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 -


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. 


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.