Elsewhere: Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fa

I’ve just finished Blitzed! The autobiography of Steve Strange and posted my review to Amazon:

Steve Strange was an icon of the Eighties music scene, a visionary and a leader. I suspect he’s often over-looked but his contribution was vital. His clubs kick-started a movement and the band he fronted, Visage, were pioneers of – what became – the New Romantics: make-up, big hair, big hats and even bigger shirt lapels and cuffs. From the beginning of the decade, and out of the punk movement, came the classic Fade To Gray. Visage and Steve Strange were combining fashion and music in a radical new way.

Blitzed has an informal style which makes it quite readable. Strange name-drops his way through a decade and apologises quite a lot for his behaviour. It’s a cautionary tale of a rise to fame, money mis-management and drug addiction. It’s the story of London squats and club-land rivalry and of a community who knew they were changing nightclubs, the fashion scene and music – and doing it all in a few short years. It is a struggle to stop a man falling over the edge and trying to make sense of a life where once his name was in lights but the money is long gone.

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fall (usually, drink or drug induced). Blitzed is an enjoyable read but Boy George will give you more and Marc Almond will take you further. If you knew the club scene of the time there’s a insight into the door policies of the new breed of Eighties clubs and how they worked. If you are looking for the story of Visage then, obviously, it’s covered here and this will be a valuable reference – but it’s more about the man than the band.

If you remember the decade then you’ll read this book regardless but, sadly, I felt there could have been a little more. Nonetheless, Blitzed reinforces Steve Strange’s rightful place as a leader of a movement who’s certainly not about to fade away.

Elsewhere: The Kenneth Williams Diaries

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book.

In my quest to ensure that I review every book that I read for Amazon (because I find other people’s reviews very useful) I’ve added my latest. It’s for the Kenneth Williams Diaries. I seemed to be reading them for ages – there are forty years worth of entries. It’s interesting for me because, during the time I was reading them I have also been maintaining this blog. While this isn’t quite a diary, the process is very similar and one paragraph in the diaries struck me as interesting:

The preoccupation with diary writing is caused by various things: the desire to keep a record which can be useful later, and committing to paper what can’t be communicated to a mentor … oh! all kinds of reasons, but fundamentally it is about loneliness.

Is it? Maybe it is. Who knows?

The Kenneth Williams Diaries, Edited by Russell Davies (Harper Collins, 1993)

Kenneth Williams DiariesI honestly think Kenneth Williams was unique. He certainly seemed to hate much about himself and didn’t have a great deal of time for a lot of other people. Sadly, the Diaries’ reputation precedes them and I expected more of the bitchiness that he is – supposedly – famed for. Despite that, there is plenty of Kenneth’s acid tongue in this book. His barbs are aimed squarely at his fans, his colleagues and the shows he felt obliged to work in. Some of the most intriguing insights are those that relate to the Carry On film series. Before Carry On made him famous, he was a well-respected stage actor. The Carry On films made him legendary (and wealthy) but he often felt they were beneath him.

Kenneth is well aware of his own nature. On 20 March 1987 he writes, “Everyone was v. nice to me … it is extraordinary that I’m so liked because I’m invariably rude & tetchy” and that sums up much of the book. You get a sense of love for the theatre, plays, and poetry and even for some of the work. However he is also offensive to many and seemed to have few good words for much of British Theatre. Much of the hate is due to an inner turmoil over the lack of companionship in his life (“Never to speak of my love for a man”) and some from the frustrations of his nature. Obsessed by noise and cleanliness the very act of living seems painful – and in the end his illness and genuine pain appear to get too much for him.

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book. Words seem to flow easily which is, perhaps, not surprising for a man who made a living in the final years of his life from his large collection of humorous anecdotes. Spanning over forty years it’s hard to keep track of the players in Kenneth’s life and at 800 pages it’s not a light read. Nevertheless, the diaries are a vivid, malicious and (at times) very funny read into the world of a man who, in his day, was considered outrageous.

Film: Daredevil

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion.

