Monday 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Tintin and the Secret of Movie Making

The Adventures of Tintin is great art crudely redrawn
If you love the Tintin books, don't see Steven Spielberg's 'execrable' film adaptation

Tom McCarthy,
Friday 28 October 2011

I entered the plush Leicester Square auditorium for a screening of The Adventures of Tintin with low expectations and 3D glasses. Donning the latter and suppressing the former, I thought for a few pleasant minutes that my forbearance might be rewarded: the opening credit sequence, a zappy graphic medley in which cityscapes, crime scenes and villains morph into and out of one another, was excellent; and so was the first scene, which wittily showed Hergé himself (Tintin's creator, in case you didn't know) eking out a living by drawing caricatures in a flea-market, the array of his past clients featuring characters from all the Tintin books. From then on, though, it was downhill, and then some. Steven Spielberg's adaptation is not just a failure; it is an assault on a great body of art so thuggishly moronic as to make one genuinely depressed.

Make no mistake: the Tintin albums are great art. We could argue until the cows come home about what type of art they represent (narrative? Visual? Sub-cinematic?), but their greatness brooks no querying. Their characters, from melancholic and explosive Captain Haddock to proud and fiery General Alcazar to the vain and affected opera diva Bianca Castafiore, rival any dreamt up by Flaubert or Dickens for sheer strength and depth of personality. Their recurrent themes and symbols – the downfall of noble houses, host-guest encounters gone drastically wrong, tombs and their secrets, water, forgery, the Sun (to name but a few) – are entirely classical, the same found in Aeschylus or Shakespeare or Faulkner. They are eminently political, depicting, first from a rightwing perspective, then, increasingly, a leftist one, a 20th century characterised, just like the present era, by conflict over Middle Eastern oil, the perpetually unsettled Balkans, galloping technological progress, profiteering multinationals and arms traders who have one foot in the president's office. Best of all, they yield to a casual reader of seven the same amount of joy and wonder as they do to the most diligent adult scholar.

Here's a telling anecdote: after the premiere of a previous, equally doomed attempt in 1960 to adapt the albums for cinema, Hergé asked a boy leaving the auditorium if he'd liked it. No, the boy replied. Why not, inquired the crestfallen author? "Because Captain Haddock didn't have the same voice as he does in the books," the boy explained. His apparently naive take was in fact incisive, since Tintin was always premised on a set of implicit borrowings and relocations from one medium to another. Hergé's earliest strip-cartoons were billed as "movies" on paper; creatively, he was as indebted to the films of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as to the novels of Jules Verne or the illustrated poems of Benjamin Rabier (which, long forgotten now, featured a tuft-headed boy called Tintin-Lutin and his dog). Hergé's remarkable achievement with the Tintin series was to pluck all these elements from their original contexts and join them together, holding them in perfect equilibrium, in a new, hybrid format whose conventions (speech-bubbles joined with left-to-right action, for example) he established in the very act of assembly.

Here, though, everything that found its form so well in Hergé's remix loses it catastrophically in Spielberg's. The slapstick – oars swinging round and bumping on heads, feet tripping on cats, and so on – is gauche and anachronistic. The plot (Hergé, like his almost-exact contemporary Hitchcock, was an absolute master of this) is hole-ridden and ridiculous (for what it's worth, it involves a kind of cut-'n'-shut weld of the plots of The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws). The action sequences are not grounded in any credible reality. This is important: like so many children, I spent hours staring, captivated, at the single frame from The Broken Ear that shows Tintin trying to fire his speeding car over a level crossing just before a hurtling locomotive cuts off his path. (Will he make it? Look at the angles of approach, the lines showing the relative speeds of his car and the train. Might he just? Great snakes: he's pulled it off!)
Spielberg, a fine film-maker in his prime, captured the same exhilaration in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Harrison Ford, or his stuntman, clung to planes and straddled gaping voids. But here, CGI allows for anything: galleons fly through the air, pirates skip gaily from one burning vessel to another; a sidecar splits from its motorbike and crashes through a building which itself is being borne down a ravine by a cascading wall of water, while Snowy flies through windows clinging to a falcon's tail before landing back on the sidecar, that in turn rejoins the bike … or something; on and on and on. It's boring beyond belief. When all you're looking at is pixels being shunted around a screen by some nerd in post-production, none of it counts.

