Art Stuff

Internet Regained: Fargo 3


By lunchtime Monday, the web service had been restored. Full marks to the engineer with his little meter box and fibre optic joinery stuff.

The first thing I did that evening was begin Fargo series 3. I’ve yet to see the movie on which the series is based but so far it looks like a case of diminishing returns. I quite enjoyed series 1 with Billy Bob Thornton doing his weirdo freelancing hitman thing. Even Martin Freeman’s hammy and exaggerated portrayal of put-upon nerdy Lester wasn’t too off putting. It was a strong narrative and a good cast.

Series 2 was one of those “prequel” schticks. In my view, this tends to be a fail. Why do we need the backstory after the main event? It happens to much; in movies mainly.

Ted Danson starred in this one, reminiscent of the bald eagle from the Muppet Show, and the Hank’s boy – a veritable chip off the old block. I suppose sharing the same title, Fargo, there would be similarities in character portrayals and overall style, but I saw it as a watered down version of the first.

For two episodes of series 3, I had been distracted by the way these Americans interchange their “o” and “a”- “I’ll coll the caps an ya”; “you wont same hat caffee?” “where’s the porking lat?” – and the facial familiarity of one of the main players – the parking lot entrepreneur. Where have I seen him before?

Of course, I recognised Thewlis, the villain, straightaway. “From America”, he says when asked where he’s from, but they left him with his regional English accent; sounding peculiarly odd-fish but possibly an effectively clever move by the makers. But that other guy?!

Up it comes in the credits: Ewan McGregor… of course it is! Now you say it! It’s the black, curly-permed hairdo they’ve given him which had me fooled, looking like the younger brother of Bob Ross. I feel I have underestimated the McGregor; he’s not a bad actor.

(my definition of a good actor is one I don’t immediately recognise)

The Weekend We Lost The Web (and turned to the telly)

I broke our broadband on Friday; the service provider only works weekdays – and I don’t blame them – so for two evenings we turned to the telly for entertainment.

It’s amazing how memory works; we remembered exactly what to do. You hold a slim, black device with buttons on the top; you point this in the general direction of the telly and repeatedly press a button while saying, “there’s absolutely nothing on”.

Remember in Britain – before we were called the UK – when we had three channels and you could find a film, a play, a sit-com, a comedy sketch show, or a documentary to watch? How did they do that?

And you’d go to bed – early, because they all closed down at half past eleven – feeling thoroughly entertained and informed. And I think those two words were in the TV charter; if not a guarantee then at least a firm promise.

We watched Gogglebox. If you don’t know Gogglebox, it’s a collection of “ordinary members of the public” filmed in their home, watching and commenting on the same programmes. The big advantage for the rest of us watching Gogglebox must be that we don’t have to watch the programmes they’re watching. They’ll be the worst of programmes which always elicit the best comments. Or if they’re not too bad, you’ll get to watch the highlights, which elicit the best reactions. And that’s all you need.

But the best and ironic thing about Gogglebox is when the “ordinary members” go off script and get up to things which have nothing to do with watching the programmes.

I don’t know how much the “ordinaries” get paid but the whole thing confirms the ridiculousness of what might be termed “The Gary Lineker Factor”. This is where the BBC insist they have to pay a celebrity near to, or in excess of, a million pounds per annum for evermore, out of taxpayers money.

But Gogglebox clearly shows there are no shortage of “ordinaries” who are willing to go in front of camera and do an adequate job.

Mind you, if that’s how The One Show’s Alex Jones was recruited, I’ll eat my words.

It begins with a movie…

I was in the mood last night to watch a movie. Mary Magdalene is currently on All4 on-demand so I chose this; but it is one of these films were the director thought it was okay for the actors to mumble their lines during softly spoken moments. I find this irritating so I gave up on it after thirty minutes and switched to an old movie – Fear No More – which I found on Youtube. Even though this was a bit of a B-movie, and one of the principal actors had a distinct accent which suggested English wasn’t his first language, there was no lack of clarity in the dialogues.

Scientific Jesus – 5’ 5” in stockinged feet

This morning, my curiosity of Mary Magdalene had the better of me and I googled it to see how it had been received by critics. Across the board, it averaged 45-50% which is about right, though most criticism was concerned with its dullness, or “toothless” portrayals of the gospel narratives.

Reading further accounts of Mary herself, I hadn’t realised how important a figure she was in the Jesus story – the apostles’ apostle. Her name is written more times in scripture than those of most of his disciples. Later patriarchal christianity turned against her, conflating her character with that of another Mary, a fallen woman, a possible prostitute. This myth still carries weight in some quarters.