I was very surprised that I did not enjoy Daredevil more. It’s darker and more disturbing than many a super-hero flick and while this, for some, may be the appeal, it just didn’t do it for me. It’s also oddly constructed. We first meet the superhero as he collapses on the floor of a church. Why? Well, he’s half way through a battle with one of the villains – Bullseye (an Irish hitman capable of killing talkative old ladies on planes with nothing more than his finger and a peanut).

And so the film lurches backwards as we are told Matt Murdoch/Daredevil’s story. He grew up with his father -a boxer – and singled out for the bully treatment when he was a kid. Blinded in a dockside accident by a hazardous chemical, Daredevil’s face remains remarkably unmarked as he matures in the talented pro-bono lawyer played by Ben Affleck.

Once the Flashback sequence is over we return to our hero in mid-Organ scaling (as in church organ) battle. Who considered the middle of the narrative a sensible place for us to join? I guess it has worked before, but not here. In true super-hero style, our almost dead star rises and battles to the end. Of course, as in all such movies one wonders why the world hasn’t worked out that Matt Murdoch and Daredevil are the same. They are Ben Affleck in red leather.

Ah, dear Ben. I appear to be in the minority who were not convinced by his portrayal of a super-hero. He was too “leading man in a romantic comedy” for me, despite the tight leather gear which didn’t seem to turn him into the sex-hunk that I thought it might – Chris O’Donnell looks better in tight leather in Batman and Robin. Colin Farrell tries hard to be brutish with sex-appeal and he almost pulls it off, especially considering the target on his forehead isn’t really that great to look at.

I really can’t be sure what made this film fail for me. Maybe it was too dark for a super-hero flick or maybe that the story was not compelling. Maybe it was the fact that at least one villain survived for a sequel in a far too obvious fashion. Daredevil may be a comic hero but you don’t have a super-hero “thing” to latch on to (Superman flies, Spideman has a web and Batman has a utility belt). Daredevil’s other senses are enhanced. Big wow. Maybe it was the violence that felt too real and not comic-book enough or maybe it was that the supporting characters never really moved from being one-dimensional support.

I guess, in the end, I would have been disappointed if this crime-fighter had come to my rescue. I’d have been happy with Batman, thrilled if it was Superman and delighted if Spiderman liberated me. If Ben turned up in red leather I just might have laughed.

Pop

I am currently listening to pop. This is a difficult thing to write. Pop is not considered to be a credible music genre by people who listen to lots of music. Pop is considered the home of the boy band. Pop is the cheap and nasty side of music.

I am currently listening to pop. This is a difficult thing to write. Pop is not considered to be a credible music genre by people who listen to lots of music. Pop is considered the home of the boy band. Pop is the cheap and nasty side of music. People, especially people of my age, should have grown out of pop, but I have not. I enjoy the throw-away nature of it. The three-minute perfect pop song can take you away from your day and, if this week’s other entries are to be believed, away from your fellow commuters.

Actually, I hope, the current music I am listening to is considered the good side of pop (see, I am joining in the criticism of the genre). Not for me the sounds of the Cheeky Girls or S Club Juniors. No, I hope my current selection is a little more discerning.

I own a reasonable amount of music but I don’t purchase CDs weekly like some people. But I am listening to three recent albums which must be the first time that has happened to me in a long while. My current favourite is Justin Timerlake’s Justified. That is followed closely by Erasure’s new release (just last Monday), Other People’s Songs. Finally, I been unable to resist Will Young’s From Now On. Yes, unable to resist!

Continue reading “Pop”

Film: 8 Mile

I have no idea if this in any way reflects real life in downtown Detroit. I have no clue if rap culture is, in any way, well served by his film but it is a great movie which I thoroughly recommend.

I walked out of the Odeon loving Eminem’s 8 Mile. On reflection, I still think this is a great movie. Who cares if it’s Saturday Night Fever or Karate Kid for a new generation? Does Eminem’s apparent turn around about all things gay worry me? Not at all. This is an excellent film. I do, however, have one question, where are all the guns?

