Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Iconic Icon

The English language is forever changing. Words go out of fashion, words change their meaning, new words are invented, slang comes in and out, and words sometimes, without warning, change their spelling... How do you spell 'Yoghurt' for example? well, like I just did of course.... but next time you are in the supermarket, check the pots on display, and they are almost all now spelt 'Yogurt'. Even the food industry is dictating how we spell stuff!

Then there are 'buzz words'. Working in an office, I know ALL about these.. one day, I'll take a 'helicopter view' of the situation, 'think outside the box' 'pick some low hanging fruit', and do a post on it... just to ensure you are all 'on the front foot'. I mean, 'at the end of the day', 'it's not rocket science' so I should be able to do it for you.... It'll be a 'win-win situation' I'm sure. But hey, that's not what this post is all about, so I'll "put that on the back-burner' for now if that's OK.
And how about words that become fashionable and\or over used... "whatever" "basically" "like" (as in "and he said lets go, and I'm like, no way" Grrr) etc etc. But if there is one word that is noticeably getting overused at the moment it must be 'iconic'. It's a great word (or was), and used sparingly was wonderful for describing a truly legendary image or building ('that' picture of Che Guevara, Big Ben\House of Parliament for example). Now it's been dumbed down to be used to describe a picture taken out clubbing posted on Facebook, a moment of reality TV, or the new Chippy that opened round the corner. You just can't get away from it. Here's just 3 examples that have annoyed me in the last week:
1. On one single episode of the X Factor last week, HALF of the evenings performances and\or songs were described as 'iconic' by the judges (I'm sure they must of been, but I've forgotten them all already!);

2. I heard a feature on the radio about the rejuvenation of an area on the outskirts of London. Lots of buildings were being demolished, but in their place will be an 'iconic' building. Bloody hell, the thing isn't even built yet, but it's already iconic!

3. The final straw (and I swear this is true), was listening to 5Live early last weekend, and heard that later in the show they would be talking to "iconic agony aunt Deidre Sanders, from the Sun's Dear Deidre column"!! Are you SURE she's iconic??! If you fell over her in the high street, would any of us know who she was?? In fact, I've just done a Google picture search, and I thought it was Delia Smith.... the legendary icon of the cooking world.
the icon that IS Deidre Sanders, gets ready to knock up an iconic Key Lime Pie...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Divine Comedy - Live Review

The Divine Comedy Live at The Royal Festival Hall, London, 10 November 2010

Neil Hannon takes to the stage accompanied by the theme to Mr Benn. And he's suitably attired too, in black suit, bowler hat, carrying a briefcase and puffing on an unfeasibly curly pipe! Mr Hannon is ready for another adventure, but no shopkeeper arrives... in fact nobody else arrives!

The first time I saw the Divine Comedy in this venue, it was the biggest collection of musicians for a 'pop' concert I think I've ever seen. The band themselves were 10/12 strong back then, and at this particular gig were joined by a 30 odd piece orchestra. Tonight the Divine Comedy is the smallest collection of musicians for a 'pop' concert I think I've ever seen.... Neil and his piano.
Of course, Neil Hannon IS the Divine Comedy (and always has been), but one of the things I've always loved about him\them is the big sound that accompanies so many of their songs. I've not seen a Divine Comedy gig since they officially became a 'one-piece', so there was just a little niggle in the back of my head leading up to this show... could one man and a piano still do these big songs justice?
I needn't have worried, far from taking away from much loved tracks, the stripped down approach somehow added yet another dimension to them. Neil's piano playing is simply stunning, and gives an almost 'classical' feel to many of the songs on show tonight. I was mesmerised as favorite after favourite was given a new lease of life. The piano added an extra layer of intensity to songs old and new, particularly Sweden, The Certainty Of Chance and Our Mutual Friend.Neil does leave the piano for two short sessions where he dons his guitar for a few tunes that suit that instrument better (such as 'Becoming More Like Alfie'). Yet much like the other tunes, they still sound bigger than you would expect. Maybe knowing these songs so well helps, perhaps my brain is filling in the gaps without me knowing!
Hannon is a genuinely charming, intelligent and charismatic performer. His laid back connection with his audience works as effortlessly here in front of almost 3000 people, as it does to 30 punters above a pub. Off the cuff quips are made all evening, and even the odd mistake or false start all just make you love him even more! Fake frustration at the audiences inability to clap along in time to 'At The Indie Disco' make him stop mid song, and in desperation fishes out a metronome from his briefcase. "follow this" he pleads as he sets the thing to the correct beat.... but still they go out of time!
A couple of audience participation pieces work surprisingly well, particularly one rather complex request for us to sing 'La Marseillaise' during the Frog Princess. The 'boys' had to sing it in one key, to be immediately followed by the 'girls' in another key. Despite their inability to clap in time, the audience nails this one right from the off, and I have to say it sounded incredibly effective (I've found a video of it on YouTube, but the rotter has disabled embedding. I'll post a link at the end of this review... see what you think!)
Another request for us all to whistle had Neil commenting he felt like he was on the River Kwai!
I don't think I've ever been to a Divine Comedy show that didn't have a specially prepared cover version (Mr Blue sky was the perfect choice when I was here in the late 90's - making great use of the full band and the full orchestra). Tonight is no exception, and a quirky cover of the Human League's 'Don't You Want Me' is performed. A little later, support act Cathy Davey joins Neil on stage with her guitar for a surprisingly touching duet of 'I Only Have Eyes For You' (well it had more emotion than the Arthur Mullard version from the 1970's at least!).