Contrary to her portrayal in the movie – as a simple working fisherwoman, seen on the beach, mending holes in nets – some accounts say she was likely a wealthy woman and had supported Jesus in his mission.

Jesus in the film is played by Joaquin Phoenix, so its Jesus looks a lot like Johnny Cash; in his hippy period, no doubt. He looked a lot older than his early thirties too, I thought. (Released in 2018, Phoenix would have been 43.) But it was the unkempt long hair and beard which was the problem. Had wardrobe not kept abreast of the news?

Not much is written about his appearance in the gospels but the prophecy of Isaiah has him as a disfigured man people would turn their face against. Of course, Christianity – a simple faith for simple minds to understand – wouldn’t understand that and so over the centuries, Jesus has been depicted not as an especially unhandsome dude, but looking a bit like you, or me.

Joaquin’s sun-blocked, ageing hippy Jesus

It’s quite a surprise – though not shocking – to see how science portrays the man based on all available evidence and assessments: a shortish, thick set man, dark olive skinned, and with short hair and a trimmed beard. Far from turning away from the sight of him, you’d probably not notice him at all in a crowd. If he was a wanted man, the authorities would need for someone who knew him to point him out amongst the rest. Hmm.

Here is a post in Medium about the visual depiction of Jesus which provided some material for this post.

I like the comments Medium readers leave; this one, I thought, was particularly funny,

“Respectfully, it should be pointed out that Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. If we accept this premise, wouldn’t he have looked something like his father?”

It reminds me of a story my Mum tells us of a nativity play at some junior school in the 60s. The kids all had parts to play, the more confident and reliable ones play the parts with the most lines to memorise.

A boy – playing the principal shepherd, I think – was much more confident than his memory was reliable. Looking into the manger, he forgot his given line and no amount of off-stage whispered prompting from teacher could bring them to mind. So he improvised and said, in the clearest voice, what he must have heard adults say to new parents many a time,

“Ooh! Doesn’t he look like his father!”

He brought the house down.

Wall #8

I find myself in the mood to compile another of these wall thingies from my Youtube viewings. Unfortunately, the barrel is almost drained of the better content and I could be rightly accused of scraping its bottom noisily, and for that I apologise. Nevertheless, my mood hadn’t diminished enough after some consolidation so here’s a wall,

Following hot and spicy on the heels of my last post on the dangers of Alabama Yoga turning schoolchildren onto Hinduism, this olde worlde cinema advert showed up. For the love of a good curry… washed down with the traditional pint of Indian draught brown ale (say, what?)

It will be nostalgically familiar to any Brit who remembers the flicks before the multiplexes took over. The ad seemed to be a stock film shown regardless in which town’s cinema it featured; only the address card at the end was bespoke and matched the location – “less than 100 yards from this cinema!

A young Bob Mortimer stars in this old telly ad for the new thing that was telephone banking. I remember the long queues in banks: I was paid weekly by cheque as a freelancer and had to traipse to the bank to deposit it, every Thursday lunchtime, along with the rest of hoi polloi.

Since opting for online banking, I’ve rarely set foot in a bank. The last time I did, I had to step aside for the tumbleweed. How times change…

But the thing which caught my attention in the ad was the tune playing in the background. It took me a while but I eventually recognised it as The Theme from Gurney Slade.

So I discovered this ditty was by Max Harris & His Group (I wonder if this was ironic or that they simply couldn’t come up with a name for the combo and thought The Max Harris Band was too cliché).

I wholeheartedly recommend The Strange World of Gurney Slade and would have liked to include a link to the series here. I caught the whole show on Youtube some years back but, disappointingly, it seems to have been taken down. Bad luck!

It was a 60s comedy show made for Anthony Newley and, arguably, as comedy was ahead of its time. Being ahead of its time probably did for it: it comprised only six episodes and in the latter ones, it turns in on itself debating its own existence. Philosophical surrealist comedy. Who else was doing this in the early 60s?

I watched the 60 minute documentary on the history of Slade, the black country glam-rock band. They tried to gain popularity in the States but the Americans found them too exuberant; the country was suffering from an epidemic of pessimism and problems of pathological introspection. Apparently. Unfortunately, it was too early in pop history to send them Radiohead.

You can see the doc on Youtube if you hurry, but here I’ve just included a clip from BBC’s Top of the Pops, 1973, were the guys entertain us with one of their no. 1 six hit singles, Cum On Feel The Noize.

