Tag Archives: review

Filming the Jump: #2 Wayne’s World

I know it’s not normally seen like this, but as a 13-year-old in 1992, Wayne’s World felt like a moment of triumph – when the young, funny, irreverent and fun-loving took over the establishment of TV. Mike Myers’ Wayne was the monkey in charge of the banana factory. He was funny. He was rude. He listened to good music. And he was a thousand times funnier and more compelling than anything else on the corporate-driven TV networks.

Wayne’s triumph over the TV moguls was the real story of the movie. They tried to screw him, but he triumphed, by being funny, talented, and having an unbeatable group of friends. All culminating in a full rectal examination of the very creepy Rob Lowe…

Rob Lowe - post Brat Pack, pre rectal probe

Without taking the symbolism too far, it is interesting to look at the counterpoint between Mike Myers and Rob Lowe. Lowe was the poster child of the previous wave of youth empowerment…the Brat Pack. But Rob Low, and Molly Ringwald, and Emilio Esetevez had been part of an apparent wave of teen power that was in fact the old school movie system in new clothing. They were pretty to look at, and served up a convincing product of teen rebellion. But they were very much in front of, not behind the camera. Wayne’s World was about the kids (albeit, in Mike Myers case, a 29 year-old in a baseball cap) taking over the medium.

In a time when the big networks’ grip on broadcast was being broken by the proliferation of TV stations and the rise of cable and satellite technology, this seemed very plausible. Kids had gone wanting their MTV to wanting to run their own show. The kids were taking control of the airwaves, of the interaction, making it more real and direct, and they were bringing the audience with them.

Flip forward a couple of decades, and it is clear that this hasn’t happened.

It feels like there is less live music than pretty much ever before. MTV, the bedrock of teen culture for quite a while, is content to churn out reality TV and docu-soap that is more appealing to 20-somethings looking to vegetate with a hangover as it is to angry young kids.

money for nothing, and chicks for free

There are a couple of exceptions that prove the rule – Skins, for example, continues to fly the flag, particularly in the US where its launch has entranced teenagers and predictably outraged sponsors. South Park manages, just about, to sustain a balance of rage and gross out comedy. But overall, TV feels more and more like the playground of professional adults and corporate interests.

But this isn’t a rant about the sell out of TV to ‘the Man’…the point of course is that there is another show in town – the Internet. Why bother to try to seize control of the airwaves, and the means of cultural production, when all you need to create your own space and audience is upload to YouTube or set up your own online record label? When there is a media option that is so much more vital, immediate, interactive and sociable, why bother with TV?

The leadenness of TV is particularly clear when you see its attempts to feed from the internet. Behold the horror of Tosh.O.

The problem with all of this is that without the active participation of all the smart, funny kids in the world in the future of TV, we are missing out on a lot. We are missing our chance to create inspiring pop culture movements at one moment in time. We are under-selling the potential of the box in the corner, which can be interactive and vital, but is almost always generating passivity. And we are missing out on the sense of empowerment that each new generation gets from taking over control of the institutions of the previous generation.

And the fact remains that with production and distribution getting ever cheaper, media consumption fragmenting, the chance to make Wayne’s World come to life is greater than ever. It would be great to see someone do it – and as a 30-something marketing guy…to see it and feel like it WASN’T designed for me…

betty rubble has aged somewhat better than Madonna...

Instead, we have this. A Wayne’s World sketch on Saturday Night Live. 15 years after it ceased to be relevant. Actually it’s not unfunny. But it might be good to see something new…

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Filming the Jump: #1 Sunset Boulevard

When the movies went from silent to talking, who got left behind? How did it change the movie industry for the people in it? How did the change in the medium affect the world? That is the single-minded obsession of a film of obsessive, singular greatness – 1950′s Sunset Boulevard.

One very scary lady

The melodramatic black hole of a performance by Gloria Swanson in the lead, and the obvious symbolism of the title, draw you into a speculation on the end of something. But it is important to remember that at the core of this film is also the beginning of something – in fact of what you would normally consider the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’.

