TTLP: Short Twitter Listening Party Notes

You probably know what these Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties are by now. My other accounts are here. In this post most of my write-ups are a bit sketchy, of listening parties where I did not closely follow the tweets while the album was playing, in some cases just letting the music wash over me without closely engaging with it.

4/9/2020 David Bowie Hours (1999)
4/9/2020 The Pixies Surfer Rosa (1988)

A double header. Reeves Gabrels was our host for the David Bowie record, one of his later works which sounded at least somewhat worth my time. Surfer Rosa is of course a classic but I think I was listening without paying too much attention to the tweets. I don’t think the question of why the Pixies lead singer has three different names was addressed.

See the tweets yourself here and here.

5/9/2020 The The Dusk (1992)

This was a later The The album being heard by me for the first time. It seemed pretty good and would I think warrant closer attention. Tweets

6/9/2020 Throwing Muses Sun Racket (2020)

OK now this… as you know, Throwing Muses have been around a long time, being I think the first US band signed to 4AD back in the mists of time. They are an outfit I have always been aware of without being a massive fan. I have at least one of their albums on vinyl but haven’t listened to it in years and assumed that they had faded away as Kristin Hersh concentrated on her solo career. For some reason my interest was piqued by this listening party and a sneaky advance listen to the first chords of this album suggested that it was worth engaging with, so I joined in the listening party.

And this is a great record, with lot of scuzzy guitar and Hersh’s scary vocals. It has the energy of a record by a hip band starting out on their career, despite being made by an act in their fourth decade. This is my real find of the listening parties, a record I now own in physical media, and one which has engendered a newfound interest in exploring the Throwing Muses back catalogue – if this is what they do when they are at a point in their career where most bands are trading on former glories then whatever they did in their prime must have been amazing.

Here are tweets.

9/9/2020 v/a Help (1995)
I came in late on this re-listen to a charity compilation released in 1995 to raise money for War Child, an organisation that works with children in conflict and post-conflict situations. Originally they were focussed on conflict in Bosnia, but have broadened their scope since. The album features tracks by a number of acts popular at the time, all recorded in a single day, with the release issued so quickly that it came without a tracklisting (though one was provided in the next issue of the NME). I think it was something of a favourite in my old flat so it was a bit of a nostalgia buzz listening to tracks from it again. And it’s funny looking at the roster to see which artists are still big names now and which ones faded away.

Despite my repeated instructions to beware the taint of Albarn, a personal favourite is still Blur’s ‘Eine Kleine Lift Musik’, though the best track is probably Suede’s cover of ‘Shipbuilding’. The listening party was quite funny as they had an army of people from all the different acts who appeared on the record. A bit of a pop industry love-in TBH, but an appealingly nostalgic one. And as noted, I came in to this late and only caught the last number of tracks – for full nostalgia action I might need to replay the whole thing again sometime.

Tweet action

images:

Sun Racket (Bandcamp)

Help (Warchild – Celebrating War Child’s Landmark Help Album: 25th Anniversary Relaunch)

Another TTLP threesome: “Soul Mining”, “All Is Dream”, and “Movement”

Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties… fun things organised by Tim Burgess, where people listen to a record while someone involved in its making tweets about it. My listening party write-ups can be seen here.

19/7/2020 The The Soul Mining (1983)

In days of yore Infected was for me the The The album, but I understand that this one has its admirers. As well it should, it’s a stonker of a record and for this listening party we were joined by Matt Johnson himself, or Mr The The as he likes to be called. Sadly no one was impolite enough to ask whether it is true that he was permanently baked while recording what is reputedly the first Ecstasy album. What this re-listening really brought home to me, aside from the record’s general greatness, is how savage the drumming by Zeke Manyika is on the tracks he plays on.

Johnson posted a link to the The The website, from which all kinds of stuff can be purchased, including a book by his brother about the dodgy Stratford pub their dad ran… I keep meaning to buy it for my Dad (who lived in Stratford when his family moved to London), in the hope that he will say “Jesus Christ, the Two Puddings? That was a right kip. You’d take your life in your hands if you went in there”.

Read back on the tweets or play them back in real time as you listen to the album here.

25/7/2020 Mercury Rev All Is Dream (2001)
This is of course the record Mercury Rev eventually released after Deserter’s Songs had broken them out of the interesting weirdo ghetto. As with the Deserter’s Songs listening party, our host here was Mr Grasshopper, who kept forgetting to use the hashtag (his tweets have retrospectively been added to the archive). I think I mentioned that I was slightly underwhelmed by Deserter’s Songs at its listening party, finding the old favourite a bit less exciting than I had remembered it. But this, easily dismissed as the disappointing follow up (for all that I have no idea if it is generally so dismissed), hit the spot in a way that I was not expecting, with its epic and melancholic qualities proving to be most appealing. I think this record is one we should go back to.

