Friday, January 30, 2009


Nothing to get too carried away with, and a few to avoid.

Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon (****)

amazingly well-rendered adaptation of the book - never easy viewing, yet extremely rewarding

Pineapple Express (*)
I don't know about popcorn (or marijuana for that matter) but you need a large bucket of industrial strength morphine to sit through this agonisingly, excruciatingly stupid film

Kurt Cobain: About A Son (*)
90 minutes of unreleased audiotaped interviews to self-consciously arty visuals which get boring well before the realisation of what an inordinately overrated artist Kurt Cobain was: an average pot-smoking geeky rock 'n' roll dreamer with not a whole lot to say for himself; in fairness to Cobain, he'd have probably also hated this film

Man On Wire (***)
this documentary of tightrope walker extraordinaire Philippe Petit's most daring stunt is extremely visceral - as is the reliving of the then still standing Twin Towers; a pity that there isn't more film footage of the event, the photography is otherwise superb - but I still believe much more could have been done with this fantastic subject matter

Appaloosa (***)
a western, unevenly veering between the traditional and modernist - Viggo Mortensen is singularly outstanding and with a rather better balance in direction this could have been a memorable classic; imperfect though it is, Appaloosa is still worth seeing

Sunday, January 25, 2009


VII : Signal To Noise

This kind of grand aesthetic theorising invariably lands me into hot water, especially after implicitly accusing somebody's favourite artist of having impure intent. Nevertheless, two things: firstly, this is objective theory, not subjective - what you or I personally enjoy seeing or listening to isn't at issue; and secondly, this isn't an argument for snobbery - intent is being judged on its own terms, that is (in this case) artistically speaking. If, on the other hand, one's intent (through art) is to get laid, then fair enough, but the measure of the work is going to be notches carved in your bedstead and no more; likewise, if the super-objective is to make money, then let's measure it in dollars.

In mediaeval times and much earlier, being a musician or painter or sculptor was a specialised vocation with extremely limited opportunities that required an enormous personal commitment. Compare that to our current age where nearly everyone has easy instant access to technological and educational resources for creativity, whether it be visual arts, writing, or making music; moreover, zero commitment is asked for. Naturally, it would be churlish to resent that kind of universal opportunity - if people are having fun with it, then so much the better. The price paid for that is that floodgates for all types of lazy intent are opened, most concerned with non-artistic gratification, which in turn means the very nature of artistic endeavour has been altered, perhaps irreversibly, to the extent that any nascent pure form is effectively drowned by the numerically vastly superior impure forms. Aversion therapy by default.

In a huge room full of everyone talking at once, how can we possibly ascertain if there's anything significant being said? And how can there be meaningful expression in such an environment?

William Bennett (2009)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


VI : Apheresis

Beyond the topic of intent, earlier I referred to the blank frames that adults intuitively and typically incorporate into photography and painting. This, I believe, is a direct result of social pressures imposed upon us most noticeably in early adolescence. In fact, I prefer the term within my model of consciousness 'the tide of environment' (I never could resist an aquatic metaphor), if only because it also encompasses the powerful influence of, say, the physiology of buildings and spaces, amongst other things. I also referred to that infuriating can't-do won't-do attitude, which, within the same model, I see as borne of the illusion of identity (something I've written a lot about) and further reinforced and exacerbated by a broken system of education.

What's clear is that Congo and young children don't suffer from these obstructions or obstacles within their artistic endeavour, therefore even with the bestest most purest intent in the whole world, these issues can be critical for achieving objectively the most successful results. We can't go back to being a child, nor can we become like Congo; while these behavioural influences are so potent, so embedded in our conscious, it is useless to attempt resistance by denial or by some kind of belief in freedom of choice.

As I see it, there are two other paths open: the first being to incorporate the element of randomisation, particularly through collaboration, through working in groups. The chaotisation of input has the alchemical potential for results far greater than the sum of the individual parts. However, success is entirely dependent upon chance - and that likelihood is very slight indeed. The second path is for there to be obstructions to the obstructions. This can take many forms, some riskier to the artist's health and welfare than others: isolation, drugs, asceticism, madness, tragedy, or even the predetermination of special rules (the Dogma series of films is a good example of the latter).

continue to part 7 (final)

Monday, January 19, 2009


V : Intents And Purposes

'Chimp loves yes adores his Chimp paints and Chimp brushes with all his Chimp heart and Chimp soul and any Thing or any Human that gets in Chimp way really fucking piss Chimp off!'

When someone is so passionate, cares so much about what they make, for the simple act of making it, the results will inevitably resonate with significance. And it's then and only then that factors such as technique, or applied transparent concessions, can be considered. This is because all output is primarily filtered through the prism of intent (compare Stanislavski's stage term super-objective). That's why it's so important to ask oneself what intent does The Invisible Man (i.e. the artist) have?

