Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rage - Goddess, Sing...

Achilles. You're a good person to have around on the rare occasions you're ready to do some work, but you have volatility issues. Your willingness to enlist the help of your mum won't win you any friends, either

Which Homeric Hero Are You?

Crikey. I mean, it's accurate enough, but Achilles? Surely I should be someone who's more of a wuss, like Paris.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

THIS! IS! sorry, which city am I king of again?

It was inevitable that I would go and see 300 with a group of archaeologists, so it was no surprise when that happened last night.

I was particularly interested in seeing it, because an epic battle has recently been waged in the pages of over the question of subtext. On one side are those who think that, given the current world-political climate, making a film in which Resolutely Heterosexual Spartan Manly-Men Who Don’t Wear Armour (all played by actors of solidly north-European ancestry) slaughter countless thousands of the Faceless Asiatic Hordes Who Are Led By A Ten-Foot-Tall Effeminate Bisexual (all played by extras who are distinctly either black or brown of skin-tone) might just be a bit troubling.

The counterpoint made was that the subtext is actually critical of the Spartans, and that the battle is really presented as a suitably Frank Miller tale of anti-heroes against villains.

Having seen the film, I can now tell you that the latter argument is complete bollocks.

I promise you that I’m not using hyperbole, or just being a shrieking lefty arts-student, when I say that 300 reminds me of nothing so much as Nazi propaganda films. It’s all here: the worship of the leader figure, the elite of perfectly sculpted male warriors, the idea that the enemy may not actually be human at all, and, of course, the Dolchstoß by corrupt politicians and sub-human mutants. It all reminds me far too much of Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream. And sadly, this isn’t a satire like that novel, or like Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. You are quite explicitly supposed to identify with and admire this film’s Spartans.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve seen this film and liked it, I’m not saying that you’re a Nazi: the visuals are quite spectacular, although I’m not sure I liked them as much as the look and feel of something like Hero (another film with some troubling politics). It’s just that for me, the visuals don’t disguise what is, in fact, a very troubling subtext.

It will still be worth your while seeing it if you’re interested, if only so that you can e-mail me and tell me that I’m completely wrong. Of course, if I am wrong, then 300 is two hours of vacuous macho bullshit, nonetheless.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Spectre Haunting Europe

What's a picklock compared to a share certificate?
What's robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?

- Bertolt Brecht, "Happy End" (1929)

Well, I now have an ISA, which I think makes me officially bourgeois. On the other hand, I was kind of born like that. Either way, Trotsky wouldn't be too pleased with me.

On a not-completely-unrelated point, I've recently been looking on ebay for a bust of Marx. I should be getting desk-space in an office next year, and I need something to mark my territory. The interesting thing is that Marx is pretty hard to find, and is much more expensive than either Lenin or Stalin. There's almost certainly an incredibly clever joke about the market in there, but I'll be blowed if I can put it together.

The question is, what will people think the meaning of a bust of Marx is when they see it? Am I referring to myself as a Marxist, and if so, what does that mean? I agree with large chunks of the Marxist critique of Capitalism, but generally disagree with the preposed solutions. I like the democratic process, for a start, and I'm not a utopian, so I don't think you'll ever achieve a perfectly equal society. But that doesn't mean I can't believe in a more equitable distribution of wealth, and be somewhat doubtful that Free-Market Capitalism is going to deliver a good standard of living on a global scale.

Of course, there's a good 150 years of evolving Marxist thought, some of which is more in line with my way of thinking. I've got a lot of reading still to do. I suppose the bust of Marx would be similar to a psychologist having a bust of Freud - it's recognition that he started something important, rather than complete agreement with everything he said. You can't rely on people to magically realise that, though.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Judge Judy And Executioner

With the enormous wave of goodwill that Shaun of the Dead generated, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have produced Hot Fuzz, another British comedy, this time spoofing the overblown cop-antics of Lethal Weapon et al. Will it live up to its predecessor?

The setup of Hot Fuzz is fairly simple, with Pegg playing a “supercop” in London who is posted to a small rural village because he makes all the other policemen look bad. While there he runs into a murder spree and mentors a bumbling rural police constable with dreams of being a proper cop (played by old Spaced and Shaun of the Dead stooge Nick Frost).

The interplay between Pegg and Frost is probably the film’s strongest point, as they use it to play up the homoerotic undertones that usually feature in buddy-cop films. Also good are the inevitable references to The Wicker Man, Straw Dogs, and Bergerac. I was the only person in my cinema who laughed at the Chinatown reference, which made me feel all special.

There is a feeling that the film is really just a build-up to the big action-sequence of the last half hour. This is pretty good, and you suspect that in many ways, this was the moment that Edgar Wright has been waiting for his whole life. Certainly it’s hard not to be carried along by the sheer exuberance with which Wright proceeds to fuck up rural England using automatic gunfire. There’s a nice subversion of the “cop as Fascist vigilante” archetype going on here, too.

The problem is that this build-up leaves the rest of the film a bit bereft of purpose. Also, the plot feels a little too over-egged, making the finale seem a bit too far-fetched even for a send-up of Jerry Bruckheimer. Having said that, you will laugh. I did. And those of us who remember the bad days of British comedy cinema (for my sins, I saw Guest House Paradiso at the cinema) will take that any time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T. there's another snippet of writing by me, called "Hello, Goodbye, London". I'm pretty happy with it. Generally I always seem happier with the results from writing about stuff that's actually happended to me.