Thursday, 31 December 2009

The original treatment for The Wire by David Simon

THANKS to Sean from the Soul of Man blog (listed here) for finding this, the original treatment for The Wire submitted to HBO and written by David Simon.
It's incredible.
I'll write more about it over the next few days.
All the best and happy new year Gobshites.

The Wire - Bible height="500" width="100%" > value="">            

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The (potential) death of British Comedy: Part II

This is the second part of the series I am doing for Jason Walsh and his web magazine Forth

'That ginger chavvy gypo looks a bit rapey and his nan smells of piss' 

AMID the weeping and gnashing of teeth last weekend that we (er, that’ll be ‘you’ - d) got some agents wrong in our doom laden critique of modern British comedy, what could easily be discerned from the replies received is the fact that many people agree that modern comics are slowly beginning the slide towards the narrow mainstream they once felt duty bound to avoid.
There has in the later years of this decade been a gradual reversion towards the casual sexism and racism that alternative comedy sought to banish and which were the cornerstones of the ‘old  comedy’.
Now as we finish the noughties and run headlong into whatever the 2010s are going to be called we can now do gags about rape and incest and race as long as we pick the socially acceptable groups it is OK for Jimmy Carr and his mob to take the piss out of. It’s OK, because it is either a case of  a) hey, it’s just a joke, dude;  b) we’re only being ironic or in the worst justifications - a mixture of both.
Again, the finger has to point squarely at those headline comics making mucho hay while the TV sun shines on Mock the Week or Argumental or whatever.
Step forward Frankie Boyle and his Daily Mail baiting gag about the Queen’s pussy being haunted, step forward Russell Howard and your morally objectionable use of the word rapey and more prominently step forward Jimmy Carr and the legion of paedophilia and rape gags which you can pass off as ‘ironic’.
Where once the comedic pioneers like Lenny Bruce (right) or George Carlin genuinely said the unsayable in a bid to change the morality of their times, now we have naughty schoolboys simply saying that which shouldn’t be said in the first place.
 A telling example of how far our standards have dropped is the Facebook fan page for Carr the most striking gag of which is, "You know a girl's too young for you, if you have to make a train noise to get your cock in her mouth." That appears three times on the page to the merriment of those posting there.
Another: ‘Childhood obesity sends a very mixed message to paedophiles, sure they’re easier to catch but who wants to fiddle with a fatty?’ is just wrong on any number of levels. It’s not clever and only really genuinely ironic in a debased, unattached way.
As a disillusioned comedian friend said to me on Friday, comics should do these gags only if they can actually justify them. Face up victims and justify them. They can’t and that is not me or my mate being po-faced, intellectual or clever.
And standards have dropped – that’s a judgement call and I’m making it right here.
Telling rape and paedophilia gags doesn’t offer anything to the reassessment of morality or social mores, it just narrows the intellectual gene pool of comedy and short changes a generation of punters.
If all they are being served is Frankie Boyle talking about the Queens genitals, then they have no measuring stick to gauge what is good, bad or acceptable. Worse still they’ll not see the great comedy which leaves a mark on its society.
If we do a pull back and reveal of modern comedy we see the groups that is OK to have a go at now – the new comedy clichés if you will. Rape and incest victims get them honking in the aisles as we have seen, while chavs and ginger haired people are fair game too. The Welsh have replaced us Irish as the ‘race’ group it’s OK to slag and Scousers and Geordies are never far off the comedic radar. Middle class Christians take a right shoeing but by far the funniest group on the planet to these comedians are those with disabilities, Jaysus, we can all have a right larf at Stephen Hawking and his mates in wheelchairs.
Don’t get me wrong, to quote Hunter Thompson, I think we should be beating the clergy like dogs with mange – it’s just that all of these targets are just easy.
It takes no work or skill to have a dig at these – I want these comics to have a go at radical Muslim clerics while in a mosque or beat down a Mossad operative’s heckles by saying he’s a bit puffy. If you are going to be edgy then do something that is genuinely dangerous. Test the courage of your convictions.
Before the shout goes up that what is being suggested here is some kind of middle class, left wing, New Labour, tofu munching right-on censorship – it is anything but. As Will Durst, America’s premier satirist said recently, the left has the sense of humour of an end table. Their critiques are to be avoided at all costs.
Stewart Lee has emerged as the leader of a new generation of comics opposed to the Carr/ Howard/ Boyle consensus, it’s just that the phalanx of cerebral acts aren’t particularly that funny.
While Lee is funny and clever while being guilty of the charge of sanctimony, Josie Long or Robin Ince are always clever but just not that funny. They’ll take their quirky Edinburgh style shows, so beloved of the critics, to the art centres and one night stands and all concerned will simultaneously perform an intellectual circle jerk while patting one another on the back for not being Michael McIntyre.
The tragedy is that if you go out into clubs and look at the comedians doing genuine satire and struggling to get their acts noticed amid these two camps of comedy de nos jours, there’s little likelihood of this getting any better before it gets a whole lot worse on both sides.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Joe Strummer RIP