Common themes of impure intent (representing the vast majority of adult human creativity):
- I do it for money (for greed, to pay bills, for drugs/booze, for my family, for other projects)
- I do it for the celebrity
- I do it to be like someone else
- I do it to help me get laid
- I do it because others pressure me
- I do it for attention
- I do it as a way of compensating (for shyness, for having been bullied, for lack of success, for revenge)
- I don't know what else to do with my life
- I do it to be liked

All these examples are compromised to hell because the focus is towards some thing outwith the art itself. Ars non artis. Conversely, artists whose intent is one of devotion to a god, an ideal or belief system, a lover or a hero, are not. The focus in this latter group requires the same degree of passion, commitment, and sacrifice for the art itself as Congo's does, and sometimes even more. I'll be blunt, the vast majority of human artistic intent is utterly and irredeemably untrustworthy. I don't give a damn how well-produced, glossy, limited edition, catchy, professional, proficient (or not) it is, because those qualities are secondary to what counts. Congo's wonderful soulful work beats all that crap hands down. That's why artistic geniuses are inimitable, because the epigones imitate the visible parts that don't matter. That's why scratchy lo-fi recordings of Robert Johnson will comprehensively blow away almost any latter-day blues guitarist, good and bad. Other examples are surely already occurring to you.

It's worth adding that intent isn't static and can radically change throughout an artist's life. It's all too common for initial integrity of purpose to be soon and forever corrupted.

continue to part 6

Sunday, January 18, 2009


IV : The Invisible Man

As it is with charisma, it's hard to describe that which can't be seen, but I've got a nice fictional analogy. Experiencing a painting, a poem, a piece of music, a stage performance, is like being in a room with Griffin (H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man) - what you are able to discern is but the circumstantially tangible evidence of a presence which can't be seen directly: moving objects, creaking floorboards, breath on the back of your neck, and so on. Thus, the artwork is only the visible manifestation of everything that the artist represents, nearly all of which we can't see yet do nevertheless perceive. The inspirations and influences, the practising and rehearsing, the learning, the hopes, the daydreams, the regrets, the relationships, factors both deliberate and accidental. The allure of a biography is a distorted view through the keyhole into this otherwise unseen world.

Further to this, there's what I've previously described as transparent concession, a concept that has critically significant artistic potential. For example, in between acts of a stage play, why shouldn't an actor take off his sweaty costume and have a fag (or cocaine) break? Or, he could, as Stanislavski would wish, stay in character. The audience can't see what's going on backstage, so what's the big deal? Because, just like Griffin's presence in the room, the audience really does feel that which is invisible, powerfully enough for it to make a big difference.

Time now to return to what our adorable Congo the Chimp has that, as I see it, makes his work objectively superior to that of the vast majority of those that would call themselves artists. And it's also invisible.

continue to part 5

Friday, January 16, 2009


III : Frames

In truth, as will be seen, not nearly as bold or preposterous a claim as my rampantly iconoclastic ego would like to enjoy.

Go and ask a random adult to draw you a picture of their pet cat or sister or their house (or favourite sexual position) or something, and they're going to say, 'I can't draw'. Hang on a second, what the hell was that? Can't draw?? Can't draw after a decade and a half in schools doing art classes, years in college and university, all that nurturing and tutoring from family and friends?! Of course, my fake indignation is as unnecessary as the answer is predictable. Because yes, most human adults cannot draw, let alone paint with a brush in oils, or sculpt from blocks of marble. (Well, I know there are some people who can do these things, but we'll come to them later.) You know, it's as if there were powerful forces preventing it, which is especially curious because everyone, as a young child, used to be able to draw until those obstructions appeared.

If I was tutoring a group of art undergraduates (and they should praise their respective deities that I'm not), as an instructive cognitive learning experiment, I'd get them to spend time in different painting classes. Firstly, with a group of 7-8 year olds, and then with a group of beginner adults, the task being simply to compare and contrast.

Speaking generally, it's amazing how passionately children care about painting, just like dear Congo: the degree of kinesthetic creative absorption in their activity is quite extraordinary, and a joy to be part of. And one small detail that I'd hope at least one of these recalcitrant undergrads would spot is how kids use the whole paper to paint on, whereas adults won't. The oldies feel some unconscious urge to incorporate frames of blank space around their work - it's the same phenomenon in amateur photography, where the subjects are small, engulfed in frames which reduce emotional impact (arbitrary examples).

The notion of frames might seem trivial. However, since I intend to propose that the factors that make for special art are almost entirely invisible, it's significant. Extremely significant.

continue to part 4

Thursday, January 15, 2009


II : Ars Artis

My praise for Congo's paintings goes beyond any subjective opinion founded upon my own preferences and biases, real though that is and they are. So let me state this even more brazenly: Congo's paintings are objectively superior.

