidt by Thom Gunn. Sight & Sound. Mark Cousins. Road Movies. Jorie Graham. Baudrillard. Tony Stark.

Nothing Personal Will Remain

Something drove me to watch Andrew Niccol’s 1997 science fiction parable Gattaca on a dark day for those outside the privileged gates of the elite. The film deals with privilege and how society views those without the genetic or financial clout to be considered worthy of entry into the citadel. The metaphors in the film are direct and the resonance chilling. I’m neither inside nor outside. I sit somewhere along the walls, able to peer back at where I’ve come from in some comfort and to a certain extent peer forward into a potential future. 

In order to step beyond I would have to shed beliefs and step on those behind me. I’d also have to assume the persona, personality, ideology and identity of someone who ‘deserves’ entry. Gattaca is brilliant about what a person has to do in order to move from outside the citadel to inside it. Over the next five years I wonder if we will see resistance or resignation. I wonder if the current exploitation of the poor and unable and different will result in electoral revolution or cultural disintegration. I don’t want to step on anyone. I want to slingshot people past me. 

One of the things Gattaca does so deftly is that it makes the idea of being part of the elite seem poisonous and something no right thinking, socially aware person would ever want to be part of, whilst simultaneously arguing that the ability to join the elite and reap the benefits should be available to anyone and validity and entrance should not be decided by a privileged few. 

I guess I sought solace in a reminder that the impending darkness brings reminders of why the fight to remain in light matters. The other day, in a dog scuffle with a selfish dog owner (neither my dog or their dog was harmed), I broke my headphones so I’ve been without my usual companion podcasts. It was nice to hear the waves again. I must make sure that sometimes I have the lessons of humans in my ears and sometimes the lessons of nature. This morning, with new headphones and against a grey and windy backdrop, I headed out and listened to a talk by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer. Talking about her Bronx upbringing, which was followed by her success at Princeton, she undertook community service in inner city New Jersey and she discussed volunteering in the community saying:

“You can’t instil in someone who doesn’t want to do something a desire, but you can expose people who have no idea of its value to something they will continue doing” (via the NYPL podcast).

This resonated. Deeply. As an educator and someone who believes in respect and compassion. I’d like to see less inequality and people’s right to decency in life - education, health, food, clothing, shelter - protected. A supported and free health service. Education available to all, not merely the best resourced and affluent. People not reliant on food banks.

I can’t tell people these things matter. I have to find a way of ensuring moments where they see and hopefully understand for themselves. This can only be achieved by me living a true and active life, and doing what I believe and not just agreeing passively and mournfully. 

I wrote an email yesterday morning, to move from belief to action. To move beyond saying something and revelling in association towards activism. A tiny response.

This morning I visited a coffee and book shop locally. My first visit to a place that derives its name from a revolutionary poem that speaks of a desire held by many in these scary days. Howl.

I finished reading Alasdair Gray’s Lanark whilst there. Masochism again, or a need to directly engage with the horrors and realities in order to move forward? To stare the devil down?

Some passages from the very, very end of a bittersweet, prescient and scathing book that doesn’t end kindly. Spoiler alert.

“You wish to tell me they have too few jobs and homes and social services so stupidity, cruelty, disease and crime are increasing among them. I know that. There are many such places in the world, and soon there will be more. Governments cannot help them much.”

“Are you telling me that men lack the decency and skill to be good to each other?”

“Men have always possessed the decency and skill. In small, isolated societies they have even practised it. But it is a sad fact of human nature that in large numbers we can only organise against each other”.

“It is bad habits, not bad nature, which makes us repeat the dull old shapes of poverty and war. Only greedy people who profit by these things believe they are natural”.

“You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes of changes. I cannot give prosperity to people whom my rich supporters cannot exploit”.

Lanark was published in 1981. Also in its final embers comes the title for this blog post.

In between writing the bulk of this I took Bailey for a walk and laughed for the first time I can remember in a while. I was listening to The Bugle podcast post-election special. My laugh was hearty. And to and from Godrevy I sang myself hoarse to the Manics’ Everything Must Go:

“All I wanna do is live. No matter how miserable it is”

“And I hope that you can forgive us, but everything must go”

“Are we too tired to try and understand…?”