The era of Norma Desmonds’s seclusion after all is the era of Bogart, of Gone with the Wind, of Howard Hawks. This was an era where the script and the dialogue was king, where people went to the movies to hear people talk, and where the dialogue comes so thick and fast that it feels (perhaps rightly) like audiences at this time weighing their ticket price vs the volume of words and making their judgements accordingly. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lauren Bacall…all not only great actors but phenomenal when judged on words per minute…

Sunset Boulevard is thick with distaste for the world of words that seemed to have been unleashed by the new age of movies – and by implication, TV too. Its lead, lent almost-sympathy in the dramatic trick of making him narrate from beyond the grave, is profoundly unsympathetic as a word-churning writer. In fact writers across the board seem like a pretty tawdry lot, pumping on second-rate variations on formula, filled with plausible verbiage.

The chattering fast talk of journalists and writers alike is thrown into sharp relief by the Norma Desmond’s dramatic delivery and physical expressiveness. The intense drama of her declarations of affection are played off against the facile verbal fencing of the writer’s love affair. And the most powerful character, Butler/Director Max, is a man of very few words.

It’s also a movie in a grand tradition of pieces in which ‘I love you’ is held cheap. There is only one person who seems to mean it when they say it, if for all the wrong reasons – and that’s Norma Desmond. Particularly when she has it engraved in gold.

What we can feel in this movie is not so much a harking back to the golden days of the silent screen – much as you hanker for them as Buster Keaton flits across the screen – as an underlying unease about the world of chatter, of too many words from too many people signifying too little. And this was in 1950. Project this forward to the modern age of ubiquitous video, and you begin to get a sense of how much psychological pressure and acrobatic effort is placed upon the human mind by this deluge of words.

To end with a huge diversion – this line of thought leads me to reconsider what I consume with my ears, just as I do (sometimes) what I eat. On this subject, a great talk from the ever great TED. Maybe it is worth considering how to ration the chatter that we absorb every day – and to weigh and ration each word as people did when they first saw the Jazz Singer…and consigned Norma Desmond to a slow death of madness.

Fittingly, Sunset Boulevard also has two lines of dialogue, terse and perfect that are amongst the greatest in cinema.

“Mr De Mille? I’m ready for my close up.”

and, most appropriately…

“I’m still big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

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when mickey mouse met stravinsky – whatever happened to innovative cultural fusion?

today it is 70 years since the launch of fantasia, in which walt disney reinvented classical music for a new generation through mickey mouse and a lot of hand drawn animation.

it is an incredible film. we are fortunate to live in an age of incredible animation that has produced the first 45 minutes of wall-e, and the first five minutes of up (still the most emotionally satisfying exposition of character that i’ve seen in years.)

but despite the technical wizardry, incredible heart and storytelling craft of the pixar gems, nothing quite matches the insane bravery of making a film which was essentially a music video to bach, stravinsky and tchaikovsky, in which the boundaries of hand-drawn animation were broken several times every day during production. it is a great example of the incredible innovation that comes from combining two seemingly irreconcilable forms of culture – with spectacular, transformational effects.

i’ve just finished re-reading, for the fourth time or so  i think, ‘easy riders, raging bulls’ by Peter Biskind. if you haven’t read it, it is a phenomenal examination of the reinvention of hollywood in the early 1970s. i recommend it highly…if you haven’t got time, here is a snippet of the accompanying documentary to whet your appetite.

again, what is remarkable about this period, in which hopper, beatty, scorcese, coppola, friedkin, lucas and spielberg rewrote the rules of cinema, is not extraordinary technical progress, or even extraordinary originality, but an incredible facility in blending together generations, cultures and styles. in particular, each of these directors in their own way was obsessed with applying the cerebral style of the french new wave to new, pop culture genres – the western, the gangster story, the detective story – again changing the medium in the process.

this of course isn’t limited to movies. it underpins many other fields – like the stages of bob dylan’s progress, particularly the seminal moment when he linked the traditional folk music of the american midwest to the electric ryhthm and blues of new york – in itself an innovation so powerful that large sectors of the transatlantic folk community wanted to lynch him. which he took with his usual wacky humour.

there are a million other examples, from the distant and elevated (ancient rome meets renaissance florence) to the recent and humorous (clueless merges beverley hills 90210 and jane austen’s emma.) but i can’t think of any recently.

i have a couple of thoughts on why this might be, both of which are coloured by the marketing world that i operate in.