The historical arguments against other animals (than ourselves) having the capacity for true artistic expression are typically spurious religious or pseudoreligious claims of our singular 'moral' capabilities, our human 'souls', our superior 'intelligence', our unique 'consciousness', our special this, our special that. Special bullshit. The thing is, these prejudices regarding whom or what is capable of high art go beyond animals: African or Oceanian art, for example, still attracts epithets such as 'primitive' and 'ethnic'; equally, all sorts of other groups considered to be 'different'. Genre descriptors such as 'art brut', 'outsider art', 'world music' and so on, say far more about our narrow terms of reference than our aesthetic appreciation.
Until the late 19th century, for the same specious justifications already cited, women artists were almost wholly overlooked by the art establishment. American painter Mary Cassatt, even now scandalously unacknowledged in many contemporary art history books, was - in the early 1900s and despite considerable resistance - one of the first female artists recognised.

That said, for me to claim that Congo's paintings are objectively superior to much human art is still a bold, some would say preposterous, paradigm shift. So before attempting an explanation, enjoy a good look at the great master at work.

continue to part 3

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I : Congo

That the chimps' natural habitats are dwindling by the day thanks to incursions and encroachments by voraciously parasitical humans is bad enough. (Why do I care? Why would anyone care that I care? Probably because that somebody cares a bit too much about the human race than they'd care to admit.) And I say bad enough because from the other perspective, so many who take it upon themselves to protect and care for the chimps, cannot cure themselves of their nauseating and patronising maternalism and missionary zeal, just like that vile Mother Teresa woman.

I'm referring to a recent type of political correctness in zoos and ape sanctuaries not to allow chimpanzees stimulation of human origin - for example dressing up in clothes, furniture, tea parties, children's toys, television, brushes and paints, and so on. I say give the chimps back their fucking paints, you bastards! Really, you can see the joy that these and other stimuli give, it enriches their lives enormously. Read Desmond Morris' Animal Days, or Roger Fouts' extraordinary Next Of Kin (My Conversations With Chimpanzees), if you need more convincing. I'd confidently aver that Congo's capable of much better more expressive art than any single candidate ever entered into the Turner Prize (and by the way, if one of Congo's paintings comes up at auction any time soon, I shall be bidding on it).

continue to part 2

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The saga of those Somali pirates gets more surreal by the day. According to AP, one of the five who recently drowned has been found washed up on the beach with $153k stuffed down his pantaloons. Whatever you say about those roguish seafarin' hearties, the beachcombers there are reassuringly honest.


Friday, January 09, 2009


Below is the original version of an article I wrote a couple of years or so ago on the topic of Pravda. It was commissioned by Vice Magazine after my earlier uninhibitedly enthusiastic postings on the subject and, since I'm not absolutely sure it was ever published, I present it to you here.

(note to self: must do more of those postings!)


At the tender age of 12, and back during those Cold War years, I'd have happily collaborated with a glamorous SMERSH agent with a name like Tatiana. Come on, who wouldn't want to be recruited by her like? At the time, naively, I even wrote to Moscow and duly received a parcel full of wonderful exotic Soviet goodies in the form of complimentary Russian language issues of
Shakhmatny (their much coveted chess journal) and the daily Pravda newspaper. It might have been unreadable but was nevertheless full of that darkly seductive Cyrillic script on cheap greying paper. From Russia With Love indeed.

The story of Pravda ('The Truth') has as much intrigue as any Iron Curtain spy thriller. Originally founded in 1908 in Vienna by Leon Trotsky, the paper had to be smuggled in the dark of night into Russia - and its unstuffy proto-tabloid editorial style made it an immediate success with the workers. After the establishment of Communism in 1918 its offices were transferred to Moscow where it existed as the party organ until 1991 when Boris Yeltsin, emboldened by Western governments and on one of his legendary vodka benders, shut down the Communist Party, seizing Pravda along with everything else. Perhaps with good reason, as the paper (satirised as 'The Squealer' in Orwell's Animal Farm) in all those intervening years had been a very effective political tool for Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and other leaders to effectively strengthen their power base.

Yeltsin didn’t succeed without a fight, however. The Pravda journos stubbornly fought back for their paper and for freedom of speech and quickly had it reregistered. After further ructions and a mass walk-out by the employees, the new version was once again shut down under government pressure and it was subsequently many of these newly-sacked journalists who we now have to thank for the joys of, the online version.

William Bennett


Thursday, January 08, 2009


#6 teach

As a youngster, I once recall being most impressed when a close relative uttered a few words in French to some tourists on Brighton beach. What amazing talent and ability! Similarly, the day I first turned up at a new dance class to see couples showing off their incredibly fancy free-flowing sylph-like moves. How elegant! However, not long after, when I myself had acquired some of these skills and was able to judge with the benefit of a little experience, it dawned on me, horribly, that these 'sylphs' were in fact clumsy clodhopping oafs each cursed with two left feet - and that also my relative's spoken French was in fact a living desecration to the tongue of Voltaire.

