Sunday, October 22, 2006


Man Enjoys Ecstasy SHOCK!

Another one from the 'to blog about drawer' while I get my head straight (I've been really ill for nearly a week now).

BBC News: 'BBC Defends Norton Drug Comments'

'The BBC has defended Graham Norton after he admitted in an interview he had tried "loads of drugs".'

'The TV star, who hosts the BBC's Strictly Dance Fever and Graham Norton's Bigger Picture, also described ecstasy as "just fantastic".'

'. . .'

'Norton told the magazine: "The only time I took ecstasy was years and years ago. It was absolutely amazing. It was just fantastic - really, really fun."'

'He added: "I've tried loads of drugs, but it would really bug me if I got busted in the tabloids because I take them so rarely."'

Okay, so, Norton tried ecstasy 'once', 'years and years ago'. He has tried other drugs, and either doesn't like them much, or can't be bothered with them, because he takes them 'so rarely'. Who cares, right?

Obviously not. We have an astoundingly hypocritical attitude towards drugs in this country. I can't remember the exact figure, but I do recall reading somewhere that something like 600,000 Es are taken every weekend. If you do view drugs as a problem - and I'm in favour of legalisation, so don't look at me - might that not be rather more of an issue than a TV presenter taking one 'once'?

For the last time - TV presenters are not role models. Nor are rappers. Nor are footballers, or film stars, or ballerinas, or Big Brother contestants. Just because someone is on the telly doesn't mean they have to be an example for your children to follow. Just get over it. From the sidebar:

"We're appalled, it's absolutely mind-blowing that somebody has said that"

-National Drug Prevention Alliance

I thought it was the ecstasy that was mind-blowing? Anyway, two points. Firstly, if you run a charity and you are trying to convert people away from doing a drug, is it really a good idea to call them 'appalling'? Secondly, is it really that "mind-blowing" that someone would admit to enjoying a drug that is chemically engineered to make you happy?

Sin! Sin! Sin! Sin!

Friday, October 20, 2006


Quite A Cockfight

Having - as I'm sure you'd noticed - had a bit of a dearth in inspiration recently, I went back over my 'to blog about' list, which contains any number of items that seemed like a good idea at one point or another before I either forgot about them or changed my mind. They're mostly rubbish, but one issue that had me pretty angry at one point this summer did spring out as worth mentioning.

At the Edinburgh Film Festival this year, one of the themes was a re-examination of critically lauded but generally forgotten films from the 1970s, one of which was going to be Monte Hellman's 'Cockfighter'. 'Cockfighter' is a brutal drama set in the Deep South, and features actual footage of cockfights. Over recent years, it has been re-appraised, and is now regarded as a very important work - and an excellent character study - by an under-appreciated director. Tony T had words of praise, and I have to go on his judgement since I haven't seen it.

A few days before the scheduled screening, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals complained to the festival organisers, who took advice from the BBFC. The BBFC said that any screening would be illegal, since it would contravene the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which expressly forbids public display of any film in which an animal was harmed in the making. It had once been shown in public before, at the NFT, a screening which we now know was illegal.

Although it has never been officially banned, it suffers a de facto ban in the UK. It isn't the only film about cockfighting to suffer a de facto ban. A Claire Denis film, 'No Fear, No Die' also suffers the same fate. According to the Melonfarmers, that film contains a disclaimer in the end credits saying that all the fight scenes were faked, with plastic blades being substituted for metal ones. However, the relevant law also covers 'distress', so the distributors were informally advised that the film would require massive cuts.

I just don't understand who or what is being protected here. In the case of 'Cockfighter', we clearly have animals being killed, yet banning the film is utterly pointless. The relevant roosters have been dead for over thirty years - who are we kidding by pretending it didn't happen? The usual argument about the fruitlessness of censorship in the age of the Internet also stands, only this time, you don't need to go to Ogrish or Rotten to see what the censors won't allow, because there are masses of videos on Youtube. In the case of 'No Fear, No Die', the film apparently takes a moral stance on the issue. 'K. S. Kincaid' on the IMDb:

'Gandhi once said that the true measure of how civilized a society is can be found by looking at how it treats its animals. The message of "No Fear, No Die" seems to be that disregard of and insensitivity towards the lives of animals leads to insensitivity on a greater scale. Jocelyn lets in get to him and leads him to an act of near-homicide. In a modern age in which the peoples of "civilized" nations have become so de-sensitized because of their cultures of excess, we are steadily running headfirst into the brink of our own self-destruction. But no one, it seems, can afford to give a damn.'

