Friday, December 30, 2011

Alice in Wonderland (1966) Jonathan Miller

I  watched the 1966 Jonathan Miller Alice in Wonderland this week.

Fascinating version. Miller did a "Wednesday Play" biopic on Charles Dodgson the previous year (included on the disc) in which hinted that the characters in the book (such as the dormouse) were not actually furry animals, but caricatures of other academics at Christ Church that Alice would have met and find funny. I've read The Annotated Alice, so I know most of the math jokes and so forth, but I didn't know the source of the characters. Miller didn't have much money but nevertheless persuaded half the greatest actors in Britain to be in the production - Sir John Gielgud, Sir Michael Redgrave, Peter Sellers, Leo McKern - and Peter Cook, channeling the Goon Show, as the Mad Hatter, along with Wilfrid Brambell (Steptoe) as a very camp White Rabbit. And Malcolm Muggeridge.

Miller aimed the production at adults - which led to the tabloids of the day assuming it was pr0n of some sort (it isn't) and portrayed Alice as a self-contained older girl, stiff and formal in the Victorian way, but with a biting superiority whenever she gets chance to snap at one of the little animals she meets after going through the tiny door.  None of the animals is in costume and some of the 'plot' is missing, so you have to know the book. Luckily I learned the book by heart when I was little and annoyingly completed all the poems she forgot to finish and carped about the missing bits - for instance, early in the book Giant Alice cries tears of frustration, which gives rise to a lake that almost drowns all the other characters. In this movie, you see her face glistening with tears and then a cut to her being the same size as the little animals and encouraging them to dry off.  They also cut Bill the Lizard's hilarious early part, but she still snatches his pencil from him when he's in the jury box, leaving him to write on his slate with his finger, so that's all right then. Some of the humor is missing, but a couple of times the actors add in funny (and quite Carrollian) lines of their own. The social satire is entirely elided, and even Alice's last line in Wonderland, "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" is cut, which means that the point of the story never quite makes it onto film.

The overall feel of the movie is psychedelic. However, it was made in 1966, which means that the Summer of Love was not yet here, Surrealistic Pillow (and White Rabbit) had not been released, and although Haight-Ashbury was winching its way into into our as-yet-unexpanded consciousness, I don't think Jonathan Miller ever spent much time there. This means that what resembles 'psychedelia' must have been in the air before everybody tuned in, turned on and dropped out with Leary in 1967. The transitions between the scenes that make this seem so very, very LSD-related must have been based on dream-logic, as in the book, not on Are-You-Experienced experiences on the part of Miller. [1] I've seen a couple of reviews that say this movie is dated, because of its sixties feel, but my belief is the sixties began to resemble the movie, rather than the movie drew on the sixties for its own look-and-feel. [2]

Alice - who is a child, and therefore should be seen and not heard - narrates most of the movie in her head. When she does speak, it's to put down one of the animals with a vicious remark. The Mad Hatter's Tea party is a venom-filled conversation between an angry Alice and (no slouch at insults himself) Peter Cook as the Mad Hatter, with occasional interjections of whimsy by the deeply drunk Dormouse.  The conversation between the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle is between two brilliant, non-animal-headed actors; old men reminiscing about their schooldays on a deserted very British pebble beach. It's a Last of the Summer Wine for mythical animals. The final court scene, where the Knave of Hearts is tried for stealing the tarts is a surreal tour de force, with Peter Sellers and Wilfred Brambell hamming it up, nothing being quite the right size (Alice being between one and two miles high at the time), and some of the theater boxes that line the walls of the courthouse appearing to be hotel rooms, with people shaving and washing up in them as they observe the scene. 

The DVD also includes a 1903 silent version of Alice, and a very interesting commentary track that has the feature, or possibly bug, that Jonathan Miller rabbits about whatever he wants to, so the explanations of each scene are given while other scenes are on screen...and at one point Miller says, 'And this is after Alice has got rid of her flamingo', when Alice wasn't carrying a flamingo previously. Miller seems to be able to see the animals in the scene even when his actual cinematography didn't include them. 

