Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, the latest cover in my ongoing Bowie Book Club project (which has been back-burnered for a while because … life). Impossible to pass up an opportunity for a great big evil skull.
Last month's watchings, both on big screen and small. Follow me on Letterboxd for regular cinematic rants and opinings.
- Train to Busan. Lots of fun – and all the better for the fact I didn't already know any of the actors. No remakes please.
- Cars 3. Another few laps with one of the least likeable heroes in modern cinema. To its credit, it ignores the second film completely. Also: Michael Keaton doesn't reprise his role from the first one, but Paul Newman does. Weird.
- John Wick: Chapter 2. I'm sure if I was thirteen, this film would be completely amazing. But I'm not, and it isn't. It very, very isn't.
- Planes. The exciting adventures of Dusty, a cropduster who … who … wait … who are they growing crops for?
- Bridget Jones's Baby. Inoffensive fun. Good to see Zellweger on screen again – where's she been? Still, Sarah Solemani is by far the funniest thing in this – would love to see her get her own romcom lead at some point. Also: Jessica Hynes is in this film. Not that you'd know. She's in the background, out of focus, essentially an extra. What a waste! Ed Sheeran gets more lines (because apparently clunking Ed Sheeran cameos are now a common thing that we simply have to get used to). Maybe they realised she might show Zellweger up, what with her being the one person probably even more suited for the role of Jones.
- Moonstruck. So good we had to pause it halfway through to go to the supermarket and pick up some Italian food.
- Dunkirk. Awesome in so many ways, but now that a few weeks have passed … it hasn't really stayed with me like I thought it would. Didn't get under my skin. Similar experience with Gravity. Blown away by the spectacle as it happened, but relatively little lasting impression.
- Amélie. Oh this film. It should be awfully cloying, but it's all done with such sincerity and style, it's impossible not to get swept away by its relentless sweetness. It's sentimental without being manipulative. Quite, quite lovely.
- Personal Shopper. Okay so this will take some processing. Was it okay? Did I love it? Did I even understand it? No idea. Time will tell. One thought: who the hell chooses to name their twins "Lewis" and "Maureen"?
- The Peanuts Movie. I'm not sure Peanuts will ever really be suited for film, but this has so many loving nods to the source material, it's surprisingly charming.
- RoboCop. One of those glorious films that throws up a new weird detail with each viewing. This time: the best bit about ED-209's demise isn't the falling down the stairs, it's the next shot, showing Peter Weller having difficulty, carefully trotting down the steps as if he's soiled himself.
- The Cabin in the Woods. Still good fun, but it's not really a film that rewards repeat viewings. Once you've seen it, and then seen it again to spot all the things, that's pretty much it.
- Logan. Despite – or maybe because of? – market saturation, superhero films are having a hell of a year. Just when they were starting to look tired and repetitive, along comes some actual variety. Incredible to think that Logan and Homecoming are both drawn from the same well, both finding completely different ways to adhere to the genre conventions. That said, I would love to see a superhero film go completely off-formula and try something other than the "and then they have a big fight" climax.
- Foxcatcher. Needed a bath after this one.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming. Brilliant. Best Spidey yet, and one of the best Marvel flicks. Was not expecting that at all.
- X-Men: Apocalypse. Takes forever to start and then it never ends. A horrible, nothingy mess of a film. By this point, the core X-Men films are really struggling with the fact that the characters and storylines are far more suited to television.
- Con Air. Good lord this is a fun film. I'd forgotten quite how much of it is reaction shots of Nic Cage looking a bit disappointed with people. Also: Hi-de-Hi ending! All films should have Hi-de-Hi endings.
- A Cure for Wellness. "Hmm, this looks creepy and stylish. I rather like it. Hello Jason Isaacs! Ooh, mountains." SIXTEEN WEEKS LATER: "why won't it end, i just want it to end, i miss my family"
- Munich. Such a difficult film to enjoy. Every now and then you get swept up by the beautiful period details, the costumes, the men-on-a-mission fun of it all. And then you remember it's a real story and everyone/everything in it is morally repugnant.
- Midnight Special. I like that it drops you straight into the middle of the story, but it unfortunately it leaves itself no room for any character development. In the end, it's a bit like catching the last episode of that show everyone has been talking about, and you don't really care who anyone is or what they're doing, and really you're just waiting for it to be over so you can turn over and watch Made in Chelsea.
There’s a theory that recorded voices can be drawn from tiny irregularities in the surface of ancient ceramic vases, having picked up vibrations while their clay was still fresh; like grooves laid in vinyl. It’s probably a load of baloney, but it’s a nice idea. Along those lines, I’d like to think that each of my projects has a bit of music in it; the rhythms of the grid subconsciously translated from whatever I was listening to when I worked on it.
On a big diagram of creative pursuits that has yet to be drawn, design and music are clearly seen to be opposite poles, complementary forms. Distinct enough to avoid one pastiching or disturbing the other, but similar enough to inspire and influence. They may work on different senses, but they share an underlying language of repetition and rhythm, colour and shape.
This is especially true when it comes to LPs, a tidy containedness that neatly reflects the defined boundaries of a design. I grew up with C30, C60, C90, so I’m hard-wired to appreciate music in neatly defined albumular shapes, pre-sequenced packages, structures within structures. The freeform shuffle of iTunes and Spotify has its place, but I’m not going to get any work done tossing coins into an infinite jukebox. I love daily morning ritual of flicking through my collection, from Ant Music to Zooropa, to select the day's soundtrack. Once that's done, no more distracting decisions to be made.
LPs have beginnings and ends, but most importantly, they have middles. Middles that demand attention. The necessity to get up and walk across the room to flip the disc offers a welcome break from the staring and clicking repetition. That brilliant idea isn’t going to magically appear on the desk you’ve been hunched over for five hours. Observe the silence of the album, start again, reset your brain, get out of a thinking-rut. Stretch your legs, pore over some liner notes and stroke that sleeve art. But most of all, play the music.
Fast and slow, quiet and loud, every good record holds valuable lessons that can be applied abstractly to whatever you’re working on. A conversation between black circle and white rectangle. When you’re elbow-deep in grids and guidelines, a mire of technical considerations and constraints, music reminds you that design should be alive and vibrating. Warren Zevon’s hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent; Michael Hutchence shouting “trumpet!” to introduce a saxophone solo; Eddie Vedder making glorious Eddie Vedder noises. A single nugget of pure silliness or joy or truth nestled in the middle of a song can breathe life back into whatever you’re working on.
When it happens, when it kicks in, my computer ceases to be a tool, it becomes percussion. Drumming with fingers, peddling with feet, lots of finger-clicking and … hey, ho, let's go!
Note: I originally wrote most of this a while back for Creative Review, but it just sprung to mind again whilst watching Baby Driver – a film essentially about soundtracking your work.
Here's last month's slew of cinematic happenings. Check out my Letterboxd profile for more of this sort of thing.
- Wonder Woman. A lot of fun, at least until the standard issue DC climax kicks in. Gal Gadot is absolutely perfect in the role. Much like Captain America and The Rocketeer, the film benefits hugely from a period setting and being stand-alone. Rather than skip straight to present day, I'd love to see the sequels tackle other eras – 70s New York WW would be glorious, if only for the hair – without those silly boys getting in the way.
- Suicide Squad. It's like they took a bad film and then recut it to deliberately make it even worse. And then they patched over the joins by occasionally fading Best Rocks Anthems Ever Volume 3 in and out every so often. The result is teetering on the very edge of what constitutes a film.
- Tangled. Deservedly holding a permanent spot in this list. Watching for the umpteenth time, and it struck me how near damn perfect the comic timing is. The dialogue, the editing, the action, the expressions of the characters, all absolutely spot on. And there's a lot of comedy, none of which falls flat. Honestly can't think of another film that I laugh at more. Should be a set text in comedy school.
- Hop. Many, many times. The boy's new favourite film. Actually rather good.
- Moneyball. Given that's it's about a sport I have absolutely no interest in, this was really rather good. Whole scenes of baseball player trading shenanigans went way over my head, but somehow I was still riveted. The always underrated Pitt absolutely perfect in lead role.
- Morgan. Imagine if Ex Machina was sucked dry of all goodness and remade as a TV movie; maybe an episode of nineties Outer Limits. The Scott family should probably stop making films about robots.
- Valkyrie. Some tense moments, but frustratingly keeps falling short of full-on seat-edge nail-biter. And nobody's quite sure what accent to go for.
- Apollo 13. Damn fine film, and a timely reminder that Ron Howard is a hugely underrated director. Looking forward to seeing what he does with Han Solo.
- Baby Driver. Enjoyed this immensely. Huge smile on my face from beginning to end. Weirdly, the wit and invention and sheer joy of it all gave me the same overwhelmed-by-glee feeling I get from watching Hey Duggee. Stick that on the poster.
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Good fun. Very creepy, up to a point. An interesting case study in the effect lighting, editing and music can have on your perception of a completely still face.
I rather like twitter, but my word it can be a tad much at times – I simply don't need all of that noise, all of those voices, all of the time. So this little tip from Andy Baio looks like it might be handy:
Want to know a little secret for making Twitter better, a coping mechanism for making sure it's still capable of bringing you joy? Go make a list with the handful of people who make you happy and whose updates you never want to miss. Then go to https://mobile.twitter.com/account , click on the list you created, and bookmark it. On iOS, use "add to home screen". It's my new happy place, where I can escape for a few minutes when I'm too busy, too exhausted, or the world is just too much.
Sounds simple enough. Worth a shot. Now I just have to work out who my chosen few are …
With a bit of time to kill after a client meeting in London last week, I popped into the Barbican Centre to check out their new exhibition, Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction. And oh it was wonderful. Spaceships and robots and props and pictures and models and books and scripts – I couldve spent days in there. Definitely recommended. Creative Review have a much more thorough review of it.
My only criticism: the scope of it was way too broad. It kind of felt like the highlights of five or six much better shows, or like a taster of a bigger and more permanent museum of Science Fiction. Actually … the more I think about it … we need this. Could somebody with too much money please find a nice big empty building somewhere and turn it into – bear with me while I brand this on the fly – SciFiMu? Yeah? That'd be grand. Thanks in advance.
Well that was an election, wasn't it? There's lots of analysis elsewhere, but I'm particularly fascinated by one particular detail: the battle for Kensington and Chelsea. Apparently, wonderfully, Labour managed to take the hitherto safe Conservative seat with 16,333 votes to 16,313. Twenty votes. That's incredible. That's the size of an average Made in Chelsea dinner party.
Anyway, here's an idea: an exhibition in a gallery in Kensington/Chelsea, nothing but twenty beautifully framed spoiled ballots. Abstaining as art. The difference between red and blue. Twenty crappy little doodles and profanities. Twenty symbols of the huge and indelible social/cultural shift in London. Twenty reminders that that, yes, every single vote does matter.
Ed Ruscha with six of his books on his head. Photograph by Jerry McMillan, 1970.