One odd detail from the listening party was that the record was released on 11 September 2001, which put a bit of a dampener on things.

Read back on the tweets or play them back in real time as you listen to the album here.

28/8/2020 New Order Movement (1981)
More Hooky action as Mr Peter brought us through the first New Order album, having previously entertained with Closer and Unknown Pleasures. As you know, the death of Ian Curtis forced the dissolution of Joy Division, but the surviving members regrouped as New Order, recruiting Gillian Gilbert to the band as an extra musician. Apparently the record was a complete fucker to record as the band were a bit unsure of themselves while producer Martin Hannett, who had been close to Ian Curtis, kept telling them they were shit. Hooky even says that they all started crying during a late night recording session.

To me Movement always feels like an overlooked gem in the New Order back catalogue. Its general air of bleak melancholia harks back to Joy Division’s later sound, but there are maybe the germs of what would subsequently become New Order’s big electropop sound. It is a transitional record, but even on its own terms it is full of great tunes.

I had always assumed that Bernard Sumner had provided all the vocals on this record, but no, two tracks feature lead vocals by Peter Hook, opener ‘Dreams Never End’ and ‘Doubts Even Here’. The band had originally intended to split vocals between them before they eventually settled on Sumner doing them all. Hooky himself wrote the lyrics for ‘Dreams Never End’, while ‘Doubts Even Here’ has lyrics by Stephen Morris, who had also attempted to sing it. Perhaps out there somewhere is a demo version of this with Morris doing his thing here.

As with the listening party for Closer, Hooky was a great host, highlighting interesting facts about the album and paying tribute to his former bandmates, including Stephen Morris who had like Banquo shown up uninvited to the party. There was a fair bit of mutual backslapping between Morris and Hook, but then at the listening party’s end Hook issued the saddest of all tweets:

“Thanks everyone for listening! I really hope I can get back to playing this live for you soon.

But I must admit, please don’t be fooled by all the togetherness shown in these listening parties.

We have not spoken for nearly 9 years, have we Steve?”

Reply came there none.

Read back on the tweets or play them back in real time as you listen to the album here.

images:

Signed copy of Soul Mining (Phil Newton (@podcastdoors) on Twitter)

Tales from the Two Puddings (The The and Matt Johnson)

Mercury Rev (Graasshopper (@mercuryrevvd) on Twitter)

Barney & Hooky onstage in Birmingham, January 1982 (Birmingham 81 (@Birmingham_81) on Twitter)

“Possessor” (2020)

In a recent discussion in the pages of august journal Frank’s APA, I suggested that maybe films by David Cronenberg are not as gory as all that. This film, however, is directed by Brandon Cronenberg, his son, and it is gory as fuck, featuring a lot of very intense scenes of violence and enough blood to keep Dracula fed for years. It’s one of those science fiction films where the world is kind of the same as it is now apart from the addition of some bit of funny technology that does not currently exist. In this case it is a tech that allows for people to be taken over by another person’s consciousness. There are all kinds of uses to which such a technology might be put, but in this film it is used for murder, with Andrea Riseborough playing an assassin working for a mysterious corporation, whose job is to take over people and then carry out hits, ending the job with her host’s “suicide” so that the real nature of the assassination is not suspected. Most of the film sees her occupying the body of the deadbeat boyfriend (played by Christopher Abbott) of an industrialist’s daughter, with the industrialist (Sean Bean, obv.) the target of the assassination.

The drama comes from the assassin finding that she is beginning to suffer some kind of breakdown. Sadly she is not starting to doubt the morality of pretending to be people, impersonating them and then killing them and people close to them. Rather she is suffering a kind of disassociation where she is losing her sense of self and finding it hard to differentiate herself from her hosts. In her downtime she is barely able to act normally around her child and former partner. While uploaded into the host her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and the mission goes seriously awry.
I broadly liked the film, noting its strong performances not just from the leads but also from a swathe of supporting actors. But it is pretty bleak. The morality of assassination never impinges on the plot and the resolution sees the assassin lose her sense of empathy, thereby becoming a more efficient killing machine. And the violence is pretty full on – not sadistic torture or stuff like that, but fight scenes with people being shot or stabbed in a far more graphic manner than is usual in cinema.

I also found the film’s attitude to technology interesting. The film hinges on the existence of the possession technology, but the existence of this tech seems to be a secret known only to the assassin’s employers, with no one ever suspecting that any of the film’s murders have been carried out by a possessed host. I don’t really think that is realistic – the nature of technology is that it can’t be developed in a vacuum and if someone has something then other people will either have it as well or at least suspect its theoretical existence.