I've made this kind of mistake many times. One of the reasons that the human animal is so irredeemably stupid, beyond even the ingrained recidivism, is that so much of what constitutes our decision-making, our belief systems, and our world knowledge, comes not from any innate cognitive abilities, but from our utter fucking ignorance. I firmly believed those dancers were amazing, not because I knew things about dancing - on the contrary - because I knew absolutely nothing!

The teaching model is one based on this same model, i.e. one based on presumed ignorance. If ever there were an activity that required one's healthy disprespect, it's this one. Universities, schools, colleges, polytechnics, both private and public, one and all.

The basic model consists of having a room full of empty vessels ('students') and one large vessel (the omniscient one, the 'teacher') replete with 'information'. The latter pours tiny egotistically-laced drops of their precious liquid into each of the empty vessels for which much gratitude and respect is expected to be shown.

Of course, students are not empty vessels and the teacher's 'information' may well not be true, relevant, or useful - but success within the model tolerates only your submission to it and an implied acceptance of your ignorance. And, by and large, students do accept it, and submit; troublemakers and dissenters are quickly retired from the entreprise, either voluntarily or mandatorily.

To teach is to promote ignorance.
Teaching cannot stop people from learning.
What people learn is despite teachers not because of them.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Nostalgia in middle age is a disease peculiar to musical taste - when you come across it in conversation or in the media, to me, it's like the shadow of the Grim Reaper's death scythe wavering above ready to drop. It's game over. That's not to say that I don't also suffer from the affliction, but will, as if at the hands of a crazed bloodthirsty medieval barber-surgeon, unhesitatingly undergo ruthless procedures to excise the unholy canker when it rears its ugly visage. So, for the second in this series, before any delving into the annals, here's a fucking amazing recent release.

Antibalas : Security (2007)

it should be more than enough to have world class
musicians get together to make a contemporary album with strong elements of Fela Kuti's distinctive classic afrobeat style alongside other West African and Latin influences - in fact, Antibalas have already made several leading up to this release which are all real treats for fans of these genres - however, Security takes things to an altogether even higher level

as soon as you hear the opening slightly discordant horns and odd syncopation of
Beaten Metal, you know you're in for a sumptuously royal treat, one of those attention-grabbing opening tracks where you already know the rest of this fantastic album will never let go of you, each of the seven songs
(I love that number for a record!) perfectly balanced in time and space by the amazingly hot musicians and razor-sharp production; I.C.E. is a particular stand-out, when the power of understatement can move you to tears, featuring extremely emotive brass motifs alongside the deep, darkly inventive, traditional percussion


Monday, January 05, 2009


The poem. So here we are again with nothing going on, unable to move. It's like trying to do an impersonation of yourself. Specific words to describe it will diminish the experience, but you know what I mean. To get to who you really are, you have to somehow shatter the illusion of the you, the mirror mirage. Did anyone ever suggest to you a difference between poetry and prose? I wish I'd known that sooner.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Brief-ish update.

Ip Man (***)
rather enjoyable kung fu romp based on a true story of Yip Man, who would eventually become teacher to Bruce Lee

Frost/Nixon (**)
how about calling it 'Partridge/Brezhnev'? was anyone else as distracted by Langella's uncanny resemblance to Leonid Brezhnev (bizarrely matched with an Ian Paisley accent), and Sheen's spot-on Alan Partridge impersonation? overall, not a bad retelling of the events, such as they're worth retelling (which is debatable)

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (**)
a hypnotic dreamy epic adventure through time that is an unquestionable technical marvel and testament to what Hollywood is capable of - the first 45 minutes or so are excellent up to the section in Murmansk featuring the captivating Tilda Swinton, whose performance for me is the movie's highlight; disappointingly, from then on, the film's underlying bland superficiality really comes to the fore, second-rate Forrest Gumpesque platitudes coming so thick and fast that an anaemic, soulless, miscast Brad Pitt saying 'life is a box of chocolates' would not come as more than a weary footnote; the constant flash-forwards are utterly unnecessary and distracting, and the film just doesn't have enough real substance to justify its 3 long hours; Tarsem Singh's vastly superior The Fall (2008) blows this away

The Wrestler (**)
if The Wrestler functions as allegory for the tragic career of the phenomenon that is Mickey Rourke, a man who once had the looks and talent for the keys to the kingdom, then okay - but really I'm not fooled by its gritty fly-on-the-wall stylising and 80s hair metal OST, that both act as a mask for its mawkish overweening sentimentality (the cringeworthy relationships with his estranged daughter and the lapdancer with a heart of gold left me reaching for a sick bag) - the film's as phoney and unsubtle a piece of drama as any Wrestlemania bout