Back in Howl. I am reminded of many things including a tweet my darling lover posted yesterday. She spoke of the knowledge, that such a clear result gives, that people are feeling the opposite of the grief and fear and anxiety felt by others. And, that those people are around. 

They are colleagues, people you let out at a junction, people who stop to pet your dog, friends. 

I am reminded of this as a woman enters Howl and declares “I didn’t vote Tory, so please can I come in?”. Discussion was loud in the coffee shop. No one voted Tory. If they did they performed a terrifying facade over cake and Guatemalan blend. The same was true at work yesterday where the dark clouds that hung outside wormed their way along our corridor where feelings of shock and terror filled the hall, where the lights seemed to belligerently refuse to switch on. Maybe they didn’t have the energy. Feels like a dark time to believe in accessible university education for the masses. 

It can’t all be darkness though. So many seem likeminded despite the blue tide that engulfed this county and its conservative kin. I am aware of the problem that ‘first past the post’ results in and do not feel that the results are wholly representative. However, these are our structures and we can still shake them positively.

In the coffee shop was an exhibition. This was the main reason I went. It was an inter-generational artistic correspondence between Grandad and Grandaughter. Beyond the despairing void it naturally started to refill with its warmth, its quality and dedication truly affected. 

It’s always about people. It’s always about people being kind and thoughtful and going outside their selfish sphere and thinking of and engaging with others. It’s always about taking time to listen and communicate. It’s about love and honesty and compassion. It has to be. I get a text from my girlfriend. She shares welcome good news and I am reminded how incredible she is, what a beautiful and compassionate and dedicated person. I am proud to know her and be loved by her and she provides me with a reminder through evidence of her actions that I can do more, I can be more. 

I buy books of the poetry of Bob Dylan and Seamus Heaney. I talk to the proprietor of Howl, Lee, of Mclusky and Manic Street Preachers.

I go to leave but my way is gently blocked. A departing customer has had his bike stolen from outside. People can be not great. People can be great. 

Epiphanies Through Pop Music In Movies: A Top 5

Those of us afflicted by the disease of Cinephilia stay behind. Littered sparsely across auditoria we sit with our eyes glued to the screen until the last frame runs past our eyes. We do not feel the sighs of impatient ushers on our necks as they wait to go about removing spilled popcorn from the aisles. We watch the credits.

We have our own reasons. Mine is songs. I am doubly afflicted as a Cinephile and an Audiophile. It goes back to a time before the Internet when the only real way to find out which songs were played in a movie was the end credits. Film soundtracks were still mostly curios, only gaining mainstream traction in the waves of Tsunami Tarantino, which I surfed. So I watched the credits. I watched avidly whilst in my head I recalled whereabouts in the movie the musical moment was, so I knew whereabouts in the song credit list it would appear. As I watched the names roll up I had to recall where in the movie the song had appeared, in relation to a song I already knew, so I wouldn’t miss it, in case the title wasn’t obvious. I was looking for the song I didn’t know. One that from the moment I heard it, I needed to have.

Anyone who has seen a film since the form left the fairground and entered the nickelodeon has experienced movies as a marriage of sound and image. So much of the music that matters to me came to me with an image attached and it is the pairing, not simply the component parts, that is burned into my memory bank. It’s most often pop music though, not score, that has this effect. There are very few scores I listen to separately from watching the films they complement. The ones I do are almost wholly scores written and performed by musicians from pop realms. Two favourites are RZA’s score for Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai and Aimee Mann’s collection of songs for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. I could never, still can’t, understand how people could listen to, for example, Howard Shore’s Lord Of The Rings scores as they drive to the gym or cook dinner.

When I see hear songs in their solo context that I first experienced in cinematic contexts it is profound and comforting. I see the person I am, as well as the person I was in that place, geographically and emotionally, where I first had the epiphany. There’s only one rational way I can really approach talking about this and that’s by compiling a Top 5. That’s what would happen in High Fidelity.  To homage: do I love lists because I love High Fidelity, or do I love High Fidelity because I love lists? This is a journey through my life via my Top 5 pop music moments in movies.

1. Jumping Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones

It could have been anything from this film in truth. Be My Baby by The Ronettes, Rubber Biscuits by The Chips or Mickey’s Monkey by The Miracles all seared their arrows into my heart along with the images they scored. I remember it so clearly. 17 and at college, I was making lifelong friends to an Oasis fuelled soundtrack and for the first time in my life I had people and music that I felt were truly mine, and understood me. I had the cinema bug in a big way and organised a Scorsese night at my house for some friends. On the menu were Goodfellas, Casino, Taxi Driver, which I had recently seen and loved, and Mean Streets, which I had never seen. Looking back it’s a weird marathon to invite new friends round your house to enjoy but most of the attendees are still friends and this is still my idea of a good time.

We started with Mean Streets. I can’t remember what we watched next. All I remember is my life changing forever over the course of 112 glorious minutes. I had heard Jumping Jack Flash before, of course I had, but this time it was different. This time the screen was drenched in red and this figure was floating in slow motion through this bar, women on his arm, shit eating grin on his face, towards someone who loved him but couldn’t stand him. I was a mess. I didn’t know what I was seeing but I had Goosebumps and I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Mean Streets is still my favourite film and the song still gives me Goosebumps both when I watch the film or hear the song on its own. I am taken to that majestic scene and my old living room, when I was 17, the fragments of my first screenplay on a floppy disk nestled at the bottom of my bag.

2. Dry The Rain by The Beta Band

Being a Cinephile and Audiophile can come with an unbearable level of snobbery that is hard to shift. Moving through my 30s has mellowed me a tad. I have moved beyond the High Fidelity adage ‘it’s what you like, not what you are like that matters’. The truth, however, is that the snobbery doesn’t disappear even if it can be controlled. Part of me wants to write a Top 20 here to display my full range of taste and knowledge like a Silverback in a jungle beating his chest. I want you to know how important and meaningful being introduced to Elliott Smith and having my whole world turned upside down by Good Will Hunting was. Or how Wes Anderson using Paul Simon’s Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard so perfectly in The Royal Tenenbaums blew my tiny mind. Or how hearing Leftfield’s opening, title track for Shallow Grave made me feel elated or how woozy I was when Air’s Playground Love for The Virgin Suicides washed over me. How pumped Public Enemy’s He Got Game got me, how nostalgic I became for a time I never knew experiencing The Band’s The Weight in Easy Rider or how I cried at PT Anderson dusting off Shelley Duvall and Harry Nilsson’s He Needs Me for Punch Drunk Love. I know just told you. Forgive me. Some things don’t change with age. My girlfriend read this and called it masturbatory, using a different vocabulary, and she is right.

There is also the wonderful and slightly elitist sensation of something you know being used in a movie and thinking those sharing the experience with you are not as ‘cool’ as you, because unlike them you know the song in its original purely aural form. Like hearing Baz Luhrmann use Radiohead’s Talk Show Host, a B-side on Street Spirit (Fade Out) no less, to devastating effect in his Romeo & Juliet, my teenage self reveling in smugness. Not just in movies either. Reading the book of High Fidelity I felt a giddy rush at the mere mention of my beloved Spiritualized. And it is a mere mention. These are the ugly realities that often accompany people with my affliction but I’ve outgrown them to a degree. I hope. I have grasped the positives and realised just how much amazing music I have been introduced to in movies. High Fidelity taught me that the Velvet Underground were not just an amazing Art Rock band but an incredible straight Rock & Roll band and it also brought the Beta Band into my life in the same way it was brought into the lives of the looked down upon in the film. John Cusack says he will “now sell 5 copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band”. Well he sold at least 6. The song, Dry The Rain sits comfortably in my top 5 songs of all time.