What really pisses me off about this is that my dad used to work (and by used to I mean until very recently) near a house in which cocks were bred for fighting, and the suspicion was dogs too. The police know - they raided the house at one point. Nothing came of it. It still goes on. If people want to get angry about cockfighting, then why don't they get angry about it actually happening now, not a film containing a few scenes of it shot three decades ago?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


An Ethical Dilemma

Okay - I have a problem. I have been offered £30 to advertise an insurance company in my sidebar. On the one hand, I don't really approve of this kind of selling out, but on the other, it is thirty quid. I have been considering adding a PayPal button to the sidebar - I know I hardly give great value for money these days, but I'm a little bit cash-strapped at the moment. If I do get the advert (of course, the person offering may change their mind anyway after reading this post, but it'll still be useful for the future) the advert merely takes the form of a link in my links list. What do you think - should I sell out, or will I just look like a complete tool?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


A Little Comment Goes A Long Way . . .

Two days late, our new bi-weekly feature.

Shorter Natasha Walter: When I decide what to see at the cinema, I'm more bothered about the gender of the director than whether it's any good or not.

Shorter Agnes Poirier: I'm so bored by the story of Marie-Antoinette I thought I'd write a column about her.

Shorter Larry Elliott: It seems that Gordon Brown would like to be Prime Minister!

Shorter David Epstein: Money can't buy Terrell Owens happiness.

Shorter Peter Tatchell: Watch as I magically turn a meaningless insult muttered at a moment of high stress into a homophobic incident.

Shorter Jim Wild: The Amish school shooter was just like other men, only a bit more manly.

Shorter Will Hutton: Naomi Klein says capitalism is bad. I agree, and British companies aren't good enough at it.

Shorter Michelle Malkin: Charlotte Church's lungs are public property.

Shorter Fiona Millar: Parents who give their children 'light taps' and 'trivial smacks' are child-abusers too.

Shorter Sarita Malik: Policemen shouldn't have to protect people who they philosophically disagree with.

Shorter Ros Taylor: The reason the Conservatives suck is that they insist on holding their party conference at the seaside.

Shorter Gary Younge: White people are solely responsible for the rise of Islamic extremism.

Shorter Peter Preston: If only the EU was designed like the Ryder Cup, with one purpose and one common enemy.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Another Brick In The Wall

Via 2Blowhards, a fascinatingly under-reported story:

BBC News: 'Ring Of Steel Divides Padua'

'The Anelli estate in Padua is a cluster of crumbling high-rise flats.'

. . .

'It has a reputation for crime, drugs and prostitution, and is a constant source of angry complaints from local Italian residents.'

'This summer, after riots between opposing gangs, the left-leaning mayor of Padua took a drastic decision to seal off the estate - with a metal wall.'

. . .

'There is only one way into the complex, through a police checkpoint.'

'Uniformed officers now vet everyone coming and going.'

'The wall has limited the drug-dealing. In fact some of the inhabitants welcome the changes it has brought.'

The story, it seems to me, suggests that the residents of the Anelli estate are seen as almost diseased, contaminated by their address. They have also effectively been abandoned, and given up on as lost causes. In reality, this is nothing new - government, whether city or national, often come up with worst resort plans for sealing off parts of a city should it become diseased. Returning to that old favourite of mine, 'Discipline And Punish', Foucault starts off by analysing the French authorities' plan for sealing off a town or city if the Plague should strike:

'First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death. On the appointed day, everyone is ordered to stay indoors: it is forbidden to leave on pain of death . . . It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.'

The other case it reminds me a little of is an incident in 'The Motorcycle Diaries' in which the young Guevara travels to a leper colony, and finds that the colony is divided into half - one half for the hospital and the workers (those who can be saved) and one half for the lost causes (those who can't). The division here occured around a river, but the placement of the colony is as artificial as the placement of the wall in Padua. (By the way, please don't turn the comments into a discussion of the life and politics of Che Guevara - I have plenty enough opinions on the subject, but they can wait for another time. The only thing that matters here is that there is no reason to believe any of the story concerning the layout of the leper colony is fabricated.)