But if you can stomach the violence, check it out wherever weirdo films are streamed. And if you are a nominator for the Hugo Awards, bear in mind that Possessor is eligible in the best dramatic presentation (long form) category.

images:

mask (Polygon: Possessor is one of the most artful, colossally effed-up horror movies in forever)

equipment (Los Angeles Times: Andrea Riseborough is a master of murder tech in Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Possessor’)

Shakespeare films: what’s worth seeing?

In a conversation about films on Facebook a friend mentioned that he was watching the Kurosawa classic Ran, to which I replied with a comment about its origins as an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Friend then commented that he had never read a Shakespeare play (good move, they’re not meant to be read) or seen a film adaptation of one of his plays. That got me thinking about Shakespeare film adaptations that are worth watching, both ones that are direct films of his work (i.e. using his Elizabethan dialogue etc.) and ones that draw more loosely from his plays. And so I have compiled a list, starting with the straight adaptations and then the ones that are inspired by his work. Quite a few of these are films I have not seen myself but ones which sound like they would be worth viewing.

Othello (1951), directed by Orson Welles

Othello tells of a Moorish mercenary who commands the army of Venice. After he elopes with the daughter of a Venetian grandee, Othello’s supposedly loyal lieutenant Iago poisons his mind by insinuating that she has been unfaithful with another of his officers. Like many of Welles’s films, Othello had a troubled production thanks to financial difficulties and was shot in fits and starts over a number of years. At one point Welles had his cast assembled in Essaouira to shoot a murder scene, but no costumes or sets for them; making a virtue of necessity, Welles filmed the murder in a local bathhouse.

I have not seen this film myself but images and excerpts from it look intriguing. Of Irish interest is the casting of Micheál Mac Liammóir as Iago. But beware – the film was made in the less enlightened days of the past, when it was not always considered inappropriate for actors to play characters of different ethnicities to themselves, so modern viewers may find it problematic that Welles plays Othello.

Macbeth (1971), directed by Roman Polanski

Shakespeare’s account of a Scottish nobleman who usurps his country’s throne and then embarks on a reign of terror is one of his most brutal plays but also perhaps his best. I have not seen Polanski’s film version but by all accounts it is unflinching in its depictions of gruesome violence, and coming so soon after the horrific murder of Sharon Tate, the directors wife, it is hard not to see the film as a product of the dark place in which Polanski then found himself. Polanski’s own crimes make him a deeply problematic figure and readers will have to decide for themselves whether it is acceptable to watch any film he has directed.

Richard III (1995), directed by Richard Loncraine

It occurs to me that Richard III is the English Macbeth – another account of a maniac who murders his way to the throne and then can’t stop the slaughter, causing his power to ebb away even as he tries to kill off anyone who might challenge him. In this 1930s themed production Ian McKellen (who co-wrote the script) plays a surprisingly urbane Richard, but one whose apparent politeness masks the heart of a psychopath.
Richard III is problematic to modern audiences on account of its association of the main character’s physical disability with his moral depravity. And much of Shakespeare’s account of his life is little more than propaganda serving the descendants of those who ultimately defeated him. Nevertheless, as a stylish fictional account of one of history’s greatest badasses this film cannot be beaten.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993), directed by Kenneth Branagh

Of course Shakespeare isn’t all doom and gloom. This film of one of his comedies was a bit hit at the time and while I have not seen it since I remember it fondly. I also can’t really remember much about it so it probably features the usual Shakespeare comedy staples of separated twins, men pretending to be women, women pretending to be men, comic misunderstandings, people with funny voices, and so on. It does also feature Keanu Reeves wearing leather trousers and being very evil; at one point his henchman has to give him a topless backrub.

Macbeth (1948), directed by Orson Welles

I don’t really know anything about this but Orson Welles is great and Macbeth is great so this should be at least worth a look, even if it does feature Welles attempting a Scottish accent.

Twelfth Night (1996), directed by Trevor Nunn

Twelfth Night is the official best of the Shakespeare comedies so perhaps this production with its all-star cast manages to successfully bring the roffles to the big screen.

Throne of Blood (1957), directed by Akira Kurosawa

This takes the Macbeth story and transfers it to feudal Japan. The supernatural elements remain foregrounded – both the witches and their prophecies that set the Macbeth-analogue on his blood-soaked path to power, and then memorably the banquet where the ghost of the friend he has had murdered shows up as an uninvited guest.

Ran (1985), directed by Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa’s last film is based on King Lear (summary: old king decides to retire, dividing his realm between his daughters; what happens next may surprise you), with the story again moved to feudal Japan. In this one the Lear-analogue divides his domain among his sons rather than daughters, which has always left me wondering if the idea of reigning queens is unimaginable to the Japanese (for all that historically I understand there to have been female emperors). The film is beautiful and tragic, profiting from a budget that seems to be equivalent to that of all Kurosawa’s other films added together.