JOE Strummer is seven years dead today, and we are much worse for it.
No one pop star ever touched me more than Strummage and never a week goes by without listening to The Clash or his four 'solo' albums.
I wrote this interview a month prior to his death for the Liverpool ECHO.
It's a rubbish interview because I was overawed speaking to a hero, I hope I did him justice. He even phoned me a day later to make sure I had got the pictures his wife was sending for it. I was feeding our daughter Ella her brekkie when I took the call, I dropped Weetabix all over the floor.
All the best, Joe.

Liverpool ECHO, November 22, 2002
THE voice is as enthusiastic and passionate as it ever was, the beliefs as idealistic as they ever were.
Joe Strummer's back in town and he ain't changed a bit.
Leader of punk deities the Clash, musical pioneer, political idealist and doting father, Strummer remains undimmed by the slings and arrows of 25 years outrageous fortune in the music industry.
And, excited punk rock pop pickers, he's heading our way.
On the phone from his West Country home, the man born John Mellor in Turkey 50 years ago is looking forward to coming back to Liverpool, a city which took the Clash to its bosom like no other.
But more of the nostalgia later. This time he's bringing his band, the Mescaleros, back to town next Friday at Liverpool University's small but perfectly formed Stanley theatre.
This is the story so far.
Strummer and his young band have recorded a couple of critically acclaimed albums (Pop Art And The X-Ray Style from 1999 and last year's Global A Go-Go) and won rave live reviews since the great man came back from nearly a decade of self-imposed showbiz exile three years ago.
They rip through a handful of Clash classics every night and augment these punk favourites with the best tracks from the two albums, as well as throwing in the odd new song or reggae cover.
And how would you describe the new songs?
Well, deep breath now, it's an interesting mixture of pop, blues, reggae, dance dub and African jive.
It's infectious and irresistible for anyone with a passing interest in quality sounds.
This time around they are hitting the university with the intention of honing a set ready for recording a new album early in the New Year.
Cue Joe, rapping quickly and enthusiastically about the vibe in the band.
He says: "We were out in Japan and America and we were really rocking, blowing crowds away with the new songs. So I wanted to get it back out on the road again and bash the songs out and make them stronger before we get in to the studio.
"The new songs are mutating, and becoming more human because we are banging them out without fussing.
"Playing live is a part of the process; we aren't interested in making something pristine, we want to bash the songs out before we get into the studio.
"But what I have learned is that when you are on a roll like this and the vibe is right you have to keep riding it; the only time we ever managed to do it before was with (legendary Clash triple album) Sandinista."
Clang! That there, folks, is the sound of the Clash name being dropped, and it's a musical legacy you can't ignore when interviewing the great one.
Liverpool loves him and he loves us. Heck, Liverpool is practically home territory for Strummer, who made his long-awaited return to the stage at a legendary show at the now closed Cumberland Street venue the Lomax in 1999.
But for many an ex-punk about town, a Clash show at Eric's in 1978 was the high water mark for both the band and the movement.
Joe adds: "We had some great shows in Eric's where it really went off, they were brilliant nights where we really rocked the house.
"We loved Eric's and loved playing Liverpool."
In fact Eric's in 1978 can claim to be the most packed show of all time - the club only held a couple of hundred people, but up to 10,000 claim to have been present.
Despite these nostalgic waxings there was no place for the Clash on the cheap TV celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the birth of British punk.
As middle-aged men and women rehashed a quarter of a century-old anecdotes, Strummer and his band mates Mick Jones, Topper Headon and Paul Simenon kept a dignified silence.
Strummer simply says: "That's all false memory syndrome. I don't want to look back, I want to keep going forward, I still have something to say to people.
"I don't want to be seen as one of the Searchers, doing the same things over and over again.
But until then, I'll just keep going."
There is no chance of a potentially multi-million dollar reunion of the Clash, but they are still the band most revered by the current crop of garage groups.
On top this of their 1979 classic London Calling has been voted one of the top 10 singles of all time by music bible NME.
Joe says: "That's better than money or anything else in this job - that's respect, the fact that these great bands acknowledge a debt to us. That's fantastic."
So that's Joe , punk rock Godfather and a man of the people.
* Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Stanley Theatre, Liverpool University, Friday, November 22.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Preview of things to come... that's a preview then