But worst of all is the violence perpetrated against the core impulses of Hergé's work. The deep and disturbing power of the Tintin books lies in the way that they immerse the reader in an inauthentic universe, a world whose veneers are constantly being peeled back to reveal inner emptiness. This begins right back in 1929 with the very first adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, in which the commie-bashing hero, noticing visiting English Marxists gushing over Soviet factories, sneaks behind the buildings (and, by extension, the belief system they underpin) to discover that they're wooden façades: the smoke is made by burning hay; the clangs by a single man banging a piece of metal. It continues, with increasing complexity, through the figure of Haddock, who is posited between the lines as the illegitimate descendant of Louis XIV (the Sun King): the latter's gift to Haddock's ancestor Sir Francis of a château, Marlinspike, adheres to a well-established 17th-century convention whereby monarchs bequeathed property in lieu of recognition to their bastard offspring (the house even has a dauphin crest, symbol of royal filiation, carved above its doorway). The name "Haddock" means (in its French form, aigrefin) "phoney", "counterfeiter" – and, anyway, it's not his real one.

Neither, it transpires, is the author's. Not only is "Hergé" a nom-de-plume, but the same story of false identity and illegitimate royal descent turns out to haunt his family, too: his grandmother, a maid in a château, was impregnated by a visitor she never named but gave to understand may well have been the Belgian king (who was indeed a frequent guest at the château). Hurriedly "white-married" to the house's gardener, she gave birth to twin boys (Hergé's father and uncle), who grew up to sport moustaches and wear bowler hats. The Tintin books replay this covert family history again and again, whether through moustached and bowler-hatted twin detectives, or though the aria from Gounod's Faust repeatedly performed by Bianca Castafiore, which tells – once more – of a lowly maid made pregnant by a noble cad. And as they do so, their casts are dragged more and more into the vertiginous and hollow backstage zone where names, personae and the world itself are robbed of their semantic value. By the final album, Tintin and the Alph-Art, Haddock is left contemplating a giant "H", repeating to himself the nihilist mantra "None of it means anything!"

But Spielberg casts aside all that inconvenient content. Not only does he follow the English translation's mistake of substituting Charles II for Louis XIV as Sir Francis Haddock's benefactor (forgivable in the translation, since when it first appeared no one had drawn out the adventures' glaring subtext, nor had Hergé's own family secret been made public; unforgivable now that both have been discussed for two decades); he also slaps on, by the trowel-load, all this earnest rhetoric of authenticity. "Only a true Haddock can understand", "Be true to yourself", "Listen to your inner truth": lines such as these are repeated manically, as though we have wandered into a self-empowerment seminar – a seminar on monetisation through self-empowerment, to be precise.

In the books, money both stands for genealogical fakeness and is fake itself (a brilliant scene in The Crab with the Golden Claws shows Thompson and Thomson tricked into passing off the very counterfeit coins they've been charged with tracking down: a doubling of illegitimate faces and false "metal"); in the film it literally pours down, in one scene, from the skies, Haddock's reward for being "true to himself". Thus Hollywood's idiotic "message" is forced on an oeuvre that is great precisely because it drives in exactly the opposite direction. It's like making a biopic of Nietzsche that depicts him as a born-again Christian, or of Gandhi as a trigger-happy Rambo blasting his way through the Raj.

Perhaps this movie will be studied, in years to come, as a Žižekian example of a dominant ideology's capacity to recuperate its own negation, or something along those lines. For now, we just have to wonder how Spielberg went so wrong, or if he was in fact involved at all: so badly put together is this film that it's easier, and perhaps more comforting, to imagine a semi-simian marketing committee writing and producing it under the banner of his name. If your children love the Tintin books – or, more to the point, if they have an ounce of intelligence or imagination in their bodies – don't take them to see this truly execrable offering.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Saturday 29 October 2011

Jimmy Savile RIP

Aged 84

Ron Sexsmith on writing Get In Line... at the Sage!


As a songwriter, I get asked to co-write with other people on a regular basis.

Sometimes it comes directly from the artist and sometimes it comes from my publisher in the UK. I don't really enjoy co-writing, truth be told, but I've had some good experiences and some horrible experiences. This song was inspired by the latter.

I was sent down to LA to write with a successful husband and wife songwriting team (who shall remain nameless). Now, with the exception of "Brandy Alexander" from Exit Strategy and "The Laughing Crowd" from Grand Opera Lane, I have this stubborn little rule when it comes to my own records - I shall not co-write.

For some reason, the people I was about to work with were under the impression that I was enlisting their help to write songs for my next project. After I explained that I had already written it (except for this one) and that I prefer not to co-write for my own records, they asked me to play a few so they could see if they were any good or not.

Whether the songs were any good or not, I don't know... it's not for me to say. But I didn't feel the need to run them by anyone, so I politely declined, saying that I was happy with them and wasn't looking for any critique, but thanks.

Well, as you can see, we sort of got off on the wrong foot and we ended up writing a rather half-assed song, which they both felt I should put on my next record. I asked "Why would I do a song that doesn't mean anything to me?" With that, the female of the two gave me a bit of a lecture on how the record industry has changed from the one I used to know. "Nobody cares about albums any more" and that I need to basically "get over" myself and get with the program.

