The future’s so bright…

There’s something ironic about watching three one-hour films about the influence of modern technology on our lives, recorded via digital TV, and then that old technology they call “Teletext” goes on the fritz, giving us one line of subtitles every 5-10 minutes… Where are modern TVs that use the YouTube algorithm to subtitle programmes on the fly?

Anyway, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. We already had the one where the pig, ahem, and the prime minister, erm, you know. The second episode was broader in choosing its satirical targets: gamification, avatars, Nintendo WiiFit and Miis, micro-transactions, casting shows, all of those were in there. There wasn’t anything terribly original about any of the individual elements – but Brooker and his co-writer and wife Konnie Huq turned “Fifteen Million Merits” into a strangely moving, discomfiting romance with a final twist that, though again not exactly new, worked very well… and Rupert Everett makes a wonderfully hateful mirror-universe Simon Cowell.

I was very much looking forward to the third and final episode, “The Entire History of You”, as I’d been surprised to enjoy the first two as much as I did. The episode was beautifully shot and edited, and the acting was strong as well, but in the end it disappointed, more so than any of the previous ones. My biggest quibble with it is that the central conceit – in the not-too-distant future, almost everyone has an implant, the Grain, that records what people experience and allows for instant playback on any AV setup, complete with zooms and, I’d imagine, instant uploads to YouTube for all of those cute-cat/fat-kid-making-an-arse-of-himself/America’s-funniest-maulings type experiences. So far, so okay… but the entire story, centred on an insecure husband who (rightly) suspects his wife had an affair, does not really depend on the Grain. While the tech, which Black Mirror purportedly is about, may change the exact expression of the protagonist’s anxieties, the story would not have differed in any major way without it. “The National Anthem” (now with more pig!) and “Fifteen Million Merits” were about human foibles, but they depended on technology to highlight how our understanding of public vs. private, self-image, entertainment etc. are shaped by the media we use to express them. Perhaps “History”‘s point was that technology doesn’t screw up people, people screw themselves up, but after the previous episodes had made a strong point that the tech, the media, the platforms do matter, that they do shape us, that would have been a strange point to make.

Still, having watched all of Black Mirror, I’m definitely curious now about Brooker’s Big Brother-inspired, zombie-infested satire Dead Set. Apparently Davina McCall gets munched on by the undead… not that I’d wish that on any TV personality. Except perhaps Ann Coulter, but let’s face it, those brains would be a tad on the nouvelle cuisine side.

In a world…

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat entry – but I was just surfing DVD reviews and was reminded of one of my favourite trailers ever. So, without much further ado, here it is:

What else? I’ve started rewatching The Sopranos, and I’m surprised at how many of the scenes I remember best are actually from the first season. What happened in seasons 2 to 5? (I haven’t seen the final season yet, but I’m very, very curious. From what I’ve heard and read, I could imagine being one of those Hipster Douchebags(tm) who actually like the way the series ended.)

I’ve drunk beers you people wouldn’t believe

Every now and then YouTube disappoints me. Today is one of those days. I was looking for a Guinness ad – one of my favourite TV adverts ever – that makes great use of that song from South Pacific, “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair”, a feminist quip and surreal imagery. There’s fish in there – Dave McKean would’ve liked it.

Why did I want to blog on a Guinness ad anyway? I’ve been re-watching the final cut of Bladerunner, this time with the commentary track. (Ridley Scott commentaries are sometimes interesting but often frustrating; the guy is a great craftsman, but he doesn’t really have much to say that is very interesting, intelligent or enlightening, and he comes across as somewhat arrogant. And the Thelma & Louise commentary is one of the worst I’ve ever forced myself to sit through.) Watching ’80s Rutger Hauer on screen, quite logically I thought of the Guinness ads he did a few years later (ah, the glorious days of Sky Channel), and from that I moved on to a Rutger-less, more fishy ad.

However, since I didn’t find that one, here’s one of the Hauerian adverts – short and sweet, at a point where the pretentiousness had already turned to irony. Enjoy! (And tomorrow I might post something on Buffy or on a comic series I liked rather more than Preacher.)

League of Extraordinary Literary Self-Indulgence, part I

I came to comics fairly late. Of course I read the odd Asterix, Tintin and Disney comicbook when I was a kid, but I never really read those adolescent fantasies with guys in tights and big-breasted caped beauties fighting dastardly villains when not moping about their lovelives.