3. Hate It Here by Wilco

Thinking about it makes me cry. This is actually hard to type. My hands are shaking and my heart is racing. I have never been happier in my life and that’s a hard thing to say because I’ve been very happy in the past and I fear saying that hurts other people. However my life now is very different to how it was a couple of years back. I didn’t see this life coming. I didn’t see where and how I live and whom I love, and who loves me now, coming. I adore Boyhood for so many reasons but mostly for that moment where Ethan Hawke plays his son Hate It Here by Wilco and discusses the lyrics with him. Wilco are one of my favourite bands and I have fond memories of the Sky Blue Sky album having seen the band live for the first time as they toured it. The song though, wasn’t high on my list of favourites, until that moment in the dark with a person who has impacted my life in the most beautiful way; beyond any level I ever dreamed possible. Now it’s in my Top 5. It’s a sad song that is poignant given that so much of the time my love and I are apart - ‘What am I gonna do, if you never come home, tell me, what am I gonna do?’ When I hear it now, and I play it a lot, I am transported to that beautiful night of a wondrous summer and I can see the film ahead of me, reminding me of the beauty and fragility of life and I can feel, to the side of me, hand in mine, the most exquisite reminder of the joy of loving and being loved.

4. Sea Of Teeth by Sparklehorse

Some films have got me into certain songs. Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric being played by Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction stands out. Some films have got me into artists. Rushmore got me into The Creation thanks to Wes Anderson sound-tracking a badass slo-mo Bill Murray to the strains of Making Time. One film though got me into a band that would become one of my all time favourites. I loved George Washington so was excited to hear that David Gordon Green had a new film coming out. The soundtrack had the familiar strains of Will Oldham and Mogwai on, but it also had this strange, ethereal, melancholic and devastating song on it. It was a song that haunted me and does to this day. I had recently gone through a break up so seeing All The Real Girls in that state had a profoundly decimating effect on me and during the film I heard Sparklehorse for the first time. It wasn’t depressing even though it chimed with depressive tones. It was a warm, comforting, encompassing feeling. It told me that it would be okay, but it didn’t know when. It is a song that sonically encapsulates the themes of the film. It is a song that recalls the frequently transient nature of love and how we feel destroyed by it when we should be celebrating that we have the capacity to experience it at all. I left the cinema into a warm late summer night and devoured everything Mark Linkous had done. Life changed. Again.

 5. The Man In Me by Bob Dylan

There are instances where films use music so perfectly that you cannot hear a song in any other context ever again. You are shouting Tarantino at me and sure, that’s a good example, no film does it quite like The Big Lebowski. Every single piece of music in the film is perfect. It could not be any other piece of music in any scene in the film. Okay, stop shouting at me. I know you are saying that this is the case for most films because once you’ve heard the song that goes with the image the context is forever changed. However, The Big Lebowski is one of the few films, and certainly atop the list of mine, when there is a conscious moment where you say to yourself, out loud in my case, that the music choices are perfect and could not have been any other way. 99% of the time the thought washes over you unconsciously or subconsciously if at all. Kenny Rogers, Gipsy Kings, Captain Beefheart, Nina Simone, Townes Van Zandt, Credence, Dylan. It’s the Dylan that gets me though. It’s the Dylan that destroys me. It’s a perfect song, perfectly used. It carries you into the movie and into that world that only the Coen Brothers know how to sculpt. It carries you along on a wave of bliss. It feels like the film. When people ask me why I love The Big Lebowski, the film sits in my top 10 so I do get asked, I usually just say because of The Man In Me over the opening credits. It’s the greatest moment, for me, in one of the greatest films. It’s a beautiful song and it soundtracks a montage of dudes and dudettes bowling as if bowling is the most important act in the world. It’s an honest and breezy song. It’s full of love and a gentle Californian swagger with some of the best La La La’s ever recorded. It elevates the simple art of bowling to something profound and because of the music choice it’s never cruel. It doesn’t mock. It celebrates. The music removes any ironic distance and says this is a film about love and bowling and you’re going to have to deal with that. It’s no coincidence that the first character we see post credits is the sympathetic and tragic heart of the movie, Donny. Donny who loved bowling.