It’s surprisingly well covered this song; even Oasis had a go, but no one sings it like Noddy did.

I’ve noticed a lot of these telly parodies coming up on the recommendation page at Youtube. It seems to be the work of one channel and the target audience is the one who’ll appreciate the Taste of India cinema ad. Millennials will be bemused. Gen Z..well, er, no… Still, anyone can appreciate the made-up names in the phoney chart rundown.

Where did they find those clips of those totally uncool bands? Is “uncool” uncool now? What will we parody in another generation’s time? Does anyone care?

Is Abstract Art Dead?

…and other casual ponders this week.

Is Abstract Art Dead?

Garden Leaves, 1955 | Patrick Heron

I’ve been recommended a Youtube channel of art tutorial videos. It’s one of my interests. The first one I saw was on composition and I inferred from what the tutor said offhand that “representational” art is the thing now – in opposition to “abstract” art.

Abstract art has had a good innings though, hasn’t it? A bit like rock music.

I once worked with a guy who said he had an art exhibition coming up. I was more than intrigued as we were all professional engineers. Keen to see his paintings, he showed me a picture of a painting another colleague had bought from him. It was an abstract; swirls of rainbow colours melding into one another. The colleague who bought it had actually commissioned it specifically for his living room; he didn’t say it went with the colour scheme and soft furnishings but you couldn’t help reading between those lines.

Though there’s not a lot wrong in abstract painting, I thought engineers lent more towards draughtsmanship in their art appreciation.

Centre aligned verse

‘O, ragged ‘edges…’

What is that about? Before blogging poetry, the only centre aligned verse I saw, or expected to see, was the doggerel or sentimental rhyme inside a greetings card. Imagine, a person possessing some poetical bent is actually employed to compose such things. Can there be a less esteemed occupation? Are there school leavers who, when interviewed by a careers tutor, express a desire to follow a path in birthday card verse writing?

I’m reminded of the scene in Cemetery Junction, when Ricky Gervais’ character tells his MIL he’s is in work: as a window cleaner!

“That’s not work,” she says, “that’s begging!”

Sorry, I digress. What is centre alignment supposed to communicate to the reader, that the poet needs them to know?

Ragged Margins

On each side we see
the ragged margins
the hedge cutter has left
this way, this morning;
his mind on higher things.

Mobile Block Editor = Better Sanity

Many WP bloggers still don’t like the New Block Editor. I didn’t get this – other than the general conservative view that the “old, tried and trusted” is like a comfort pillow. Or an opiate.

Then I looked at it on the laptop and found out the problem: it’s way over-egged for a blogger’s use.

I was in ignorance of all this having used a tablet all this time. The mobile app is a pared down version and I suspect specifically designed for the blogger.

It still needs a few workarounds but I found even the “Classic” editor needed some of those too; nothing’s perfect and there is no one-size-fits-all. What you don’t see won’t worry you. Make it easy on yourself and do it on a mobile app.

Funny Animation

A funny occurrence on Youtube is when an old video from way back resurfaces for some unknown reason. It happens quite a bit judging from the comments; these all start from years ago and then very recent ones appear saying the same thing: “why is this [old video] suddenly trending?” This one dates from 2016 yet now trending.

Another thing is more often than not I find a hyped up title. Not so in this case. Actually, it should be Funny Animations. I really liked the wildebeests; I loved the dog; hey, I liked them all.

Wall #6

Billy Liar, actually Billy Fisher, a creation of the writer Keith Waterhouse, is a fantasist- dreamer, much to the chagrin of his father and employers. In the 60s film adaptation, he’s played by Tom Courtney, one of the brilliant young British actors from the 60s who is still with us.

Shadrack, the undertaker-in-charge, is played by Leonard Rossiter, who seems to have had a face which began life in middle-aged and didn’t venture much from it afterwards.

I did have a notion briefly to do a whole wall of cover songs, being always interested in how musicians approach the work of well-known songs. I decided not to though I’ve included two here and a kind of cover-analysis of another.

The first is a version of Hendrix’s Little Wing. This is probably my favourite of his though I’d insist on the live performance at The Royal Albert Hall over the studio recording. That’s a tough one to beat though it’s been tried a few times by eminent guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. No one is better than Hendrix at the RAH.

You have to approach it differently; I feel this is the secret to good covers. I like this mandolin version. Also, the same musician plays what looks like a bass ukulele, or bassulele, (I may be wrong) and a cajón. So different approach and it works.

In the previous wall, I included a video from the short film channel, Omeleto. Another great short film channel is Future Shorts.

La Migala is a tale about an arachnophobe trying to cure himself by drastic means. Does it work? Watch and see!

Take Five is probably one of the most familiar jazz tunes. It’s melody was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Drummer Joe Morello was playing around with beats in 5/4 time as an alternative to the usual standard 4/4; the story goes that he was bored of 4/4 all the time. On hearing the beat, Brubeck asked Desmond whether he could write something to go with it. That is Take Five.

This video isn’t so much a cover – and a pretty good one at that – it’s more an appreciative analysis of the song. Joe Morello was a superb drummer but I like this guy’s style too.

The Five Minute Interview was a pretty good thing in my view. I’m in two minds about so-called chat shows, from Parkinson to Jonathan Ross, they seem such desperate affairs to get disinterested celebrities, out of their comfort zone, to entertain us for fifteen minutes or more under the direction of an inept and ill-informed inquisitor. My two minds are roughly split 70/30 against it.

Brian Sewell was a much misinterpreted man, and he knew it. I suspect he was quickly judged on his voice and his apparent self-confidence. He was though an exceptionally informed art historian and critic. He was also socially minded, winning the Orwell prize for his essays on a wide range of issues other than art; he said he preferred writing about those subjects more than writing about art.

I’m finishing the wall with a third cover version; it’s another familiar song: Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.

I don’t know much at all about Little Boots but judging by her performance, she can sing and play. What’s more, her voice suits the lyrics and the minimalist piano accompaniment gives something more to the song than the original recording with its many instruments.

Wall #5

Another wall of videos I’ve collected from Youtube. I appear to have saved a lot of videos over the years – decades by now, I imagine – and looking over these I had this idea about theme walls: there were plenty of interesting song covers; clips from feature films; many film shorts; philosophy; art; extraordinary science; ordinary science!

But then I thought, that’s the opposite to how I watch Youtube and how I’ve come across these ones to save. It’s a jumble, a random, some might say eclectic. Homogeneity, it ain’t, so there.

I think I’ve mentioned, and included, stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee, before. The first video, on which Lee narrates, is a sweet little documentary about repair shops in Hackney, a suburb of east London.

Long ago – well, not too long ago – things used to be repaired when they broke or malfunctioned, as a first step before considering a replacement. Somewhere during the past forty years, this tradition diminished significantly and we became what’s sometimes referred to as a throwaway culture.

And now the savvy are saying we’re paying for this careless extravagance. We may need to return to prior methods; it’s encouraging to see not everyone has forgotten the skills.

Geoff Marshall has made a series of these “the secrets of…” aesthetic eye tours of the stations of the lines of the London Underground. The Central Line was my line, the nearest station about a fifteen minutes walk. I could have walked to the Piccadilly Line (25 minutes) or the Metropolitan Line (25 minutes), but the Central, as it’s name implies, got you into the centre of London in the shortest time.

I admit, I took a lot of it for granted and wasn’t too interested in the architecture of stations aa a youth. M has done his homework and delivers a good job.

I’m always fascinated by stop-frame animation (you can keep CGI animation: no skill, not interested), and I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t had a small go at a flip-book, probably drawing in the corner of a pocket book or diary.

This guy from Andymation takes it to another level, even composing a storyline. Follow the dots, it’s amazing.

Ever wondered about that equation giving the area of a circle?

A = 2πr^2

The definition of π is simply the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter (or to twice its radius). But what about that area equation! Dark magic, eh?

I love mathematics and teacher Eddie Woo explains it simply and brilliantly.

Omeleto is one of a few channels on Youtube dedicated to very good short film dramas. I liked this one about the difficulty an orthodox jewish woman has with a secret sex toy during Shabbat.

I’m not Jewish but I understand for the orthodox followers, it is forbidden to work or cause work to be done during their Sabbath.

I’ll finish up with a piece of unusual music; that is, music not normally heard on the mainstream. There’s often something pleasingly mesmeric yet playful about Steve Reich’s compositions, especially pieces for multiple instruments of the same kind. Enjoy two marimbas played by the duo, Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins.

5 Dramas for 2020

I’ve posted on films and series I’ve enjoyed this year over on another blog, but here Dr. Tanya of Salted Caramel blog asks for the 5 Best Watched in 2020.

I have never bought into a subscription service. I’m often at the point of doing so when a lot of good stuff gets put up for free and I have a principle never to give billionaires my cash if there’s another way.