I have never visited Detroit nor any of its downtown neighbourhoods. Fortunately, I’ve never been in the middle of any kind of big gang culture. But in this movie, there were two guns (three if you count the paint-ball). One is pulled on Jimmy (Eminem) and one is waved around by Cheddar Bob, who promptly shoots himself while those involved in the gang fight around him look on like they’d never seen a gun. If I were to believe the news media, this place would have been crawling with weapons and Jimmy would have probably pulled several on his attackers. A movie for nice liberal sensibilities? It just struck me as odd. Perhaps it’s real, but it seemed wrong.

That is, however, but a small gripe. Like yesterday’s film, The Good Girl, we have a central character with an apparently dead-end life but dreams of something better. This time, the lead is surrounded by people who believe in him although he doesn’t believe in himself. The final battle, where Jimmy – or Rabbit – proves himself to be great, is a freestyle rap event that is so far removed from anything in my life or frame of reference that I have no idea if it’s believable, amusing or insulting. Having said that, it is a great conclusion to the movie and had me hooked.

Surprisingly, Eminem’s music doesn’t dominate the movie. I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t more. We first hear his musical talents when he sings a lullaby to his sister. A repositioning of man whose music has been the centre of controversy for years? So, if we don’t get to hear much of his music, how does he stand up as an actor? Pretty well, I would have said. His baseball-cap (and hood) mask much of him revealing only a cool, moody, brooding man writing rap lyrics on scraps of paper to music pumped into his head through headphones. As the movies is apparently based on some of his own life, I suspect this wasn’t a great leap for him to play. He does pull it off with conviction and you can take the journey into Jimmy’s world and lose sight of Eminem. I’d be interested to see if he acts again and with the huge box office takings predicted, most will bet he will.

I have no idea if this in any way reflects real life in downtown Detroit. I have no clue if rap culture is, in any way, well served by this film but it is a great movie which I thoroughly recommend even if you are asked to believe that, when life hits rock bottom, you’ll win on the bingo.

Film: The Good Girl

Good. But not good enough. While Aniston is good, she is not great. It seems much of the praise is due to the fact that she is playing against the Friends Rachel-type. She an actress for goodness sake, if she only has that one role she has no career. This role proves she can play against type and, I guess, that means she is an actress.

What has surprised me about Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl, starring Jennifer Aniston, are the generally positive (if not glowing glowing) reviews for this film.

Admittedly this is not quite the Jennifer Aniston vehicle that you would expect from Hollywood right now. It’s no romantic comedy, rather a drama following Justine (Aniston), a woman in a dead-end job in a dead end town, who falls for Jake ‘Donnie Darko’ Gyllenhaal’s Holden Worther. Not much to it so far and certainly not enough reason for the praise.

So, to the plot. Problem one for our lead, Justine is married to a full time stoner (part time painter) played with conviction by John C. Reilly. Problem two, Holden seems to think he is Holden Caulfield, the central character in Catcher in The Rye. If I was to say he was “unhinged” I’d be playing it down. So, cue a crisis of conscience for her and a serious infatuation/breakdown for him.

While Aniston is good, she is not great. It seems much of the praise is due to the fact that she is playing against the Friends Rachel-type. She an actress for goodness sake, if she only has that one role she has no career. This role proves she can play against type and, I guess, that means she is an actress. Her narration is okay but somewhat draining to listen to. Gyllenhaal’s good but, given the characters are odd-balls not a million miles apart, he is not as engaging as he was in Donnie Darko.

I guess it hangs on the believability of the adulterous relationship and, for me, it was not that credible. Perhaps it hangs on the ability for Aniston and Reilly to be a couple at the end, but it’s not convincing. There were words unspoken which should have been spoken. Where are the sparks? Where was the fire and the passion between any of the characters?

Sadly, it lacked the ability to engage me for the one and three-quarter hours. Which meant I started to feel the cinema seat beneath me. At that point, I knew this wasn’t going to be added to my “greatest films” list. Which is a shame. Good. But not good enough.

Donnie Darko

The Guardian said, Is it a horror film? A black comic parable of Generation X angst? A teen drama with a psycho edge? If not, what the hell is it?

Possibly the strangest and most compelling film I have seen all year and it’s not had a great deal of coverage. Donnie Darko’s website is very wierd and I am not sure you’ll get much from that. Tom, on the other hand, raves about it. You can read more reviews here or at The Guardian. I can’t explain it. Go see it.