I just sat there and listened.

It wasn't said in a mean way or anything, and to be honest, I felt that most of what she said was probably true, but on the way back to my hotel room I thought to myself "Well, I like albums."

Around this time I was already feeling depressed and disillusioned with my career. It seemed like I was constantly disappointing people and there was this period there where everybody was lining up to tell me what I was doing wrong. I figured no one was gonna make me feel any worse than I already felt, so I came up with the whole "get in line" idea and it made me feel better just by singing it.

I wrote it in the dressing room whilst opening for Nick Lowe in Newcastle. I used to come out during the encore and sing a Louvin Brothers song with him and so this was written between the time my set ended and his encore began. The other thing I'd like to point out that may seem rather obscure, is that musically, it was influenced by the old Petula Clarke song "My Love" that I loved as a kid. If I hadn't mentioned it here, I don't think anybody would've picked up on that.

And as for the bad song writing experience I had in LA, at least I got this song out of it. (Oh and that's my good friend Paul Hyde from The Payolas singing backing vocals.)

Friday 28 October 2011

THE DA DIARIES - an occasional series.

1AM: Another great gig last night. Somewhere. The general consensus was I was the best performer of the evening. Again.
3AM: A sleepless night. Woke up and dug out volume six of Winston Churchill's war memoirs. Skipped the section on the overthrow of the Third Reich and headed straight for his chapter on hangover cures. Old Churchill loved his ale too, and make no mistake.
9AM: Ivana, my care lady, arrived early. She was sweet and attentive, as always, but urged her to wash and dress me rapidly. I was eager to get into Newcastle City Centre to purchase Soulicious, Cliff Richard's well-received tribute to classic soul music.
11.30AM: Called in to The Duke ale house on the way to HMV. The barmaid looked at me in a curious way.
3PM: Joined a South African band at the Monument in a rendition of Phyllis Nelson's Move Closer. Great reaction from shoppers.
4.30PM: Leading playwright Tom Kelly sent me another 32 'Tyneside is Always on the Dole' lyrics.
6PM: Getting ready to meet the Friday Boys. They're all great guys. Even Terry.

Let's get it on...

Thursday 27 October 2011

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York:-

Mind Your Own Business
Long May You Run

The busiest EVER night in terms of players. 3-song sets cut to 2 by 10:30. I've never played so late (12:05am). Fantastic range of musicians and folks in the bar. A great night!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Barry Feinstein RIP

Feinstein by Dylan

Barry Feinstein obituary
Photographer behind striking album covers for Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Janis Joplin

