Shooting Baskets

20 August 2007

Late last night in a hotel room at Heathrow before a very early flight this morning. The non-neighbourhood of the airport, a featureless maze of bunker-buildings, offices, and thrown-up hotels, these offering luxury as approximated by guidelines from central planning (= leather-look sofas, foyer coffee franchise, 'art on the walls', and overpriced wifi).

Outside the roads are named as if they're the residential streets of some generic suburb, although here, even more than there, the names serve more to make them seem less like real places, not more. It's a weird vibe right now in the non-area anyhow. When we arrived in the late afternoon we passed an especially non-descript building (think above-ground annex to an underground car park), ringed with the grim garland of guys bearing riot shields, their heads hidden in helmets and visors. The HQ of the BAA apparently, and near it the shrub surrounded car park, with protestors hemmed in. Tents and polythene shelters. A scale model Glastonbury but no stage. After dusk the anonymous mini-roads are haunted with stray climate change protestors spilling out from the temporary camp nearby, also vans of cops in uniforms and yellow-flouro jackets, many of the latter parked up at the drive-in McDonalds, enjoying a chat, the night, a break in the fighting and the rain. Much later in the night, when we pass the small encampment again, one lone guy at its floodlit periphery is bouncing a football, shooting baskets to a non-existent hoop against a high and security-camera-ed wall.

It Still Counts

16 August 2007

"It still counts, even though it happened when he was unconscious.."

Some kind of unofficial Miranda July week at my house, for no particular reason. I've been reading her short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You (which incidentally has a very nice and much pointed-to website), then yesterday watched Me, You and Everyone We Know, the 2005 feature film she wrote/directed/performs in. The film's not based on the book, but the tone, the broad feel of the world and the kinds of figures in it are pretty close.

Predictably the big switch from one to the other is interior to exterior – characters whose (narrating) heads we'd be totally trapped inside in the stories are more like passers-by in the film; quirky strangers, seen at some distance. The depth of the protagonists' dysfunction, their deep misapprehensions and delusions about the world, the traps they've built for themselves (in language and bad logic) are the space we live in on the page,  dense, tangled and interior, where the movie (think alt-lite) is forced to show everything as external action and symptom.

I missed the first-person voices (she's great at them and it's not quite the same when rendered as mono or dialogue), though the only-just-tenable situations, caught in fragile stasis or suspension, are still there. The stories reminded me vaguely of what I was doing with Forced Entertainment in The Voices  a few of the monologues from which also made their way into the videos Kent Beeson…, So Small and Erasure. July's stories are lighter touch, more complex dynamic structures though. There's a combination of comedy and darkness to the characters, as though in amongst the urban/suburban absurdity, something terrible, cruel or violent, or something disproportionately sad is always lurking. Even when the stories drift through quirky towards cute or cookie there's enough of this foreboding to make them feel much more substantial. I like the stories a lot – The Swim Team is current favourite.

Stoical Abstraction

"One of the natural consequences of the excesses is that some entities will cease to exist."

US treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, quoted in The Guardian in gloomy, if stoically abstracted mood about the current stock market movements, which is either a crash, a slump, a spiral, a repricing or a rapid unwinding of risk, depending on who you're listening to.

Exuberant Nuisance

15 August 2007

He had marked me out as the man who would write the history of Joy Division. I initially resisted the role, annoyed that he was putting me in a place where he wanted me to be. His presumption that everyone would fall in with his version of events could make him seem like a bully. Even as it was happening, he seemed to know that 25 years later there would be films, and documentaries, and books about this story, which was both his story, and not his story. He realised more than I did that I would be writing about this period, from the Sex Pistols in Manchester to the death of Ian Curtis, for the rest of my life, hunting down the meaning of it all, following the clues that Wilson alone seemed to leave.

Reading Paul Morely's obituary and then article about the "exuberant nuisance" Anthony H Wilson. I liked Morely's sense above that he lived through something, the significance of which only became clear to him later – that sense of life lived in the present as a blind machine laying traps and possibilities for the future. Only later – in the moments of return (personal or communal) – do our guesses on the weight of things get confirmed or denied.

Also, and slightly different to the above, that strange sense in which lived experience comes to value, not as its lived, but in the future – at the point of its being history, and therefore (these days) potential commodity, cultural capital. The present as a machine for eating the past.

Flattened to Fit Paper

13 August 2007

Chatting with Vlatka who reported this from a book she's reading about Francesca Woodman:

12/08/2007 00:00
its a quote from her diary
12/08/2007 00:01
she's talking abt photographing charlie
12/08/2007 00:01
who was a professional model at risd
12/08/2007 00:01
(where she went to school)
12/08/2007 00:02
and she says
12/08/2007 00:02
'I guess he knows a lot about being flattened to fit paper'
12/08/2007 00:03
so she did a series of portraits of him
12/08/2007 00:03
where hes being flattened
12/08/2007 00:03
against a pane of glass


12 August 2007

Watching Lars von Trier's film The Five Obstructions (2003) last night and laughing out loud at the third Obstruction. For the film Von Trier makes an agreement with sixties film maker Jørgen Leth that the latter will remake his rather stylish/minimalist/conceptual work The Perfect Human / Det perfekte menneske (1967) five times; each version in adherence to a different set of instructions, rules or prohibitions determined by Von Trier. One rule for the First Obstruction is that Leth must use edits of no more than 12 frames, another that he must provide answers to all of the rhetorical/poetic questions posed by the voiceover used in the original version. Rules for the second obstruction include a demand that Leth go to 'an terrible place on Earth, a terrible situation' and make a version of his film there, *without* showing anything of the reality he encounters.