Inspirational Eden

Tim Smit provides an insight into the group vision that resulted in one of the more successful Millennium projects – Eden. And the fact that it is the work of a committed group of people is not lost on the reader. Smit regularly repeats the mantra that Eden was only developed thanks to the work of a wide range of individuals from contractors to councils, and not forgetting the plant-men.

Tim Smit provides an insight into the group vision that resulted in one of the more successful Millennium projects – Eden. And the fact that it is the work of a committed group of people is not lost on the reader. Smit regularly repeats the mantra that Eden was only developed thanks to the work of a wide range of individuals from contractors to councils, and not forgetting the plant-men.

If you want to understand some details behind the way such projects are developed then this is a book you should read. When the project was floundering while all the funding partners came together then Tim Smit was there and he relives it through the book. Sometimes you wonder how it call came together.

On the other hand, if you are a plant-lover, gardener or horticulturalist then this is also a book you should read. Smit tells the fascinating story of the development of the biome concepts and the plants they chose to grow. More importantly he discusses the relationship between man and the natural surroundings we inhabit; debating our fragile relationship with a range of environments along the way.

However, what you take from this book is a mixture of all of the above. Landscaping, plant husbandry and environmental considerations sit alongside planning, funding, road building and visitor education projects. It’s one man’s personal account rather than a definitive history and the cast of characters seems endless and, sometimes, confusing. However, the determination and vision that drove the project; the commitment and enthusiasm of all the people and the role Eden believes it should be playing on the world stage are all presented in an accessible, very readable account of, what seems to have been, a long but successful process. If this book doesn’t inspire you to aim higher and better, then nothing will.Buy Eden at Amazon.co.uk

Elsewhere: Everything Taboo

I thought Taboo was fantastic and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I went to see Boy George’s Taboo last Friday and have been contemplating the blog entry ever since. I have to say that I thought that it was fabulous and I want to see it again (I even ordered the soundtrack last night!). It’s a fictional account of a lot of real people but most of the plot must be based on Boy George’s own life story as I recognised may of the characters and plot lines from his book Take It Like A Man. Obviously, he is a key (though not the central) character. I would thoroughly recommend to this anybody visiting London regardless of the way you feel about Boy George. It’s a strange time capsule of a musical and his songs are great – although several of them are old (some of which are taken from the under-rated album Cheapness and Beauty which I regard as one of the best of all time). The story is tender, the performances top-rate and the whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny (especially, Julian Clary). Lastmiunte.com often has cut-price tickets a few days before a show. Go see it. Often.

I also posted a review to the musical fan group at Yahoo! This is what I wrote:

I thought Taboo was fantastic – and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I am a big fan of Boy George’s more recent albums – Cheapness and Beauty is one of my all time favourites. When I heard some of the songs were being reworked for the show I was worried. Luckily, few have been re-penned and those that have been re-done are still as good as they are on the CD (although different). I was stunned by how much the mannerisms of the Boy George character seem to be like the Boy George we see on TV etc. It was a remarkable performance. Duncan Bennett as Billy was superb (was he really in the band Point Break? I don’t remember him) as well as being some appealing eye candy 😉 It was a thoroughly entertaining night out and I would recommend it to anybody.

Julian Clary was superb and, of course, looked stunning in those Leigh costumes. I would be interested to see how other people play the part as he put his own stamp on it without it seeming to be too Julian Clary.

I’ve ordered the CD – the cheapest I could find it was £10.99 at play.com – although it was on back order I notice tonight that they have posted it to me. I’m sure the CD doesn’t do the show justice (they rarely do) but I hope it will be brilliant anyway! Lastminute.com always seems to have discounts on top price tickets. I bought the cheaper seats direct from the box office and, to be honest, I think my view was as good as anybody with the more expensive ones (the theatre isn’t really large enough for it to make a difference). However, Lastminute’s discount seats are even cheaper and I shall certainly be going again.

[Links: BBC News – George breaks 80s Taboo | BBC News – Matt Lucas’s comic extremes | Guardian – We were so naughty | I Love the 80s]