Clearly, nothing so severe as any of this is in operation in Padua. In fact, the wall only runs along one side of the estate, so I really fail to see what is currently stopping drug dealers from walking around it. However, it is surely notable that for the first time that I know of in a western democracy, a group of people have been - even partially - sealed into an estate.

Yet there is a clear utilitarian argument for the wall. The BBC claim that it has reduced the problem of drugs ("the wall has limited the drug dealing"). Obviously, this argument holds no appeal for me - I consider it an equivalent of the old standard "say what you like about Hitler/Mussolini/Tojo/Fascist dictator of choice, but at least they made the trains run on time" - but in the results-driven world of modern politics, it's hardly irrelevant.

I really want to know what you all think about this story. It seems to me there are so many possible angles it can be looked at from - socialised housing, drug policy, segregation (arguably racial) - that there is the possibility for a very interesting debate on the subject. So, get your thoughts in!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


It's Positively Rank

Oh dear. We seem to be going through a purple patch of 'film lists'. In this venerable and foolish tradition, people attempt to rank films according to whatever criteria they feel like. It always, always, ends up merely making the compiler look a little silly.

The worst offender are the 'Radio Times' (praised in one post, damned the next!) who are forever getting their beleagured critic Andrew Collins to create entirely fatuous lists whenever they run out of other things to say. The last ('25 films you need to see to be considered a film buff') was a few months back, inspiring quite a bit of debate at Fisking Central, all of it divergent except for one unifying theme - you can't be a 'film buff' by watching 25 films, and, even if you could, it wouldn't be those 25 films now would it?

Now, back to the treadmill, and he's had to come up with another 100 'landmark' films, and the BBC News website seems a little bit miffed he has chosen to include 'Deep Throat' on the list. Actually, judging by the other examples they give, 'Deep Throat' is one of the more defensible options.

Other examples abound in blogland. Michael Blowhard offers one of the more interesting ideas, yet it's still flawed. His poll - 'Films You Enjoyed Most From The Last 25 Years, Critics be Damned!' - promised an amusing tour through critically trashed works that are nevertheless enjoyable to watch. His poll has one rule:

'Rule #1: If you can imagine a Serious Critic making a Serious Film-History case for your film, throw it off your list.'

Unfortunately, this is where the trouble begins. It can sometimes seem like film critics dish out praise and condemnation like sheep, each following the instincts of the herd, yet clearly this isn't actually the case. Indeed, if it were, there would only be half a dozen in the world. The result of this rears its head in his initial list. It's too long for me to copy out - though I would encourage you to read it yourself so this next bit makes sense - but it should really be pointed out that most of the films he selects are ineligible under his own criteria. Some are interesting genre pieces ('Basic Instinct', 'Speed', 'Die Hard', 'Galaxy Quest', 'The Fugitive') while some he chooses are actually great ('Bound', 'Citizen Ruth'). I confess to not having seen all of the others, but in reality, there are probably a fair few critics willing to big up at least some of them.

The commenters really get the wrong end of the stick. I'm fascinated to know who these people are who believe that critics universally agree that 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'Pretty Woman' and 'When Harry Met Sally' are just not worthy of discussion.

All of which leads nicely to my point - lists of films judged by any criteria are a failure in their very definition. The massively large, organic beast that is world cinema is far too impossibly complex to be organised into rank. Perhaps it's worth stopping even attempting it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The Dog Doesn't Give Me A Bone

I've been meaning to link to the magnificent 'Grace Dent's TV OD' for some time now. It is by far and away the best writing on British television I've seen. She's not always spot on - I didn't agree with all of this week's summaries, and I find the seemingly random words highlighted in bold quite distracting, but other than that, I'm loving it greatly - when she's right, she's absolutely spot-on. Witness on the truly bizarre, and really rather rubbish, 'Dog The Bounty Hunter':

'US reality TV series featuring Duane "Dog" Chapman. Bounty hunter, man-mountain, born-again Christian; watch as Dog trails then pounces on fugitives, before haranguing them heavily about the majesty of the Lord until they fling themselves into jail willingly to avoid a further ear-drubbing.'