[1] Yes, I know the caterpillar in the book is sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah.
[2] I don't want to put anyone off seeing the movie by saying this, but if you look at the difference between Disney's Alice (1951) and Disney's It's a Small World After All (1964) you can see the quality of sixties-i-ness appears in the latter ride. Without having any singing dolls in it, this Alice has that atmosphere. A less obnoxious sixties-i-ness reference may be The Prisoner (1967) but that was after this version of Alice so I can't count it...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kills Vogue video - Into the Unknown

Moody and atmospheric, the Kills explain how the music plays them rather than the other way round, and they're superstitious, filmed by an arty type.

It's described as "Six minutes for a rockumentary filmed in London by videomaker Giorgio Testi (under Marilena Borgna's supervision) that tells the moments before a concert of The Kills." The rest of the description seems to have been translated by Siri via Google from Italian through Greek into English but it sounds very cool if you don't think about the meanings too much. And the video is lovely.

Vogue Kills video.

Cooking a pie tonight.

Oh, and having said all that, don't get me started on the common American dish "Beef Shepherds' Pie". What on Earth (Terra) is a beef shepherd? Or are they ordinary shepherds who go cattle rustling whenever they feel the need for a pie coming on?


When I was a kid, the moon was called Luna. There were lunar expeditions and lunanauts, and the Russians had Lunokhod and so on and so forth. Since I moved to the US, I've noticed that most people call it "The Moon". I've even seen someone wonder on the internet why the Moon doesn't have a name. Today, I saw a piece in Universe Today about what if the Earth had two moons? Let's call the other one "Luna", the author writes, apparently unaware that the first one is already called Luna.

Worried, I checked Wikipedia. It says the moon's name is The Moon. I can find barely any mentions of lunanauts in Google (and my spellchecker doesn't recognize it) and although I see things like "lunar surface", Wikipedia says that's just the adjective from the Latin name of the Moon. 

I haven't been this disturbed since I learned that the word I learned for "fart" as a young kid - poop - didn't actually mean fart to anyone else, unless it was that day that I learned the lumpy vegetables I called turnips were actually rutabagas, and no-one else in the adult world was under the impression that they were turnips. 

So what happened? Did I switch timestreams or move to an alternate world or something? Did I go back in time and step on a butterfly? What am I going to find out next?

If it's that the sun's name isn't really Sol, I give in.  I know that Mars - it is still called Mars, right? - isn't called Ares, and I'm pretty sure the other famous one is called Venus and doesn't have a sekrit name only I know about. 


Professor: "I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all."
Fry: "Oh. What's it called now?"
Professor: "Urectum."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jean Genie - David Bowie on Top of the Pops, 3rd January 1973

The BBC, bless it, managed to lose the tapes of this particularly iconic performance. On the other hand, its relatively lax attitude to editors and cameramen taking home tapes have saved more than one precious show and this is a case in point. Fish-eye lens cameraman John Henshall took a tape home with him, and it surfaced recently. It was played last night, December 21st 2011, on BBC2's TOTP Christmas Show.

The BBC (bless its cotton socks, once again) showed it with the intro and ending missing and purple bubbles over the video explaining how lucky we were to be able to see this performance. Somehow ZiggyStardust TV managed to get hold of an unadulterated tape, and here it is.

[It's gone; this is the best I could do 10/2017]

I remember seeing this as a kid, one of the most exciting performances to date on the then still bland and nannyish British TV of the time. This was quite late on in Glam Rock, so a lot of glitter had passed under the bridge and the stakes were raised. Bowie's trick here was to bring on the least limp-wristed glam rock-out ever...even though, by the accidents of fate, The Sweet brought out an almost identical sounding Tobacco Road-influenced song at the same time - Blockbuster. But the aptly-named Sweet never could manage to muster quite the menace of Jean Genie, despite their reputation for playing heavy rock when the teenyboppers weren't looking.

Looking at Bowie again with a few more years experience, it's obvious that the man's a star and it seems quite likely he knew he was a star since first glancing in the mirror as a young boy. The comparison at the time was with Marc Bolan, who had a similar initial trajectory, but never broke through the cocaine-and-red-wine barrier to create new material when the teenage girls went on to something new.  I'd say Bowie's closest analog was Lady Gaga, who has leveraged sheer ambition into superstardom, but I'm not convinced that she has a clue how to write a pop song. David Bowie had more songwriting talent in his Ziggy Stardust haircut than most pop musicians have in their entire bodies during their entire career. Even though Jean Genie was based on an old riff, the lyrics pop and sparkle. The intro and outro are among the most exciting in popular music, and the band, miming away on their Marshall stacks, are not miming to the single track, but to a re-recording. And Bowie, while not exactly Sonny Terry, blasts a solo on the harmonica that leads wonderfully into Love Me Do for a couple of bars. (I wonder if the Beeb paid Macca for it?)