AND ANOTHER this time in the style of everyone' favourite newspaper, The Sunday World.
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Have I Got Never Mind the QICocks for You?

HERE ARE some magazine pages online. Just hit the tile button on the bottom Scrbd toobar to view them as they were intended - as a double spread of the recent story I did for Jason Walsh at Forth magazine.

GM Britcomedy Layout 1                                                                                                                                                

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Have I Got Nevermind Mock the QICocks For You?: The death of British comedy

I wrote this piece for the Irish online magazine Forth edited by JASON WALSH

A CASUAL glance at the listings pages of the posh papers tells you everything that you need to know about the current state of stand-up comedy in Britain.
With Russell Howard playing the 10,000 seater enormo arenas of major cities, Jimmy Carr on an endless profit haemorrhaging tour of the big theatres and Michael McIntyre currently colonising the top of the DVD sales chart, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Mickey Mainstreams are taking over.
But look more closely at the case of McIntyre and you will see the invidious dead hand of a two factors: the power of homogenous, constantly on repeat TV panel shows and a couple of agencies who can now make or break stars at will.
McIntyre, Howard, Carr, Frankie Boyle, Reginald D Hunter and Mark Watson are standing testament to the power of Mock the Week, QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks to break comedians in the modern age. The problem is that the personae they adopt on these shows becomes the one that the audience wants and what is left is a terribly narrow set of comedic styles. And there’s the rub, the comedic canon gets narrowed to such an extreme that there are few genuinely challenging voices allowed entrance to this boys club.
Also if you look at the profiles of the acts currently at the top of British and Irish comedy one can see the power a couple of super agencies wield. Carr, Dara O’Briain, McIntyre, Bill Bailey, Sean Locke, Boyle, Rich Hall, Mark Watson, Phill Jupitus, Jonathon Ross and Alan Carr all come from Off the Kerb, which can often provide whole panels for the game shows. Avalon with Harry Hill, Frank Skinner and Al Murray etc are equally as powerful, particularly on ITV.
With the comedy circuit contracting in Britain due to savage licensing laws, the high cost of selling booze in expensive city centre properties and dwindling recession-hit audiences, there aren’t many opportunities to break the big time from the clubs. Acts here tailor their sets in the hope of getting noticed for TV and then the vicious circle is closed. The homogenous line of faux angry men and banal observationalists continues.
Boyle’s just such a reductive case in point. The often savage, let’s see how far we can go style which fits the short form of the panel games has become elongated for the live environment.
His shtick is unimaginably weak:
Feedline: ‘Yadda yadda (insert famous person’s name here) yadda yadda.’ (Go up a wee bit at the end)
Punchline: ‘That’s like yadda yadda fucking yadda (lewd sex act reference here) yadda.’
Two hours in Boyle’s company is a spirit sapping experience which leaves you wondering if there is anything positive to say in his world.
And while Carr and Boyle may be the apotheosis of the lewd Daily Mail baiting comedic class then McIntyre follows in a line of banal ‘You ever noticed...’ merchants who can also peddle a fine line of crap British nostalgia. You know the type ‘Space hoppers, what were they all about? Remember Spangles?’ ad nauseum.
Peter Kay, who has just sold a quizillion tickets in two minutes for a huge tour of the arenas of Britain in 2011, is the man to blame for this strand of modern British comedic mush.
While Phoenix Nights was genuinely funny in its first series, Kay couldn’t help but milk it dry with the painful Max and Paddy TV series and the more painfully dreadful X Factor skit last Christmas. He even coined it in with a tour which thumbed it nose at the audience by being called ‘Mum Wants a Bunglow Tour.’
His recent chat show appearances have shown just how threadbare his act has become, talking about Matey bubble bath on the Jonathon Ross TV show with that salt of the earth Northern irony that has become the shtick with which we should gleefully beat him with.
Another comic who worked (and financially fell out) with Kay says he witnessed a genuinely dispiriting evening watching the rotund Boltonian’s best mate (and luckiest man in comedy) Paddy McGuinness playing a big theatre in Manchester. As the braying masses roared with glee, McGuinness did observational gags about having a piss in the shower. That’s how far the whole sorry mess of alternative comedy has fallen.
And perhaps a measure of how far off the radar of modern comedy that irony has fallen is watching Al Murray doing the pub landlord arena show. Thousands turn up to see him to do an ironic take on British nationalism – gladly taking it at face value and ignoring its satiric intention.
As if any of that really matters, because beyond the TV there are millions of people who love Chubbby Brown and don't give a fig about any of this navel gazing right-on cack and just want racism and a more primitive than 'On the Buses' style take on sexual politics. It’s just that many of those with ‘alternative’ roots come close to being disciples of His Lord Chubbiness, but conveniently cover it with a version of arch irony audiences can or cannot recognise if they want.
But where are the alternative voices to this cabal? Where are the women? Jo Brand is rapidly becoming the grande dame of Brit comedy by the twin virtues of surviving long enough and being able to out lad the lads when the occasion demands. Sex poppet Lucy Porter occasionally gets a look in, but only in a very tokenistic way.
The future is bleak. Those comedians who hate this kind of mush are retreating and circling the wagons around themselves. Stewart Lee who is the figurehead of those in opposition is a gifted comedian on his night. A stylish innovator with a world view that challenges that of the Never Mind the QICocks generation, it’s just that he’s never going to go mainstream and will run ‘ar nos na gaoithe’ (like the wind) from it should he ever get close to it.
There remains no real sense of invention or a thrill at seeing something different that we all did seeing people like Jerry Sadowitz or Hicks or Dylan Moran for the first time. Oh for the clowns, Oh for the wits and Oh for something other than Michael McIntyre telling us about something that fucking happened to him that morning. Just don’t hold your breath – the BBC and the agencies have DVDs to flog and arenas to sell out.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

All I'm Saying Is... Pt 2

First up, Al O'Hare of the Trestles posts his AISI.
just for @paddyhoey on Twitpic

All I'm Saying Is...

Send me a jpeg of you holding a work of art that you love or that means a great deal to you and I will publish it no questions asked, no explanation required. It must be something which you believe speaks for itself without any semblance of qualification or extrapolation.
Let's build a new canon of canonical texts.
You must own it or have it, that's the only rule, it must be tangible.
Ergo, All I'm Saying Is...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Bugle: Britain's best comedy show and it's a free podcast - Pt 2

AS mentioned before on GM, the best comedy show on TV or radio, in Britain or the US, is The Bugle.
Helmed by close friends, John Oliver (Daily Show cast member, former Mock the Week panellist and big Liverpool fan), and Andy Zaltzman (Radio 4/ Radio 5 comic and big Harlequins rugby union fan), it is simply the the funniest thing available anywhere every week. That's largely thanks, one feels, to the weary presence of producer Tom, the man forced with making this Transatlantic satire masterclass happen.
Recorded via ISDN with Oliver in New York and Zaltzman in London, The Bugle rarely disappoints. With 97 editions under their belt the paircould be forgiven for running out of material, but they never do. Producing two or three podcasts most months, their topical banter is the best anywhere. It puts all the reruns of Never-Mind-QI's-Mock-the-Top-Gear-Week to shame.
This week their best gags were on the the Iraq shoe thrower's release from jail. (Listen below)

While all the commentators were pretending that they thought about Ozymandias when the Dubai building bubble crashed, they came up with this brilliant Bugle Feature section.

The Bugle is available from iTunes and the Murdoch owned (spit here, Scousers) Times website.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Exactly the wrong way to do modern print design

WE OCCASIONALLY dip our toes into to the world of newspaper and magazine design, usually the great redesigns of US newspapers.
However my local prospective Lib Dem candidate Richard Clein, a former journalist and now successful PR man is the mastermind behind this A3 'local freesheet style newspaper leaflet which came through the door.
a) How in the modern age of inexpensive DTP and sophisticated campaigning did this pass the quality control? It's appalling. And,
b) the back page looks like it was designed by whoever puts together Sovereign Nation, Saoirse or one of the other dissenting Republican newspapers. In fact it makes their design sensibility seem like Wallpaper* or Vice magazine.
Click on each to have a look at how bad they are, apologies for the poor pics but scanner is out here at GM Towers.
I especially like the weekly newspaper circa 1990 picture of the bloke pointing at a sign in the top left hand corner of Irish Republican-styled back page.
BTW: With those stylings shouldn't there be some War News on that page?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

What have you read/listened to/ watched or viewed over the last month?

I KNOW this is the kind of self regarding nonsense I try not to go in for but I think it is an interesting topic for anyone interested in popular culture. Can you catalogue everything that you have read, watched, listened to or have seen culturally in the last month?
I posted this last night on the blog of the esteemed magazine The Word. It is incredible how much you get through sometimes and especially with new technology which allows you to consume on the go.
I have a new Android phone and now listen to music and podcasts and blog and twitter whenever I get the chance - without having to be hooked to a computer. By God, may be I am jet packing into the cultural future.
As a blogger, by definition I have written about much I say below already, but I just want to know what you have consumed culturally in the last month.

Haven't bought anything but I really enjoyed finding Pomplamoose the other day on twitter before the Ireland SA rugby union international. I imagine it isn't to everyone's taste here. Hey, ho. Nataly Dawn's voice is great.

Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack's autobiography 'Come What May' written with the Irish Times' Tom Humphries is the best sporting biog for a long time. (Humphries is the best sports writer in the two islands, and that is a fact.)
Billed as the book in which Cusack becomes the first male elite athlete to come out while playing, it's much more about player strikes, personal vendettas and a strong willed, cantankerous, competitive, succesful, obstinate fecker who will stand up for himself against anyone. He also hates Kilkenny with a passion. Strongly recommended.
For work: Again, 'Irish Freedom' by Richard English: brilliant dissection of the modern 'myths' of Irish republicans.

Generation Kill again, Andrew Marr's Making of Modern Britain was extraordinary and caught up on Andrew Graham Dixon on BBC 4 (see link in the side bar here). Now watching the end of Misfits on C4 which is very tightly written and very watchable for yoof oriented TV

In Our Time with Lord Bragg has been on fire recently particularly the Sparta show and Portrait of the Artist episode last week. Listened to it three times so far. Please download.
Also, Studs Terkel podcast tribute at the brilliant Democracy Now! website. Jesus, I love Studs, God rest him. See below.

Went the flicks TWICE.
- 'Men Who Stare at Goats', a wee bit lacking in plot and clunky as a result. Ewan McGregor in it simply for a long running Star Wars gag but George Clooney is incredibly watch-able. I think he is the actor of his generation in so many ways. (See below)
- 'Law Abiding Citizen' - just to see how bad it was. Total merde. Trailer (seen disbelievingly at TMWSAG screening)is enough. Absolute shyte. (See below)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mal O'Doherty, Studs Terkel and some thoughts on the hyperlocal

RECENTLY in the chat about podcasting I had with Malachi O'Doherty (see below), he remembered following a Dutch TV crew to the scene of a shooting in Belfast about 25 years ago.
Malachi remembers thinking 'We'll get nothing off the police or the injured man so why go?' But when he got there the crew interviewed people on the street and kids coming home from school and assorted people coming and going.
What resulted was a fantastic piece of human interest journalism which said more about the shooting and its effects on the area than any conventional form of news report ever could.
But in this age of being conditioned by the for-and-against style of adversarial journalism (you know the kind: 'Hey, let's talk about the Arab Israeli crisis - and on my left Abu Hamza...) we have rather lost sight of the kind of journalism that Malachi remembered.
Who'd have thunk it? Getting honest to goodness interesting stories from people, real people? This must be one of the ways forward for our industry, especially in an age of PR, spin and councils putting out their own propaganda sheets.
We must look at the effects of process and policy journalism and not the forms themselves. We have got to get back to those we have left behind (not just them venting nonsense in the blogosphere) and look at the prosaic elements of their lives and see the glory of the minutiae of those lives.
The democratic divide doesn't just mean not seeing our democratic bodies in our papers, it means not seeing the effects of what they do in our communities in our papers - two very different things.
But that is a side issue to my point - we need to recover the interesting, valuable people in our communities and write about and/ or broadcast them.
To be hyper local we have to connect with the local and not just in an advertising revenue sense, although that is important.
So who are the interesting people in our communities? The answer? Everyone. Everyone has a story to tell, we have to give them multiple opportunities to tell those stories.
While we in Britain involved in journalism's future have been distracting ourselves looking at networks and imagining building bogus business models based on major American cities full of tech literate people (thought up by a generation US academics who are themselves feathering their own nests BTW), we have lost sight of our everyday reality.
Studs Terkel, whose death a year ago robbed the US of one of its great journalistic talents, spoke to remarkable people from every walk of life. From Martin Luther King at the bedside of Mahalia Jackson to the soldiers and domestic helps he spoke to for The Good War, he was interested in people rather than their news worthiness. Their human worth was more valuable than any kind of manufactured hook to hang them on for the perceived audience.
And it is this model we should be looking to in the new age.
Wrestle away the blogosphere from the mountains of people interested solely in themselves, their shopping lists and scatter gun reactionary opinions and get them to write about other people - and who can do this best? Journalists.
Who can be at the heart of the knowledge transfer which perpetuates this new form of journalism? You guessed it, journalists and media organisations.
The first professional job I had in journalism was on the Crosby Herald 15 years ago. It's a paper in a small town which is essentially a suburb of Liverpool and the growth of Liverpool is changing Crosby's old distinctiveness by the week, almost.
But in all the sports teams and groups our daughter is now involved in and the church groups I go to, I get the sense that everyone wants to know the same kinds of information I once gathered for the Herald.
In 1995, I wrote the paper's People page and the pub column. They were about marriages, deaths, people in boozers and so much more besides.
I had more reaction from those pages than any I have written since - bar the massive legal action Cavern City Tours took against the Liverpool Daily Post in 1998. (The Post hierarchy were pussies. The story stood up.)
People love people, they simply like things, objects or devices. People are sexy, things aren't. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Here, and listen to me, I'll let you in on a wee secret Studs taught me: ordinary people are more interesting to read about or speak to than celebs or pop stars. FACT. Well mostly fact - Strummer was great, Jack Charlton fab, Paul McCartney even fabber.
But, I had a whale of a time speaking to John McHugh the composer or Gill Burns the rugby player or Nick the manager of the Blundellsands Hotel than I ever had speaking to Jimmy Carr or Sean Lennon or some identikit singer of a doomed indie band.
Journalism's future is recalibrating ourselves with our immediate environs and that which means most to us and not just in seductive global networks linked with nodes or whatever.
As journalists we know good stories and the best of us can tell those stories and teach people to pass them on.
The lesson of this tirade? To paraphrase something I quoted here a few months ago: Then Patrick Kavanagh's ghost came whispering to my mind, he said  'Gods make their own importance.'

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Can the blogosphere fill the void of disappearing local news coverage?

THE answer to the question appears to be, 'Er, no,' according to the guests in the ever excellent Blogtalk TV produced by Northern Visions in Belfast.
Mick Fealty, creator and head buck cat at Slugger O'Toole, esteemed Belfast journalist and publisher Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Gary McKeown discuss the future of news and the blogosphere with Donal Lyons.
Why Trinity Mirror or Johnson can't harness the talents of the independent sector like this to augment their regional newspaper coverage and build new online markets - I have no idea.
I'll let you sit down and have a wee look at an excellent debate on the future of news, primarily in Northern Ireland, but with wider lessons.

Blogtalk (episode 6) from Northern Visions/NvTv on Vimeo.