Electric Eden

March 17th, 2011 | stuff2011

Finally finished this wonderful book on the flight back from Galway.  I’m a sucker for BBC music documentaries, and this scratched exactly the same itch.

It’s the story of British folk music over the last hundred years or so, essentially.  Which sounds dry as dust. Except that Young convincingly positions British folk as our visionary music, the true sound of mad Albion. From William Morris and song collector Cecil Sharp, through Vaughn Williams and Peter Warlock, Seeger and McColl, scattering through the explosion of the Sixties and out to the complex obituaries of the Seventies (taking in The Wicker Man and hauntological touchstone The Changes), it’s an absolutely fascinating journey.  There are some confusing gaps towards the end – I’m still unsure how you spend so many pages on Talk Talk (the drummer used to live down the road from me when I was a kid) and manage not to address, say, XTC or Billy Bragg.  But that’s an entirely personal caveat (if I played Devil’s Advocate I could probably see an argument against including Billy, but I think Mr Young may have missed a trick in not using him to unify and tie up so many of his themes) and doesn’t deserve to be held against an immensely impressive, clever and thoughtful piece of work, superbly researched and very well written.  If you have any interest at all in British music, native musics or mad people, then you want a copy of this.


The Girl Who Played With Fire (film)

January 15th, 2011 | stuff2011

Katie West commented to me the other day that she’d started keeping lists of the culture she consumed this year, because doing a year-end list always favours the last five things you saw or read. So I just watched this:

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, Swedish language. The odd thing about this adaptation of Larsson — as opposed to the same team’s adapation of DRAGON TATTOO — is that the changes made from the book seem to make it a better adaptation, but not necessarily a better film. It’s a streamlined true Larsson, rather than a less-true Larsson optimised for film.

The ending of DRAGON TATTOO, the book, is like a great orchestral strike followed by two hours of variations on minor themes as members of the orchestra drift off one by one until there’s just some geezer left tinkling a triangle. The film version ends with a nice little rimshot. PLAYED WITH FIRE is stripped down, but is so protective of the spine of the storytelling that the ending, which in the book is a collision of plotlines… really kind of drags. Kinder to the book in lots of ways (crueller in a few: Bublanski becomes a cartoon, for example, and the more gothic aspects of Niederman are erased, which also affects the climax). Less successful as a film.

Still a joy to watch Noomi Rapace and the undervalued Michael Nyquist work.


Reflexions

January 6th, 2011 | bookmarks, stuff2011

Recently finished Reflexions, the memoir of the food writer, wine expert and cook Richard Olney. (I read it on Kindle in the UK.) He writes — wrote, he died in ’99 — beautifully. He was a painter by vocation, and he wrote with brushstrokes, evocative and vivid with charmed hues. Also often very funny, as he tells a life of an American in France, surrounded by the mad and the beautiful, haunted by the demented chef Georges Garin and the brilliant, alcoholic statistician Mary Painter; drifting in and out of the orbits of James Baldwin, Elizabeth David, Alice Waters. It’s the story of a life lived well, and a reminder that even a well-lived life is not perfect.

(Also, a reminder to drink more red wine. LOTS more.)