Also, you have to love Trevor Bolder's sideburns.

Blockbuster - The Sweet

Tobacco Road - The Nashville Teens

If you want to see the TOTP2 version, it's on YouTube as well, of course, until SOPA is passed and YouTube goes away.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plucky comet survives sundive

For some reason the sight of comet Lovejoy surviving a trip to within 88,000 miles of the sun's photosphere makes me happy.  Discovery says that it resisted temperatures of a million degrees.  No wonder it got out of there fast.

Possibly, of course, whoever was on it got Marvin the Paranoid Android to pilot it away while they teleported somewhere else.

Monday, December 12, 2011

John Carter of Mars

I haven't read much Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's always been there, as part of the foundations, one of us, a science fiction fan. I think I've mostly read Tarzan, and missed out on the swashbuckling planet-winning ways of John Carter. John Carter debuted in 1912, making him a hundred years old.  Next year, 2012, the movie comes out.

Burroughs set his adventures on a dying planet Mars - the prominent dark 'canals' that can be inferred on the planet's surface encouraged many at the time to think that Mars had once held flowing water. In most cases, this seems to have led to the immediate thought that the planet was drying up, and therefore the inhabitants must be desperately holding on.  John Carter is transported to this planet, whereupon he has many adventures featuring jeweled, naked princesses and performs mighty deeds, due to his Earth-gravity-accustomed muscles, which propel him easily through the air on tiny Mars.

Hollywood has been making Tarzan films almost as long as he's been around, but seems to have waited until now to film John Carter, possibly because it's only now that we have the necessary CGI. I'd say that it was also that it's only now we could have films featuring naked princesses, but apparently the movie does not stay true to the book in that respect.

Here's the trailer, which looks exactly like a Star Wars prequel film. That's not necessarily good.

But wait - what is that music? Is it Kashmir, by Led Zeppelin?

Indeed it is.

If you can't wait for the movie, Project Gutenberg has the etext.  Beware, though, that if, like me, you thought that it was a good idea to set the action on Mars so that we could have action-adventure without bad-mouthing any actually existing races, Burroughs still manages to screw the pooch by setting the first few pages in the wild wild west, giving him plenty of chances to work in references to 'savage Apaches' and their torturing ways.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Alison Mosshart - Close Your Eyes

I'd never heard this track before.

Please to be ignoring the perv-over voice that introduces the track. Once Alison gets going, everything's all right again.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Still more rocker than rocking chair

At the gym yesterday I happened upon an insurance ad that made we want to throw up.

It featured a good-natured Dad type looking for health insurance. He's apparently ancient enough to need Medicare, although he looks 45.  While telling us how he can get insurance - by phoning 1 800 born2bwild or something - the ad shows him being interrupted by his granddaughter's all-girl band, who are butchering some tune or other faintly in the distance.

He strides into her bedroom and sternly demands she gives up her nice white Gibson SG, which she hands over, biting her lip. Taking it, he straps it on and rips into the guitar intro for Born to be Wild, which the rest of the band happily follow. Smiling grey-haired granny gets down and boogies in pseudo-arthritic fashion to the beat while the musicians do an amazingly life-like impression of the Archies' cartoon band, all wide blank smiles and poor sense of rhythm.

The message is clear. He may be in need of old-person's insurance, but inside him is that sixties rebel just waiting to bust out! He can teach the young whippersnappers all about rock'n'roll!

What made me want to puke wasn't the sight of grand-dad leaning back against one of the teenager's backs and rubbing against her in a lame imitation of rockin' free-spiritedness that came across as horrifyingly, painfully skeezy - though that was was quite an emetic - it was the company's clumsy and off-putting attempt to co-opt a group of people that it would have cheerfully spat at in 1967.

Easy Rider, the movie that brought Born to be Wild to the forefront of American consciousness in 1969, was about small-town hatred and fear of hippies, of freedom, of sex, of any variety of individuality. It portrayed the Japanese proverb that was paradoxically the foundation of middle-American values - the nail that stands out must be hammered down.

Anyway, that was then. Now that the ex-longhairs have money - and better yet, have chronic diseases to cash in on - cynical, calculated TV ads have been devised to woo them.

Of course,  there's something of the 100 Club Factor at play here. This refers to a London club which holds about 300, and to the people who claim to have seen the Sex Pistols there at their legendary gig in 1976 - a number which must be in the tens of thousands. Many of them actually believe they were there. In the same way, ninety-nine percent of people watching this ad did not grow their hair, smoke dope and ride Harleys to the Mardi Gras in 1969; they went to school while working tables in the evening, dreaming of graduating to a cushy job in plastics and obligingly obeying the media by hating hippies, who they were told were commie traitors who would seduce their sisters while somehow managing to be fags at the same time. The insurance company has calculated that they will nevertheless manage to identify with youthful grand-dad in this cynical and exploitative ad.

It's interesting to contemplate a Medicare-related insurance ad that really was targeted at older folks with a spark of actual counter-culturalism left in their osteopenic bones. Perhaps gramps could help his grand-daughter make a banner for Occupy Wall Street, or granny could teach her how to make Molotov cocktails for those days when unelected alter kockers like the loathsome Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the ironically named Health and Human Services, overrules the FDA and decrees unilaterally that young women should not be allowed access to emergency contraception. Y'know, like today. The first time ever the government has overruled the FDA doctors and scientists, and it just happens to be in the service of ensuring women cannot have control over their own bodies.  What a coincidence.

Where's my Harley?

The Craft Lab

On Saturday, I went to our local Ecology Center.

Now, I didn't know, before last week, that we had an Ecology Center. I live in Orange County, home of Nixon's  Western White House, and one of the most Republican spots known to man. Although there's always been a light sprinkling of surfers and bikers, the majority of the population look, act, spend and vote like they'd tar and feather any hippies who came around talking about that global warming or recycling nonsense.

The Orange County Register is the favored organ of these people. The rag'll tell you  it is a small government, small-L libertarian paper, but when it comes to covering actual living politicians, as opposed to Randian imaginary ones, it is  138% Republican. So it was a bit of a surprise to read on the Orange County Register's web page that there was a 'do' on at our local Ecology Center. The Craft Lab!

So on Saturday we  trooped off to the keeping-chickens-in-the-yard part of town (it's at least 250 yards from the center cross-roads of the city, so I guess ordinances are more relaxed way out there), and found a nice old wooden house set back fifty feet or so from the road, planted all around with demonstration local native plants.  (Local native plants seem to be mostly Century Plant, maguey, yucca, penstemon and Dudleya.) Apparently it's the oldest wooden structure in San Juan Capistrano, which is saying something as the Los Rios district is nearby. It's still surrounded by farmland. About half an acre of it, but farmland nevertheless.

STB and I had booked a whole day of handicraft workshops. We started off with Homemade Skincare, which was a revelation to both of us.  I had made cosmetics from an Edwardian book I found when I was about 12, and mostly found out that things you make of oatmeal and egg whites are very wholesome, but mold thinks so too. I'd never bothered since. I didn't have the heart to tell the workshop leader about it, since my pre-hippie book was very big on using spermaceti, which I suspect would be frowned upon by the Ecology Center. (To be honest, it was unobtainable back then as well.)

We made brown sugar skin scrub, which I'd never heard of. It's made by adding almond oil and a drop or two of essential oils to a mixture of brown sugar and turbinado sugar, which you would then use as an exfoliant. Not right there, in the ecology center, mind you, back home in a shower. The cheery demonstrator used such phrases as "Well, I don't need to explain this bit...I'm sure you're all used to working with essential oils!" We nodded dutifully, and so did the real Real Housewives of Orange County who were attending the workshop with us, although they were telling the truth and we were just lying.

