Jul 15, 2004 · 3 minute read
Bowling for Columbine was a film about a man struggling to find reasons for a tragedy, ultimately becoming more bewildered than when he started. Fahrenheit 9/11 is one note repeated over and over, a focused rage at the Bush Administration and what it has achieved in the past four years. Moore uses every trick he's learnt from his previous documentaries, incorporating pranks, selective editing, humour, and horror. The first post-title scene is astounding; even though the footage has been seen across the world thousands of times before, he manages to find a new way of presenting the attack on New York, a way that makes the terror of that day as immediate as it was then. From then on, the film takes a rather conventional, chronological view of things, detailing the Bush family's connections to the bin Laden family, the flights out of America when all others were grounded, Afghanistan and how consultants to US energy firms ended up running the country, how the US government raises the terror warning level seemingly at a whim, and the evils of the USA-PATRIOT Act, which was passed despite most Senators not even bothering to check its contents.
The documentary saves its biggest impact for the second half, focusing on Iraq. However, it does so by almost completely ignoring the question of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not (save for a few pre-September interviews with Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell). Instead, it opens with the bombing of Baghdad, the green flares of exploding bombs blasting against night-vision cameras. Then, Moore shows us the results. Women and children covered in napalm burns. Dead US soldiers burnt, dragged along the streets and then hanged from a bridge. We didn't see this. I didn't see this, when watching the news in America. We were given a clean war, a war of embedded journalists and computer-generated maps. We didn't see this.
Finally, it looks at the US military. How the soldiers started out as gung-ho, CD-playing video gamers, but ended up bitter, disillusioned, and frightened. For this section, Moore returns to Flint, Michigan, to see the effect of war on his home town, resulting in scenes that make you want to break down and also fill you with a burning rage.
You should see it. Yes, it's completely one-sided, flawed, biased, and slanted. It has to be. When you consider that up to now, the only real critical news-based look at the Bush Administration is on Comedy Central, that the White House Press Corps decided to leave most of the tough questions to Helen Thomas, and that Fox News has done as much to conflate Al-Qaeda and Iraq as President Bush, this film is the only possible response. And its box office revenues suggest that people would like to hear something other than a regurgitation of government spin. This film isn't the whole truth, but it's a challenge to our media to start doing their jobs once more.
Jul 14, 2004 · 1 minute read
(um, I promise to write about something other than politics soon. Probably Friday. In the meantime, just shake your head and back away slowly)
Jul 12, 2004 · 2 minute read
I think that most people's problem with Fox News is the hypocrisy
. If they'd just drop their cries of 'fair and balanced', admitted that each anchor has a shrine to Newt Gingrich and Richard Nixon in the corner of their dressing rooms, and that they sacrifice an unsuspecting intern each month as an offering to Mammon, people would respect them more.
In other news, parts of the Bush Administration are looking to pass the Enabling Act. The Family shall rule for a thousand years! I really, really don't see why this is necessary. America elected FDR in 1944, Abraham Lincoln held elections in 1864 while the Civil War was still raging, and in 1814, midterm elections took place, even though the British had just burned the White House to the ground. He's what Lincoln had to say when advisors suggested postponing the elections:
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.
And finally for today, it appears that the US Government is pushing for Pakistan to capture "High Value Targets" during the last few days of July (there's something going on in Boston that weekend, apparently). Some days, you think that you're being too cynical, that despite everything, there's got to be something of redeemable value hidden within. And on days like this, you realise that there isn't.
Jul 11, 2004 · 1 minute read
Congratulations, Odeon! For the past three years, your web site has been a Flash-based monstrosity, crashing browsers left and right, and which currently comes up as a blank screen in the latest version of Safari. Thank goodness, then, for Matthew Somerville, who developed a site called Accessible Odeon
. This site was simple HTML, viewable by even the most humble browser, and you could do everything except book tickets. Oh, and it was five times faster than the Odeon site. Hurrah! The site even got a mention in the Guardian
Accessible Odeon is now off-line. Last year, Odeon said that they were aware of the site, but weren't planning on taking any action. This week, they changed their minds, sending Matthew a cease-and-desist order for violating Odeon's trademarks and the database rights of their movie times.
Yes, Odeon can control who prints what time they're showing films.
So I guess it's back to the paper for film times. Odeon don't seem to be in a hurry to redesign a site that is broken in about five different ways, and they've crushed somebody who was helping them get business. Bravo!
Jul 10, 2004 · 2 minute read
It’s Never Gonna Happen To Me
Released: March 1996
Highest UK Chart Position: Did Not Chart
Available on: Greatest Hits Vol. 1
You'll have to bear with me. I know almost nothing about this band. I don't know any of their names, where they come from, or what they're doing now. I didn't even know they existed until two years ago, after reading a page on the Internet that now seems to have disappeared in the meantime. All I have is the short bio on the ORG Records website, and a copy of Greatest Hits Vol. 1.
From looking at the liner notes, and a little detective work, I can tell you that Charlie's Angels were a five-girl and one-token-boy band, who vanished, like so many others, after meeting Malcolm McLaren. However, before they were abducted by the alien-looking being, they managed to leave behind some great songs. It's Never Gonna Happen To Me never troubled the chart, but it has all you want in a pop song: handclaps, a "la-la-la" section, and fuzzy guitars played by girls. Think Kenickie, but without the Catholic angst.
The 28-track Greatest Hits Vol. 1 sounds like a fanzine etched onto CD. Little skits intermingle with full length songs, telling jokes, providing sixties-style intermissions, and even offering a recipe (for banoffi pie, in case you're wondering). You feel as if you should check the CD tray afterwards to see if glitter has leaked into the machine. But it's not all sugary-sweet; there's plenty of bite in songs such as Your Pretty Face and I Don't Want To Love You to offset the cute sections. Mind you, you can't say too many bad things about an album that samples Gary Barlow and PJ and Duncan. Oh, there's a murdering teddy bear lurking on the record as well. And a stomping dance track as the penultimate song on the album, keeping you guessing right up to the very end. It's a box of surprises; like sending off 50p and a Stamped Address Envelope and receiving an A5, hand-stapled labour of love in return.
ORG Records is currently selling this CD for a pound. Go to their website and buy a copy now. You need to hear this record at least once. If anybody out there has a copy of Perminant Damage, their single with 16 b-sides, please get in touch, as I’m desperate to hear it.
Jul 10, 2004 · 1 minute read
Although, possibly, the Committee to Elect George W Bush's first action
took place four years before the election itself…
Jul 9, 2004 · 2 minute read
is something of a folk hero in indie circles; bands such as Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Nirvana, and Kenickie have all cited him as an influence. But my first exposure to Johnston had nothing to do with music at all. Back in the mid-1990s, comic writer Warren Ellis used to write an occult comic called Hellstorm
. He also had a column in a UK magazine where he talked about the letters he used to receive. One reader sent in drawings of Captain America to the title's editor, Marie Jarvins, along with messages about how he would save her from Ellis's foul influence. It was only years later that I discovered that the reader was Daniel Johnston.
Johnston rose to fame after an appearance in a mid-1980s MTV documentary about the Austin music scene. His first albums (made and released by himself on cassette) started showing up around America. Songs of Pain and More Songs of Pain were painfully honest and emotional albums, with Johnston's songwriting skills shining through the ramshackle production and his, well, almost unique voice. This is from the first album, a song that was later covered by Kathy McCarty and used in the film Before Sunrise:
Daniel Johnston — Living Life
Daniel's mental instability led to him being institutionalised several times towards the end of the decade, but the 1990s were kinder. There were several episodes, like the letters to Ellis, but nothing too serious. He even managed to get signed to a major label, Atlantic Records. a feat which surprised many people. One of the songs from this period can be found on the My So-Called Life Soundtrack:
Daniel Johnston — Come See Me Tonight
He was inevitably dropped by Atlantic, but he's still making records, still singing about loss, pain, and a slightly askew view of the world which often seems much friendlier and colourful than the one outside our window.
Daniel Johnston — Favorite Darling Girl
Jul 8, 2004 · 3 minute read
Released: May 1996
Highest UK Chart Position: Album Track
Available on: The It Girl
At last it can be revealed. The other members of Sleeper were: Andy Maclure (drums), Jon Stewart (guitar, keyboards), and Diid Osman (bass).
Every band seems to have a lightning rod; a member who becomes the focus for all the press and PR attention. Pulp had Jarvis, the Pet Shop Boys had Neil Tennant, Oasis, always going a little bit too far, had two in the shape of the Gallagher brothers, but it was Liam who took most of the headlines. Even the relaitively anonymous New Order had Peter Hook. But Sleeper seemed to take it to another level, with the term 'Sleeperblokes' coined by the music press to describe the members of the band who weren't Louise Wener, lead singer and guitarist.
Wener was something of a gift to a music press infused with a new sense of laddism from "ironic" men's magazines such as FHM and Loaded. Opinionated, always willing to give a good quote, an avid fan of Margaret Thatcher and eager to speak out against the bands cosying up to New Labour, she was the NME's dream. Pure poison, though, for many readers and some journalists, many of whom seemed just as shocked that a girl could play guitar as they were of her opinions on sex and gender roles. A man would have been allowed to say these things without much comment being passed, but a woman? Not a chance.
Their music didn't help matters, either. There was always a sense that the band was trying to be clever; aiming for the lyrical heights of The Smiths, but never quite managing to reach them, and as a result coming across a little silly. Lie Detector, the first track from their second album, The It Girl, is a typical example of this failing, name-checking Bergman, Einstein, and the Stepford wives, While this:
she's got green eyes and she's lovely
reminds me of the 'it' girl with her lips
got an automatic license
reads all Dostoyevsky's household tips
is light-years beyond anything Noel Gallagher could ever dream of writing, it's as subtle as a bag of anvils. The sound is almost generic Britpop - two guitars, drums, and a bass, with a tiny bit of keyboard to provide spice. And yet, despite all the problems, the record somehow works; while it's not subtle, lines such as "attach her to a lie detector / watch a thousand housewives fizz and burn" and "And it took a thousand clichés just to scold her" crackle and pop in your ears as the song rattles by. It's over in a little over two minutes, making sure that it doesn't wear out its welcome. It's not the feminist statement that it sets out to be, but it's a fun pop song regardless.
My memory of Louise Wener will be forever centred on an August day in 1995. Sleeper were playing at the R.E.M. concert at the Milton Keynes Bowl, on the bill below The Cranberries and Radiohead. It was her birthday. During the R.E.M. set (being broadcast around the world), Michael Stipe called her onstage and sang happy birthday to her. The lucky girl…