It's this last rule that gets Leth into trouble with Von Trier and which prompts him (already playing up as a kind of whimsical tyrant) to punish Leth. His first inclination is to tell Leth to go straight back to Bombay and simply make the film again, only this time to do so *strictly* in accordance with the rules. This seems appropriate, or predictable in Von Trier's general mode of humorous sadism, but then he chances on much a better punishment; decreeing simply that Leth must re-make the movie again, but this time with complete artistic freedom, without obstructions. 

Leth's very much the star of the movie. His slightly bumbling good humour, calm and stoicism in approaching the tasks is pretty remarkable. Perhaps the most touching thing though, is watching how, in making each of the Obstructions Leth always gets inspired. Even as he works through the most miserable and tedious constrictions you always see him starting to get excited, seeing chinks of light in the darkness – always sensing the possibility that somehow, despite everything, he might just find have found a really good solution, or make a really good film.

Photos and Names

10 August 2007

Tim Etchells and Adrian Heathfield

At Hugo’s for a couple of days, which in part involves a speedy photo-shoot of Adrian Heathfield and I, for a project we’re working on in Vienna later in the year. Photos against a black screen held up on poles that stands on the tarmac outside the open double doors of the studio. Natural light. While Hugo shoots, his son L. runs around the place, a human ‘watch the birdie device’ that keeps our focus in constant motion. For photos I can do maybe three varieties of not-really-smiling. Sometimes though (but not here) I manage to look as though I might be nice, or even kind.


Hugo said a while back that the most recent Douglas Coupland book Jpod has a page using the names of the developers of Photoshop; names which you see on-screen each time the programme starts-up. Weird ‘cos for a long time I’ve really wanted to do a story using them – I love it that the names Thomas Knoll, Seetharaman Naraynanan etc etc have a kind of ghost familiarity for many people, just from seeing them there as they slip by during Photoshop’s start up sequence. I’m pretty obsessed with names as a way to tell stories – the Forced Entertainment piece 12am: Awake & Looking Down is all names in combinations and the video Starfucker is simply a list of Hollywood A and B list celebs each involved in strange, dangerous or banal events. A kind of minimalist short story I’ve been working on for ages – titled The Chapter – is basically the membership list for a fictitious motorcycle outlaw gang. A version of the story was published ages ago at Another Magazine, but I’m still adding names and nick-names to the list which is now comprises something like 1,500 bikers and their girlfriends.

Once upon a time there were a group of Hells Angels called Dave, Skull, Chip, Twig, Mr Max, Mender, Davey, Rocko, Tommy, Whimple, Turkey Neck, Cooler, Kev, Porker, The Big Lift, Freddie, Ed, Hamster, Doggo, Norman, Mr Peach, Sandy, Crapper, Bender, Twister, Mental, Boner, Leathers, The Old Man, Randy Andy, Reefer, Smackhead, Lifer, Dodgy, Crackerjack, Speedo, Greaser, Handy, Viper, Dustbin, Paul O’ Grady, Piper, Bonnio, Beergut, Shandy, Bezzer, Boolio, Fritz, Dr Who, Punt, Jarvis, The Wilmslow Boy, Charlie, Tiny, Cookie, Sparrow, Benton, Burger, Jobbo, Sharko, Scalpel, Dickhead, Tanker, Bongo, Dongle, Donut, Dibble, Grudge Bucket, Skippy, Rommel, Shithouse…


8 August 2007

The New York Times has a nice long piece on Ant Hampton and Rotozaza here. It’s great to see the work getting attention. Can’t remember but NYT may require a log-in  to read stuff, in which case I’m sorry – at least you only have to do it once.

The troupe had already been practicing an unusual brand of cerebral theater, building darkly psychological dramas about surveillance, communication and modern love that use a mix of actors and unrehearsed guest performers who are told what to do and say by an Orwellian voice offstage. This chilling aesthetic is based on a certain uneasy ambiguity among viewers over whether a guest performer knows the script or is just following instructions.

But if the line between audience and performer seems blurred, Rotozaza’s new drama, “Etiquette,” which they created with Paul Bennun, erases it entirely.


This afternoon at the Star Wars exhibition with S.

Weird to be somewhere so very like a museum for something that doesn’t even exist,  which never existed. The artefacts are all there though, in their dim-lit cabinets, with all their labels and explanations in three European languages, so you more or less have to accept it.

But perhaps what’s even more strange than the exaggerated/mock reality the films are afforded here, is to somehow imagine the opposite. To think that on a certain day in the early 1980’s someone called George Lucas sat down and hand-wrote a ten page outline for a film that had not yet been made and called it Star Wars. And that subsequently he and certain other people sat down to imagine the characters, locations and objects of its world – making drawings and plans of what they might look like, going through versions until they were happy with these plans. I say this is strange because it can seem from the current moment, that these things must have always been known. It’s so familiar, so much part of the background these last twenty odd years, even though I’m not remotely a fan of the films. To think that it all had to be invented, even to imagine that it might have turned out otherwise, to see it as something other than a cultural given, is minor-league unsettling, like one of those first incidents that plague characters near the start of Philip K. Dick novels, before they really start to go crazy.