Sean O'Hagan
Monday 24 October 2011

The American photographer Barry Feinstein, who has died aged 80, made his most famous series of images when he accompanied Bob Dylan and the Band on their controversial tour of Britain in 1966. On stage, Dylan was aloof to the point of imperious, a dandy in shades and a sharp suit, willing his new electric music on disgruntled audiences who wanted the familiar folk singer they knew and revered.
When Feinstein's fly-on-the-wall photographs of the tour finally appeared in his book Real Moments, published in 2008, Dylan emerged as an even more complex figure. Often he looks gaunt and fragile, his eyes hidden behind ever-present shades, his body hunched against the cold British winds and the imploring eyes of his faithful. One such image of Dylan waiting for the Aust ferry to take him across the Severn was used as the poster for No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's epic 2005 documentary on Dylan.
Feinstein also captured Dylan away from the spotlight, in more relaxed mood: posing with a bunch of ragged children in Liverpool or talking to three bohemian Dublin girls, who look almost as hip as he does. "They were poets," the deadpan Feinstein wrote in his notes, "and he was quite taken with their poems."
Born in Philadelphia, Feinstein had no formal training in photography, but took to it instinctively after some casual snapshots he took while working at a racetrack in Atlantic City in 1955 revealed a gift for atmosphere and detail. That year, he was hired as a photographic assistant for Life magazine, and one of his first jobs was covering the Miss America pageant. Soon after, he headed west and landed a production assistant job at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, taking photographs whenever and wherever he could. "I didn't want to photograph the glamour end of it," he said. "It was the 'behind the scene' thing that interested me – the part of Hollywood that nobody thinks about or looks at."
His breakthrough came after he befriended Steve McQueen and was commissioned to photograph him for Look magazine. The results were relaxed but revealing. Although he made formal portraits when he had to, his instinct was for the dramatic moment or the telling detail. He memorably accompanied Marlon Brando to a civil rights rally and captured the actor being jeered at by racist counter-demonstrators. When he was given access to Marilyn Monroe's room a few hours after her suicide, he photographed the bottle of pills by her bedside.
In 1958, Feinstein met Albert Grossman in a nightclub in Los Angeles and was immediately hired to photograph the fledgling manager's new act: a folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary. Soon after the shoot, Feinstein married the singer Mary Travers. It was Travers who took him to see the young Dylan at a coffee shop in New York's East Village. "I had to figure it out," Feinstein later said of his first encounter with Dylan's music. When Dylan looked at Feinstein's black and white pictures, he was immediately impressed, commenting on their "angles" and "stark atmosphere" which, he said, reminded him of the work of Robert Frank.
A 10-minute photoshoot with Dylan produced the intense portrait that became the cover of the singer's third album, The Times They Are a-Changin'. Shot from below, it is all angles and stark atmosphere. It was the first of several iconic record cover portraits by Feinstein. They include Pearl by Janis Joplin (the photo session happened the night before she died of a drug overdose), and All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, in which the ex-Beatle sits in his garden at Friar Park, Henley-on-Thames, surrounded by ornamental gnomes.
Occasionally, Feinstein courted controversy with his cover images. For Ike and Tina Turner's 1968 album, Outta Season, he provocatively posed the duo in whiteface, eating watermelons. His proposed image for the Rolling Stones' album Beggars Banquet – a shot of a public toilet covered in graffiti – was rejected by the group's record company, despite Keith Richard's testimony that it was "a real funky cover". Feinstein worked as a cameraman on the music festival documentary Monterey Pop (1968) and directed the cult hippy film You Are What You Eat (1968). In 1970, he and Tom Wilkes formed a graphic design company called Camouflage. Together, they created memorable album covers including GP by Gram Parsons, The Gilded Palace of Sin by the Flying Burrito Bros and Eric Clapton's eponymously titled debut solo album. Feinstein was reunited with Dylan and the Band when he was hired as the official photographer for their 1974 world tour. His shot of a vast sea of people holding aloft Zippos and lit scraps of paper graced the cover of the ensuing live album, Before the Flood.
Feinstein continued working as a photographer, doing travel shoots as well as rock portraits, into the early 1990s. In 1993, he was seriously injured in a road accident near his home in Woodstock; during his long convalescence, he began editing his archive. In 2008, a book of his early film star portraits was published, entitled Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript. It included a sequence of prose poems written by Dylan in the 1960s that were inspired by the photographs. They had languished in Feinstein's attic for more than 40 years. Feinstein had no creative control over the book's production, and was reputed to be less than pleased with the results.

The photographs of Dylan from 1966, collected in Real Moments, were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2009. "I wanted my pictures to say something," Feinstein wrote. "I don't really like stand-up portraits; there's nothing there, no life, no feeling. I was much more interested in capturing real moments."

Feinstein is survived by his third wife, Judith; by his daughter, Alicia (from his marriage to Travers); by his son, Alex (from his marriage to the actor Carol Wayne); and by three stepchildren and three grandchildren.

• Barry Feinstein, photographer, born 4 February 1931; died 20 October 2011

The UK's No.1 record 50 years ago

Monday 24 October 2011

Poodle Springs

Saturday Play - Classic Chandler - 8. Poodle Springs

By Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker Dramatised by Robin Brooks

Fresh from his honeymoon with heiress Linda Loring, Philip Marlowe has set up shop in the upmarket Californian town of Poodle Springs. But the life of a kept man soon loses its charm, and when he's asked to find a gambler on the run from his debts, Marlowe can't resist. Toby Stephens plays iconic detective Philip Marlowe.

The eighth and final Philip Marlowe novel, Raymond Chandler's Poodle Springs was unfinished* at the time of the author's death in 1959. It remained so for another 30 years, until crime writer Robert B. Parker completed the novel to mark the centenary of Chandler's birth.


Philip Marlowe . . . . . Toby Stephens
Linda Marlowe . . . . . Lorelei King
Larry Victor . . . . . Stephen Campbell Moore
Muffy Valentine . . . . . Laurel Lefkow
Manny Lipshultz . . . . . Peter Polycarpou
Angel Victor . . . . . Sasha Pick
Bernie Ohls . . . . . Gerard McDermott
Film Director . . . . . James Lailey
Eddie Garcia . . . . . Alun Raglan
Clayton Blackstone . . . . . Sean Baker
Leonard . . . . . Carl Prekopp
Turn Key . . . . . Simon Bubb

Directed by Sasha Yevtushenko. Produced by Claire Grove

Available until 3:32PM Sat, 29 Oct 2011 on BBC iPlayer

* - Barely started; Chandler had completed only four short chapters.

A Da in its natural habitat.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Saturday 22 October 2011

Friday 21 October 2011

Tonight's set list

At the Big Jug, Durham: -

One More Time
I'm Just A Loser
I Shall Be Released
There'll Never Be Anyone Else But You
Out On The Weekend
Everybody's Talkin'
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
I Don't Want To Talk About It

Just me and the gaffer tonight so a relatively long set - not what I expected. Fun all the same.