After that it was off to the kitchen to make beeswax candles. For some reason I'd assumed that these would be those wrapped-honeycomb ear-candling type candles, but no! This involved melting real beeswax in a portable gasring double-boiler arrangement that would make OSHA cringe, and pouring it and wicking it (for votive or tea candles) and, later, a very relaxing session dipping our wicks, so to speak, in the wax to make the traditional tallow-candle shaped candles...except being beeswax they smelled heavenly instead of smelling of tallow. We now have a roomful of candles at home that we daren't light as our knowledge of the burn rate of pure beeswax is sadly lacking. I'll tell you who else liked the beeswax smell - the bees! They came flying in through the window to reclaim their wax, but we gamely kept it out of their greedy little mandibles.

We also learned how to make little journals out of paper with mulberry bark covers; holiday cards from magazine snippings and punches, rubber stamps and glue; and terrariums, where we all got chance to make our own and take it with us. At the terrarium-making class, a small boy with angelic curls asked an interesting question about the moss used as decoration/soil cover in the little bowls of succulents. "Why do they call it moss?"

At first I dismissed that as a daft question. ("Because it's moss, that's why!) But I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Either he was a very unusual young man, or kids today have a different approach to the world than we did. I assumed that words had been sort of handed down - not necessarily on stone tablets, and not necessarily by Adam naming everything, but at the very least, from proto-Indo-European. (Yes, I did know about all that at 12.) He seemed to assume that words are chosen for a reason, a sort of innate bow-wow theory, expanded to include moss, which doesn't say "Moss! Moss!" when you call it.  Possibly it's something to do with Xboxes or Facebook.

We also had  a vegetarian lunch made largely out of plants grown on the premises, supplemented by the produce from the farmer's market next door.

This was a fun day out (and a fungi out also, since we bought a box of grow-it-thissen oyster mushrooms from the store). Most of the center's folk seemed literally identical to the staff of the Whole Thing, a wholefood cafe and store in London I frequented in about 1980, not only in terms of granola quotient, but also in facial features, hairstyles and clothing choices. It may be that they are aliens or spirit guides who move on from windmills and solar kilns in one city to rain-water storage and composting in another whenever their disguises are revealed, or just maybe the vaguely counter-cultural in the west have chosen the same look and habits since approximately 1961. One day it could catch on with the rest of us.

Anyway, the next day I used the sugar scrub in the shower, and later my skin felt a little uncomfortable. I diagnosed a reaction to essential oils...whatever they are...but when I got home I discovered a four-inch scratch down my leg. Sugar is sharp. I guess I'm going back to the spermaceti and benzoin skin care.

Monday, December 05, 2011

HR speak

My HR department emailed a rudimentary Excel spreadsheet to us accompanied by partial explanation,

"Certainly we will continue to partner on issues as it arises, however, we can use this to capture pertinent data and utilize as a springboard."

I printed it out and it filled most of an 8.5" by 10" sheet of paper. I tried but I found it a bit lacking when I tried to use it as a springboard.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Mastermind on Led Zeppelin

As suggested by commenter Mike, here is a Mastermind round featuring questions on Led Zeppelin.

When I used to watch that programme, you were only allowed to be an expert in Cuneiform or Drill Head Technology of the 19th Century. And things like that.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The whole street's lit up - lit up by Fairy Lamps!

When I first saw this video of Saks Fifth Avenue's Christmas lights, I assumed it was a fake. The illusions, particularly when the windows "open" and stars and lights appear "inside", are so real that I naturally assumed, as one does, that only very good CGI could possibly look that real.

However, seeing it again from a second, clearly genuine, viewpoint shows that it is a real light show.

It's not actually very Christmassy (or Holiday-y) and lacks plot, action and conflict, but apart from that it's breathtaking.

It reminded me what Lt. Commander Thomas Woodrooffe would have said.  Lt. Commander Woodrooffe is still justly famous for being asked by the BBC to narrate the spectacle of navy ships displaying a light show during a Fleet Review.  So drunk was he that all he could manage to get out was a series of slurred variations on "The whole fleet's lit up! It's lit up!" in a delighted mush-mouth mumble.  This performance was so striking that people still say his catch-phrase today, seventy-five years after he said it - because, yea verily, that was way back in 1937 (the Good Old Days).  Luckily it's been captured for posterity, unlike most of the gems the BBC produced in the analog era.

Elgar's Nimrod was not included in the original broadcast but it adds a nice Imperial touch, doesn't it?

Possibly the best bit is when the lights go out leaving him in darkness, and he says, in shocked surprise, "Itsh gone! The whole fleetsh gone!"


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