'Dog's wife and long-suffering colleague, Beth, makes Cilla Battersby look like Sienna Miller. Dog the Bounty Hunter's chief weapon is surprise. OK, surprise and God. Saying that, it's difficult to be anything other than surprised when an 18-stone bodybuilder with a two-tone mullet in cycling shorts jumps out at you quoting the Book of Job.'

I have something of a problem with this programme. Leaving aside the somewhat questionnable vigilante politics of it all, why the hell can't the Hawaiian police department pull in these criminals by themselves? They always give up without a fight, and finding them seems to be pretty easy to be honest. Every episode goes like this:

1) Dog finds out all about criminals daily activities, and a super plan is made.

2) His son somehow finds a way to fuck it up.

3) They cruise about for a while, and accidentally bump into the criminal.

4) The pronounce at length about the inevitability of being caught if Dog is on your tail.

All the criminals appear to be on freebase cocaine, too, and the one service the programme seems to perform is to end the stereotype that people are crack are violent - the criminals Dog pulls in never fight, they're far too zombiefied.

The other subject Grace is right about is the seemingly endless profusion of celebrities in British life. On 'The All-Star Talent Show':

'On stage Mallandra Burrows (Kathy in Emmerdale five years ago) is ramming fire into her gob dressed in red PVC floozy-boots and snug hot pants.'

. . .

'It's an odd indicator of how saturated Britain is with Z-listers that you can now set fire to your own face on terrestrial TV dressed as a dominatrix and no-one cares: not the audience at home, not the audience in the studio, not even the judges who are paid to be there to judge you. "Does this go on for long?" sighs Julian Clary, as Mallandra limps off to apply frozen peas to her cheeks.'

If you recall, the planet Zaphod Beeblebrox is taken to at the start of 'Restaurant At The End Of The Universe' has passed something called the Shoe Event Horizon. The economy had slightly specialised in shoes, and gradually the planet became famous only for its shoes. It soon became only economically viable to open shoe shops, and quality gradually decreased. Eventually, the planets occupants died of famine and the streets Zaphod finds are full only of low-quality rotting footwear.

I only mention this because Britain is heading rapidly towards a Celebrity Event Horizon. The point at which there were more celebrities than things to be celebrated was passed long ago. We'll soon be at a stage where it simply isn't possible to pitch an idea to TV executives that doesn't involve Z-listers humiliating themselves for the rapacious edification of the TV-viewing public.

A few days ago, I was walking through Manchester with a couple of friends of mine. While queued at the cash machine, we started chatting about a poster nearby advertising the chance to win a date with Calum Best.

'Who's Calum Best?' I innocently asked.

'He's George Best's son. Other than that, he's mostly famous for being on 'Celebrity Love Island' twice, and sleeping with a lot of women'.

WHAT? So here we have a man, not at all famous in his own right, but only because of a man whose last real achievement happened thirty years ago, and who afterwards drank himself to death, who he happened to be related to? Better still, this was enough to get on a programme filled with 'celebrities', which then made his own superfluous 'celebrity' set in stone! He should make the most of it while it lasts, because the ever expanding armies of Z-listers means that his apparent monopoly on sex-related celebrity shows will soon be lost to someone both cheaper and willing to go further for the camera. What a world we live in.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Geeks Attempting To Look Like Greeks

I watched a programme on BBC2 tonight called 'Battle Of The Geeks'. It was, in the frequent manner of these things, cautiously interesting.

Presented by everybody's favourite hospital in-patient, Mr Hammond, it featured two teams attempting to transport an egg across an enormous canyon in Namibia towards a target without the egg cracking.

Over the next hour, as the two teams built a glider and a rocket respectively, two rather surprising facts were revealed.

1) Female scientists have even worse hairstyles than their male counterparts.

2) Scientists are idiots. They had 48 hours to build their contraption, and when they tried it, the glider missed by miles (although the egg was uncracked) and the rocket nearly hit the target, but obliterated the egg in its crash landing. Any fool can see that in 48 hours, by far the best option would have been to climb down the canyon and carry the egg by hand.

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