the first has been the inexorable rise of the mash up. bringing together different times, different cultures through music and images, is almost too easy now, too commonplace. it has become the province of the joke, or the statement of cool, rather than the statement of art. (though this, featuring snow white, feels quite magical to me…)

the second, i think, is related to the world of marketing. at its best, modern marketing is very good at focusing on the authentic, the pure, the ‘usp’. this kind of focus is what i see in some of the braver films of recent time – where the fashion has become the ‘redux’, the ‘more original than the original’, rather than the skewed retelling for another age. at its worst, modern marketing is all about having as predictable a set of demand as possible – which you get by creating sequels, or creating genre pictures – which may not necessarily break the mould of cinema, but do provide much more predictable box office (crucial to an industry with huge marketing and infrastructure costs in advance of release, and small profit margins.)

this film made perfect marketing and commercial sense...

but more generally it feels like we have reached a place culturally where we are uncomfortable with the idea of reinvention, or remixing, as a serious artistic statement. and as a result it feels like we are in a somewhat conservative place – at best lots of slavish devotion to original text, at worst lots of repetitive, formulaic product.

maybe it would be nice to see things being mixed up a bit again…?

i’ve acquired lots of new readers recently, which has been very exciting. thanks. if you are enjoying what you’re reading, you can subscribe on this page, or add me to your reader if you are a pro. or just drop in from time to time. thanks!

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fox news = daily mail on happy pills

ok. so we all hate fox news. it is not for people like us. i shall subject myself to ten minutes of method viewing/writing, and see what conclusions i can draw.

fox news - like the daily mail, but happy about it

10:13pm: fox news is massively psyched about the fact that the queen is in new york. and that she is 84. aw, bless.

10:14pm:  a classic fox news story…priest + fraud + assumptions of sexual misconduct = screentime

10:17pm:  fox news is immensely proud of its semi-celebrity weatherman, and of the fact that its viewers baked his face onto a disgusting looking cake.

10:19pm:  fox news is watched by the kind of people that are more likely to buy a $899 bed if they are given a free gift of a small stuffed sheep or a plastic alarm clock.

10:21pm:  it is day 78 of the ‘BP crisis’ (sic). there are also many other big numbers associated this story, but few animals. fox news is confident that oil-eating bacteria are the answer. they are apparently ‘nature’s little housekeepers’.

10:22pm:  the people who create their credit sequences have definitely, DEFINITELY never seen the Day Today.

10:23pm:  the weather coverage is by far the most informative and accurate section of the news coverage.

10:25pm:  ‘in the news tonight, a submarine transformed to carry tonnes of cocaine – and that’s a wrap’ (queue laughter)

10:25-10:26pm:  ample to cover world news

10:30:  people like parks apparently. this is getting a much longer slot than the poitical situation in the middle east. in classic new york style, they seem to be including golf courses under the categorisation of parks. fox overall seems relatively in favour of privatising parks. this does not sound to me like a good idea…

conclusion…fox news…

LIKES: privatisation, the queen, the weather, pompous credit sequences, sexy priests, cocaine

DISLIKES: the environment, the world, the news

STYLE: cheerful, flippant, excitable, tanned, insane

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daily mail online feels like my nightmares

in which my good internet dream is shattered by a swirl of shouty headlines and repeating pictures of samantha cameron


like a beautiful piece of design thinking, like the work of isambard kingdom brunel, the online experience is marching towards an ever greater sense of fluency, clarity and simplicity. the ruthless impact of unlimited user choice demands it. that type fonts become clearer. that things are easier to navigate. that images please the eye, but don’t distract from it. that html must triumph over flash. that i win.

in fact, surfing the internet now feels like my most liberating dreams – where i can fly, move with effortless speed, and shape the world around me. i feel stress ebbing away, and power seeping into my body.

but the daily mail online is the stuff of my nightmares.

like a nightmare i have set in a fairground

i shall leave any personal or political disagreements i have with this fine media outlet, and focus instead on style. have you ever had one of those dreams, where the same figure, menacing and strange for no good reason, keeps turning up in multiple places, with the same strange expression, like a hideous echoing noise? well check out this page, with its endlessly repeating samantha camerons. at least six on this page, i think all of them identical though framed to look slightly different. and for that matter, two andrea mcleans from loose women, looking alarmingly like the twins in the shining.

stay out of my dreams, strange repeating woman

totally mindbending.

and then the text. just so much of it, almost all of it BOLD SO IT FEELS LIKE IT WANTS TO SHOUT A THOUSAND TIMES AT ME AT THE SAME TIME WITH A THOUSAND MOUTHS AND TONGUES. This is like that bit at the very end of a nightmare just before you wake up where everything starts going much too quickly and you start getting panicky. me no like.