A final rendition of National Express ensures everyone walks out with a slightly silly grin on their faces... a grin that'll be fix to those faces for several hours once it meets the icy winds awaiting them back on the Embankment! Brrr!

Having seen the Divine Comedy perhaps 40 times or more over the years, I'd rank this up there with some of the very best shows I've seen.

There are only a few of videos from this show on YouTube, and they all seem to have had embedding disabled, but if you fancy a peep you can see them here:

Frog Princess (the first part of the audience participation is at about 2mins 20.... Neil has to help the audience at bit on this one, but the one at about 4mins 20 works brilliantly for over a minute!)

Don't You Want Me

Songs Of Love


Friday, 12 November 2010

Now he is Three!

Yes, Tom turned three last week!

I remember when I blogged his second birthday, and was amazed at the advances he had made in the previous 12 months. But it seems even more so this time. Even at 2, he was still very much a baby, but he really is a fully fledged little boy now, who loves climbing, playing on the swings, going down slides, having adventures with his ever faithful collection of toy cars and much much more.

But of course the biggest revelation since the last post is that I can have a wee chat with the lad now! And boy does he like to chat! He also likes to keep in good contact with friends and family via the phone (landline only I must stress!), although his conversations usually consist of "hello, are you alright? what you doin? see ya later, bub-bye". But it's thoughtful that he made the call none-the-less!

He's also a dab hand at the DVD player... Switches the TV on, switches the DVD player on, selects the disc he fancies, opens the tray, inserts disc and pushes it back in... "push buttons" is his final request to mum or dad to get the thing started! Here are some of his favourite films (with his request in brackets):

Shrek ("watch Reck?")
Shrek 2 ("watch Reck?")
Shrek 3 ("watch Reck?" to be honest, I can't tell the difference between these 3 either!)
Madagascar ("watch gasgas?")
Madagascar 2 ("watch more gasgas?")
Monsters Inc ("watch lil girl?")
Toy Story ("watch toys? Woody? Buzz?")
Toy Story 2 ("watch toys? Woody? Jessie?")
Any Thomas the Tank Engine DVD ("watch choochoo?")
Finding Nemo ("watch Nemo?")
Jungle Book ("watch lady?" erm, yeah, he seems to think Mowgli is a she at the moment!)
Cars ("watch Cars?") This is his favourite, and I dread to think how many times we've seen it!

But don't go thinking you can slip in any old dud from the bottom of the pile... A Sharks Tale?, Bugs Life? or one of dads Banana Splits perhaps? "no want it". Kids eh?!

He's turning into a tall fella too (although those of you who know me, won't be too suprised to hear that!), and despite only turning 3 last week, is already donning the clobber of 4 and 5 year olds. He remains a genuinely cheerful boy, with a great personality. He loves people and is always saying hello and waving at everyone he sees. Of course, this being Essex, his cheery hellos are more often than not ignored. Rotters.

The picture at the top was taken on his birthday, and the others over the last 2 or 3 months.

Happy Birthday Son.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

The King of Cool: 30 Years On

Incredibly, it's 30 years today since Steve McQueen died. 30 years is such a long time, yet the events of that era still seem to be filed in the bit of my brain marked as 'quite recent'.... What a year it was for big name deaths too; John Lennon, Ian Curtis, Alfred Hitchcock, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Mae West, Peter Sellers and Harland Saunders (that's the 'finger lickin' Colonel to you and me!). I vividly remember hearing of Steve McQueen's death, and my mother's shock at the news (he was one of her all time favorites).

The son of a prostitute, McQueen had a tough upbringing. His father left when he was 6 months old, and his mother dumped him with family at the age of 3. He was running with gangs from a young age and getting involved with all sorts of petty crime and robbery. He ended up in a school for wayward boys, and was put in solitary confinement 5 times during his 14 month stay! He continued his life of crime into early adulthood... armed robbery, selling guns, and was even a pimp for a while.

Joining the Marines in the late 40's seemed to be the turning point for McQueen, he responded to the regimental lifestyle and became a law abiding citizen from then on. On leaving the Marines, he learnt to ride a motorbike, and was soon regularly winning races.