Omkara (2006), directed by Vishal Bhardwaj
This takes the Othello story and sets it in contemporary India, with Omkara (the Othello-analogue) a common gangster working for crooked politicians who need him to do their dirty work. The problem with Othello is that too often the malevolent Iago takes over the play, leaving the title character looking like a bit of a cipher. But here Omkara is played by Ajay Devgn as a serious badass, making his descent all the more terrifying. This may be the best cinematic adaptation of Othello and it is a shame that it is not better known outside India.
Bhardwaj has also made Maqbool (2003), based on Macbeth, and Haider (2014), based on Hamlet. I have not seen these but suspect they would be worth watching. Like Omkara, Maqbool is set among gangsters, with the witches apparently portrayed by two policemen who keep showing up to push the Macbeth analogue onwards. I would be curious as to how overtly supernatural this one goes with the plot (i.e. is there an air of prophecy to the witch-policemen and does this have an equivalent of Banquo-at-the-feast?). Haider meanwhile is set in Kashmir and uses the political turmoil there as a backdrop, which has the potential to be a bit edgy and possibly problematic to anyone with particular views on the Kashmir conflict.

Forbidden Planet (1956), directed by Fred M. Wilcox

This science fiction classic draws on The Tempest, Shakespeare’s tale of a sorcerer marooned on a desert island with his daughter and magical servants. In the film the desert island is the planet, where a newly arriving spaceship finds that the only survivors of a previous colony are the scientist Dr Morbius, his daughter and a robot of Morbius’s own design, the other colonists all having been killed by invisible monsters.

My Own Private Idaho (1991), directed by Gus Van Sant

I have not seen this highly regarded film myself but reputedly it draws on Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V. I suspect this means it has parallels to the plot about the troubled relationship between King Henry IV and his dissolute son Prince Hal (in turn matey with the disreputable Falstaff); it probably does not have as much to do with Henry IV’s struggle against Welsh and English rebels or Henry V’s invasion of France.

West Side Story (1961), directed by Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins

Romeo & Juliet tells of an ultimately doomed love-story between teenagers from opposing feuding families. It is endlessly adaptable, with the feuding families easily replaced by whatever other divisions are currently topical. West Side Story takes the Romeo & Juliet outline and transposes it to New York, where the opposing groups are nativist and Puerto Rican street gangs. This is one of the all-time great operas, lending its ultimately squalid tale of knife fights, rumbles, and tragic young love an operatic quality.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), directed by Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard directed this film version of his own play, which takes two minor characters from Hamlet and tells the story from their point of view. Hamlet is gloomy and miserable but Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is funny, for all that the title rather spoils the fact that things might not end well for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. To get the jokes one might perhaps need some basic familiarity with Hamlet ( in which Hamlet discovers that his uncle has murdered his dad, married his mother, and usurped the throne of Denmark, leaving Hamlet unsure what to do about it) but it would probably also work as an introduction to Shakespeare’s longest play. I have not seen this film myself and have heard that it is a bit stagey, but I think it would still be worth viewing.

Theatre of Blood (1973), Directed by Douglas Hickox

While I have not seen this one myself, I think it might work as kind of greatest hits of the playwright’s work. Vincent Price plays an unsuccessful Shakespearean actor so incensed by his bad reviews that he starts kidnapping theatre critics and murdering them in the manner of various famous deaths from the Bard’s plays.

After all those recommendations, here are some films I suggest people avoid. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film of Henry V is well made and reasonably well acted but the story of Henry V (English king invades France, beats the French repeatedly, marries a French princess, the end) is not really that interesting. Futhermore this is probably the favourite Shakespeare play of Brexiters.

The 2015 film of Macbeth sounds like it should be good, given its strong cast (Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, with Paddy Considine, Jack Reynor, David Thewlis, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki in supporting roles) but it ends up being pretty boring. Check out one of the other Macbeth adaptations instead.

Laurence Olivier directed and starred in a number of Shakespeare films (Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), Richard III(1955), and Othello (1965)). They’re a bit old-fashioned and over-reverential, the kind of heritage Shakespeare you watch without enjoying out of duty. Massive caveat: I have never actually seen his Richard III and it is so long since I saw the others that I might have entirely different opinions of them if I saw them now.

And you? What Shakespeare adaptations would you recommend? If I’ve missed any good ones let me know in the comments.

images:

Laurence Olivier’s Richard III (Guardian, Reel History – Richard III: Laurence Olivier’s melodramatic baddie is seriously limp)

Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (Irish Times – Ran review: Kurosawa’s masterpiece remains as sharp as a serpent’s tooth)

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (Cinema For All – Omkara)

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (Kirkville – Film Review: Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet)