Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Wire and modern journalism

I wrote this piece for Jason Walsh's brilliant magazine It is an update on one started here some months ago on The Wire and what it says about modern newspapers and journalism.
I will update it again very soon as I am hoping to publish a piece in an academic journal about the subject.

It's not rubbish - it's just you don't like it

I posted this on The Word Magazine blog enraged at people (as we used to say in local newspapers) 'slamming' The Clash's 'London Calling' and Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica'. I love the first and don't care for the latter but respect most equally for their enduring appeal to people.
I now think that most attacks on popular canonical works in most art forms are almost pointless. Re-appraisals, particularly by those who don't like them, tend to be sarcastic, catty and nit picking where simply the words: 'I don't like it,' would suffice.
I stand by the core of this post: just because you don't like it doesn't make it shit.

'Amid the welter of re-appraisals of classic albums as 'not very good' or 'total abortions' that have become de riguer around these parts in recent days, I was reminded by something the oul fella said to me nearly 25 years ago.
As he was praising Ralph McTell to hilt in a bid to get me to expand my horizons from whatever narrow passing indie trend I was into at time, he was met with a volley of abuse about the Tickle on the Tum hitmaker.
His reply was perfect: "Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's rubbish." And, much though I hated to agree with him then as now, he was right.
On any scale of success, either sales or critical/ fan approval, 'London Calling' and 'Trout Mask Replica' among others, are great albums. They live beyond their times because they have an enduring appeal which allows them to transcend the contemporary.
Just because you don't care for them doesn't make them bad.
And anyway, the reappraisal of the 'canon' in any art form almost inevitably leads to diametrically opposed verdicts than those originally given. And, it's almost always pointless posturing.'

What have you heard/ read/ seen this month?

AGAIN, stolen shamelessly from The Word magazine's Blogger Takeover strand, I'm asking fellow gobshites to tell me what they have read/ seen/ heard this month. Here are mine for March 2010.

City of Lies by Alafair Burke – while it has a couple of nicely drawn characters, a nicely convoluted plot which makes you think almost to the end, Burke’s New York-set police whodunit doesn’t sit in the top league of modern crime thrillers. The absurdly strong and wilful detective Ellie Hatcher has the potential to be a great character and the backdrop of Manhattan and NYC is lovingly painted, but it lacks a the stylistic oomph of New York crime scribe Lawrence Block (skip annoying intro to site) and the moral overtones of either Burke’s father – the great James Lee or the holy trinity of modern East Coast American Noir: Lehane, Pelecanos and Price (see tags on the left).
It’s one for those of us who can happily fly through Jonathan Kellerman or Robert Crais.

This book is 10 years old this year and still is as relevant to the modern communications student/ researcher. Amid all the middle class fortune telling of those predicting the future with absolute confidence on the welter of blogs established by self appointed experts, this is a valuable reminder that we have as yet to do extensive research into the power of the blogosphere beyond a couple of books and peer reviewed journal articles.  

Six years old and a similar story to Entman and Bennett’s collection – a book which charts the first wave of impact on corporate or big media by the internet and blogs and which shows we have yet to write the key text on the second wave. Perhaps only Charlie Beckett’s work is leading the way, in Britain at least. 

Precious little at the cinema but a splurge on Amazon for stuff that I wanted to see again.
First up was Matteo Garrone’s wonderful Gomorrah (2008) which shows the brutal and all pervasive depths to which the mafia permeate life in Southern Italy. From nonsensical drug turf wars which needlessly cost lives, to the all too often seen ‘innocent boy to drug mule’ motif (known to lovers of The Wire) to the white collar political criminals in the pay of the mob, it is the best film on mafia ever made. Award winning writer Roberto Saviano, on whose book the film is based, is now in hiding and his exposure of the true nature of Italian society should be potentially explosive. It also has a breathtaking opening sequence which sets the scene for the rest of the movie. To call it the best film since City of God, does neither film any justice. Gomorrah is really compelling. The final lines of this Amazon review should tell you all you need to know about why this is a vital piece of film making and journalism.

Next up the two part French crime double Mesrine which I saw at FACT in Liverpool. Directed by Jean-Francois Richet and featuring (and I use this phrase with the respect it deserves) a career defining performance from Vincent Cassel, it is the real life story of 60s/70s French gangster Jacques Mesrine. It has to be said that Cassel, a man good looking enough to test my Kelner-like 36 year unblemished record of heterosexuality, gives the performance of a lifetime. Breathtaking violence, glamour, daring escapes, heists, gambling, shagging and media manipulation - it is the perfect example of an intoxicatingly true story told well by a fine director and a leading man with huge charisma.

Tomorrow night, I’m going to go with a 1974 paranoia-fest double bill with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View because I think both movies say so much more today than they even did in their own times.

Man alive, I have gone mad with all manner of genres in the last few weeks of frenzied PhD  catch-up writing. Amadou and Mariam for the last couple of days – anything with such a noticeable influence of the producer Manu Chao has to be a good thing.
Reggae star George Faith, particularly his work with Lee Scratch Perry, turned up during a Word magazine instigated randomiser session as did the Nigerian-born ‘calypso’ star Ambrose Campbell whose work features on the now several years old ‘London is the Place for Me’ compilation I found thanks to Du Noyer and The Word. Campbell's very interesting obit from the Guardian is available here.
On top this, while writing I have found my inner classicist and have again been top skanking to Daniel Barenboim’s conducting the Berlin Philharmonic doing Bruckner.
At times of minor crisis, I always turn to (among others) Lightning Hopkins, Trojan Rocksteady, The Pogues and The Clash and this period has been no different. Enough hypertext already, if you need to know - google people.
Let me know what you have watched/ read/ heard this month, below the fold.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Live streaming

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Flashback: Oscars coverage

I FILED this piece for the Liverpool ECHO TV column on March 25, 2002. It was written hurriedly after having been in the esteemed Crosby pub The Edinburgh the evening before with my mate Cormac Austin who had been visiting from Belfast.
When I say hurriedly, I mean (to use film parlance) it was one take right on deadline - in the old days a copy boy would have ripped it from the typewriter and ran like stink to the compositors rubbing sweat from his visor.
No rewrites and no self-analysis and still the favourite thing I ever wrote there because the emotions will be similar to those watching tonight's schmooze fest. It shows that sometimes it's better just to write what you think and be damned.

Oscar Special (BBC News 24) 
OKAY, okay, its not officially last night's telly, but the early-morning Oscar coverage from LA got the hatred meter rising through the roof.
As the nation slept and young parents like me were blearily calming down hyper-active weeuns, the biggest shower of over-paid prima-donnas were praising and analysing more prima donnas giving wee gold statues to other more highly paid prima-donnas.
So as billions of dollars were wasted on analysing the classic simplicity of Sharon Stone's dress, I was screaming at the telly: 'Of course she looks good, she gets paid $20m a movie, she's got people employed to make her look good.' 

Then we were told it was a great night for the African-American actors; it was a triumph of the great American dream. Did Martin Luther King die just so we could get the chance to see Halle Berry ham it up like the hammiest pantomime dame?
'This is for all the women of colour,' she blubbed unconvincingly, while I was sat shouting 'he's behind you' and waiting for Jim Davidson to come on as Buttons and start the song.
Even Sidney Poitier came on and made the sort of fawning, luvvie-speak acceptance speech that makes you want to kick in the TV.
The roll call of puffed-up luvvies in designer dress rolled on and on and on. By this stage steam was puffing out of my ears like a big old cartoon villain.
Leave it to the Brits: At least Jim Broadbent and Julian Fellowes looked as if they saw the ludicrousness of the whole thing and just pretended to be underwhelmed for a while.
Then as the parties started after the ceremony, Rosie Millard and some mad Yank woman with a big jaw from Vogue magazine started to analyse the couture, the haircuts and the shoes. Then I blew a gasket.
I began to shout: 'There's people dying of hunger in the world. Can't you see this is wrong? That it's immoral, that it's ridiculous. Why aren't you listening to me? Are you deaf? Argggghhh?'

And then I realised that sitting shouting about world hunger to the TV in the early hours of the morning is perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of Oscar viewing.