For the past ten or so years, I’ve found the BBC offerings dire and dull, but we have a second public broadcaster, Channel 4, which is excellent. In my view, it’s better because it’s less “family-orientated” and more adult-themed (though not pornographic (well, it comes close sometimes)); the BBC has lost its courage.

So Channel 4 has a sub-channel dedicated to international TV dramas and series and this is what I’ll watch. The best of this year has been,

5. Beyond Appearances

Both the Belgians and the French do exceptionally good dramas, it’s a wonder why we don’t see as many of them as we do Scandinavian ones on our British tellies. As my no.1 is Belgian, I should pick out a French one from all those I’ve seen this year.

This one begins with an attention grabbing scene of a tall, attractive blonde woman in a long red evening dress split to her thigh, pulling along a wheelie suitcase down a deserted country road. On top of it all, it’s clearly mid-Winter: the surrounding scenery is laden with snow.

It’s a story of an apparent suicide of one of two sisters: one successful and famous, the other supportive yet constantly in the other’s shadow. Which was which? That’s the mystery.

4. The Sect

Rural Russia is like the old wild west in this drama about secret and remote cults. A woman, an ex-cultist, teams up with an expert in rescuing vulnerable persons from cult societies. They are payed by a wealthy couple to retrieve their indoctrinated daughter from a sinister and abusive cult.

Meanwhile, the ex-cultist’s own daughter is abducted by her father, himself still a leader of another cult but with a totally different agenda. The rescued daughter from the first cult then assists in rescuing the other girl.

If all this sounds confusing, it’s not so in the drama’s play-out.

3. The Same Sky

This a German espionage drama set in Berlin in the 60s. An East German agent is sent into West Berlin on a Romeo assignment, to seduce an older woman in order to extract secret information from her. This is his first job after training. He has a thuggish though experienced contact in West Germany who constantly pushes him against his comfort boundaries. If he fails, there could be dire consequences at home; if he succeeds, there could be rewards.

When by chance things go wrong, he has to work on his initiative to succeed and not be sent home. It’s a gripping drama depicting stark differences between the society and politics of East and West Germany.

2. Pustina

Pustina is a small village community in the Czech Republic. “Pustina” also means wasteland. It’s a deprived community with a lot of unemployment yet the villages are being offering considerable sums for their homes by a Polish mining company which wishes to expand their open-cast coal mining operations.

The mayor is leading a minority view, campaigning to conserve the village of their ancestors and roots; the majority want to take the offer and improve their lives. It’s all or nothing as far as the politics goes.

Then the mayor’s young daughter goes missing on her way home from school. Suspicions fly. A by-the-book police detective is assigned but the mother, father and elder sister are naturally fearful and dissatisfied; the father, estranged due to mental health, is also a suspect.

It’s a good story but the most impressive thing about this telly drama is the cinematography. Despite being the so-called Wasteland, the camerawork makes it beautiful and interesting; every scene is a work of art. It’s rare in film and even more so in a mere telly production.

1. The Twelve

In this drama centred around members of a Belgian jury hearing a trial of an estranged mother accused of murdering her child, and previously murdering her best friend years before reopened from a cold case.

Each jury member has a current personal problem or a event from the past which potentially prejudices their view.

It’s a strong, realistic and convincing drama with an underplayed though shocking twist at the end. The best TV drama I’ve seen in a long time.

What is it?

Some months ago, I was tidying up my WP blogs using the WP iOS mobile app and I noticed by the side of each title listed this symbol (see right). I found out by chance that it could be replaced with a personal choice, and each blog listed could have a different image; so I did that for a laugh, selecting a likely image already in my photo library.

I didn’t think it did much, if anything at all, and continued tidying the blogs. You don’t look at your own blogs as a reader – at least I don’t – and it passed from my mind.

I use the app’s own in-built Reader to follow fellow bloggers and today I noticed this symbol appears at the header of some blogs whereas others have a personalised image; they’re still circular and the same size as the default one.

So out of curiosity, I opened my blogs in the Reader and there were my randomly chosen images, made circular by some unknown process, at the header of each blog! Yes, I thought that would interest you.

The question I have is; what the hell is that default image supposed to be?

– A shield from the Trojan period?

– A dragon’s silhouette as it launches itself off a precipice (viewed from below)?

– The land mass and surrounding oceans of a mythical planet?

– A Ninja martial arts throwing weapon?

– A poorly remembered sketch attempt of the flag of the Isle of Man?

So, I’ve tried looking at the negative space and mentally changing it to positive to no avail. And vice versa. And why is the circle so thick; is that a clue? I’m convinced it’s just a matter of viewing it in the correct way and all will become clear…