WHY ARE WE SHOUTING?!!!!

i know i can’t avoid my nightmares. but this is the internet god dammit. NO-ONE had to go there. and yet apparently many people do.

there can be only one conclusion. just as some people want a newspaper that scares the living daylights out of them every morning for no good reason, some internet users must want to find an online experience that makes them feel stressed, panicky and disorientated. and they are flooding to the mail online, basking in the experience of a simulated nightmare with grinning reflections in fairground mirrors coming from every direction, and a thousand angry journalists standing around them shouting.

it doesn’t make any sense. but i guess it takes all sorts to make the world. even people who prefer feeling like they are having a terrible nightmare when they could just go elsewhere for their news…

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dreaming of the historical potential of 100 years of google…

if you’ve never read ‘fooled by randomness’ by nassim nicholas taleb, it’s definitely worth a look. this is what it looks like in paperback – though not my coffee which is inexplicably covered in coffee. well, coffee spillage was always going to be happen to someone, so i shouldn’t feel upset that it was me.

i can’t quite agree with Malcolm Gladwell that ‘it is to conventional Wall Street wisdom approximately what Martin Luther’s 95 these were to the Catholic Church.’ in fact i suspect in saying this that gladwell is making exactly the mistake scoped out in the book – mistaking a short term blip in intellectual discourse for a a long term see change in a thinking paradigm. but it is rather good.

it is a defiantly unscientific book in many ways, which appeals to me, but also (once you get past layer after layer of egotism on the part of its author) rather a refreshing and human one. in particular, it is salve to the wounds created by those peers or competitors that you see as being slightly more successful than you – don’t worry, says taleb, they are almost certainly just lucky, and if you hang around for a bit, you’ll see them fall flat on their faces (as long as you haven’t got too cocky yourself in the meantime, in which case it’ll be your face you should be worried about.)

the bit that i have been particularly enjoying is around the dangers of having too clear an idea of what is going on at the moment. he counsels traders to try to track their investments on a weekly rather than a daily basis, and laughs with scorn at those who check share prices of wirless devices. i think i will join him, it is a satisfying thing to do. the item below is a trap for fools of randomness.

of course it immediate occurred to me that this mistake is prevalent in all of the worlds in which i am most active – in marketing, in media, in politics and indeed in music and movies. we’ve all got to start checking the results a bit less often, otherwise we will never really know what is going on.

this is difficult of course. i have lost count of the time i have spent talking about social monitoring, instantaneous course-correction, live planning etcetra and nauseam. and if i have an intensely functional problem to solve, like getting as many people as possible into a cinema or onto a website within a couple of days, then this stuff is all pretty useful.

but if you really want to get a perspective on the health of a brand or company, or the quality of a piece of music or film, or the long term political prospects of a party and individual, a bit of patience clearly works wonders – otherwise you run the risk of becoming obsessed with burst of tweets or opinion polls or test screenings that really just reflect the consistent background noise created by randomness.

this takes me back to my post from yesterday (see below) and back to my friend Edmund Burke – a political opposite but a philosophical exemplar for me. if you really want to work out what the best thing is to do, don’t just ask lots of people right now, or analyse the patterns of behavioural data from the last couple of weeks – give it some time, and try to analyse what is really happening based on decent, long terms trends. we will then become less obsessed with trigger events and revolutions, and wiser in our understanding of evolution, and what might happen next. thanks edmund.

what becomes really exciting is when we begin to think at what this deluge of instantaneous data, thus far momentous in scope and detail, but fickle in terms of its trending and caught up in patterns of self-reference, could mean for understanding of human nature, if we start giving layering on to our approach for it a respect for the collective wisdom of time.

the mind boggles at what a historian would be able to do with 100 years of twitter or search data. i hope these sources are jealously preserved, and that someone remembers to look at them and ask interesting questions…once we get over the excitement of discovering the most tweeted subject of the week.

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