He started acting in local plays, and even got a few low key film and TV roles (most notable was the Western Wanted: Dead or Alive). But it was Frank Sinatra who gave him his big break. When Frank temporally fell out with Rat-Packer Sammy Davis Jr, he suggested little known McQueen take the role of Corporal Ringa in the war film 'Never So Few', originally planned for Sammy. McQueen impressed director John Sturges so much so, that he immediately used him again in his next film The Magnificent Seven....

Classic films came thick and fast; Hell is For Heroes, The Great Escape (also for John Sturges), The Sand Pebbles (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, Le Mans and Papillon being just a few.

He remained picky about the roles he took, and as such turned down some classic films; here's just a few of them... Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ocean's Eleven, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, The French Connection and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

McQueen was keen to do all his own stunts, and was only stopped on occasions by his insurers. He did almost all of the bike work in The Great Escape (apart from 'that' leap... which he really wanted to do!), and the legendary car chase in Bullitt (bar just a couple of stunts). In fact, he even dressed as a German to carry out other stunt work in The Great Escape, as the makers were having so much trouble finding stuntmen who were as good as him.

Yet despite becoming one of the world's biggest box office stars, McQueen's real passion remained with bikes and cars, and he would often think about quitting movies to become a professional racer. He would still enter (and win!) races whenever insurers and\or film studios would allow.

McQueen always seemed the real deal, a classic case of 'what you see is what you get'. But away from the movies he was an intensely private man, and was rarely seen or photographed 'off duty'.

Steve McQueen was diagnosed with cancer in 1979, and died 7th November 1980, aged just 50. Thirty years on he remains one of the great Hollywood legends.

In 2007 I chanced on a book in the 'new release' section of my local Waterstones, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile. Written by his third (and final) wife Barbara, it documents the three years they spent together (up until his death in 1980), and is overflowing with private pictures. I snapped it up there and then, and have always been glad I did, as I never saw it again, and it soon went out of print.

Some McQueen fans were angry at Barbara for betraying Steve's privacy, but I welcomed this fascinating insight. It was pitched perfectly, and clearly created by someone who truly adored the man. Something that always intrigued me about McQueen was that he never took a bad photo, he looks great in every one! Well Barbara's book confirmed this - on screen or off, the man was completely photogenic.

Surely the greatest car chase in movie history?

THAT jump (interestingly McQueen is also playing the part of a German chasing himself!)


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Strange Case of Charlie Chaplin and the Mobile Phone

Pretty much all my life I have been a fan of the silent films and early talkies of the true comedy greats... Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton etc etc. I can even go a bit of Charley Chase and the Keystone Cops... Yet arguably the most revered silent comedian of all leaves me completely cold. But I'm not alone, and I struggle to find anyone who actually admits to enjoying his films (yet Stan and Ollie and the others are always mentioned as favourites).

I'm sure it's me who is wrong. He was obviously a comedy genius, but I just don't get it, and have always found his work cold and emotionless (and largely unfunny)... never have I felt any warmth or affection for his 'little tramp' character. Having said all that, I do still own a few of his films, bought back in the early 2000's when they were re-packaged and re-released, in a last ditch attempt to convince myself that he must be brilliant (it didn't work).

But in the last few days I've been watching the extras of a Chaplin film with more interest than I've ever shown any footage relating to the man. It all kicked off last week when eagle-eyed film fan George Clark was running through the bonus features of his Chaplin box set. There, in amongst the many extras for the film 'The Circus', was some footage of the premiere, held at Manns Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. As the camera pans the streets to pick up the atmosphere of the day, into shot walks a portly woman, who for all the world seems to be talking on a mobile phone!!! in 1928!!!

Of course the media have immediately jumped to the only sensible conclusion and declared that the film must have captured a time traveller!!!! (not like them to sensationalise a story is it??!). But it has to be said, it is an odd bit of footage, that I find a little un-nerving to watch (especially in the clips now available when the woman in question has been 'zoomed in' and slowed down). Her mannerisms are completely consistent with those you see every minute of the day whilst walking down the road, and the 'grip' she has on the object is just like that of someone holding a mobile. Oh, and she is definitely talking into it too. The Walkie-Talkie wasn't invented until the 1940s, and transistor radios weren't around until the 1950s, so I have no idea what she could be talking into. Perhaps she was a bit cranky and just talking to herself? Perhaps she was holding the side of her face due to toothache and moving her jaw in pain? I don't know... I guess it's most likely she was a time traveler!

Anyway, have a look for yourself.

Here's the YouTube video that George Clark has posted about his find:

Here is the 'extras' footage from the DVD of the film premiere, held at Manns Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The woman walks by 20 seconds in.

This video concentrates solely on the clip of the woman, replaying it over and over again, whilst zooming in and slowing the footage down (this is the one I find a little creepy!)