When I was 26, I went to Glasgow for a few months. Being a literature nerd, one of my favourite pastimes was to go to Waterstone’s (or, on my most nerdy days, Forbidden Planet), grab a book or five, sit down on one of the couches and read. That’s when I came across Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’d heard of it before, and I’d read Gaiman’s Smoke & Mirrors and Good Omens, the novel he’d written with Terry Pratchett. I’d always wanted to check out Sandman, but since I wasn’t into comics… I didn’t. Until Glasgow.

Smoke & Mirrors

And there, within the space of one or two days, I got hooked on Gaiman’s mythopoetic world. (Yes, I’ve always wanted to use the word “mythopoetic”. Now I have. Life suddenly feels empty.) And I started to think, “Hmm. Maybe there’s something about them there comics after all.”

Shortly after I started looking for other comic book authors of similar renown as Gaiman. Names like Mike Mignola came up, or Daniel Clowes, or (of course) Will Eisner. But the name that came up most insistently was Alan Moore. And the titles that were mentioned were Swamp Thing, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Watchmen. So I got started on From Hell, not knowing what to expect – and got hooked. Yup, the book grabbed me pretty much like a sharp hook to my belly, pulling my insides out. But metaphorically. And in a good way.

Ahem. Anyway, after reading V for Vendetta and then Watchmen (rather unsettling, as I read it just after 9/11), I knew that Moore was my kind of writer.

From Hell

 Next: Top 10, Promethea… and the League.

P.S.: Here’s a little bonus, at no additional charge, for the Neil Gaiman fans among you:

Superheroes the world didn’t need

Elephant man! Elephant man! Does whatever an elephant can! Look out – here comes the elephant man!

Okay, I admit it… that was rather bad. Personally, I blame it on the effect of post-New Year’s Eve lack of sleep and a general tendency towards silliness when I’ve just got up. (Those who know me might say that this tendency generally lasts until I go back to bed…)

Elephant Man, together with The Straight Story, is one of the films by David Lynch that even people who don’t know Lynch and wouldn’t sit through five minutes of Lost Highway or Blue Velvet will have heard about. Regardless of this, though, the film is very much a product of Lynch’s aesthetic sensitivities. The many long takes of smoke and textured surfaces that aren’t immediately recognisable, the underlying mechanical sound effects (as if a large engine was powering the film and its world), especially the beginning and the ending. There are moments that recall his earlier works but also his later films. In this respect, Elephant Man feels more obviously like Lynch (if you know his films a bit) than The Straight Story, in which the Lynchian element is a lot more covert.

On a different note: why is it that half the hits to this website come about because people are looking for Miami Vice? Yes, I’ve posted two entries on the movie remake, but I’m surprised that a) people would find Eagles on Pogo Sticks and b)
Miami Vice would be such a popular search term. (Well, I definitely prefer folks getting here googling “miami vice” to those who find the blog googling “panty sniffing”. The latter are also more likely to be disappointed by the actual content of the blog, I think/hope…)

I hate/love YouTube

Okay, time for a short rant. Hey, it means you get a break from me writing gushing love letters to HBO series and mouthing off about films that you’ve either seen yourself or don’t really care about to begin with. (Come to think of it – why are you reading this blog? Chances are I got you to do so by means of emotional blackmail. I’m evil.)

Anyway, here’s my rant. I’ve been working on a project for work for which we solicited short YouTube application videos from people around the world. So far, so good. This afternoon, though, I would gladly have torn YT digital limb from limb. According to human nature, most people are submitting their videos right this fucking minute (I told you it was going to be a rant!), because the deadline is tomorrow. And I have to write back to all of them: “Hi, I received your video, thanks!/Hi, I received your invitation. Where’s your video?/Hi, do you really want to submit that? You might have a better chance posting two minutes of black!” (Okay, I don’t do the latter.)

Okay, rant point no. 1: YouTube has flood control, which means that you can only post four messages and then you have to wait for 10 minutes or so. Not great fun when you’re supposed to be getting back to 50 applicants. However, I get it, YT wants to avoid members getting spammed, and flood control can help with this.

Rant point no. 2, and infinitely greater than the previous one: This afternoon at work, YouTube reacted to 95% of my attempts to send a message by swallowing the said message and pretending I hadn’t written it. No “Your mail has been sent off”. No telltale traces in the “Sent” box. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was roughly like writing a letter, shredding it, writing another letter, shredding it, until it’s no longer fun and you’d rather shove your fingertips in the shredder’s slot.

Yes, I know YouTube is a free service. I also know that without it we couldn’t have done any of this. But this is my blog, so I get to stamp my little feet every now and then and run around screaming “YouTube sucks dead giraffes’ genitalia!” Or something.

This rant was brought to you by “Ritalin? We don’t need no stinking Ritalin!”