A selection of some of the pop culture items that are currently floating the boat – or not, as the case may be, Mr Kaufman – here at the Bizarrojerri Corporation.
Biffy Clyro – Opposites
Firstly, before I say anything about the new double album from Scotland’s favourite power rock trio, I’d like to mention a girl named Melanie, who I worked with a few years back, and who attempted with all her might to get me to listen to her favourite band, which I, as a bit of rock music snob, originally rebuffed without hearing a note. I really thought, judging by their name, that Biffy was some sort of cheesy derivative American punk rock band. But I was very wrong, as I discovered about two years ago when I first heard their song Mountains.
Melanie, all you had to say back then was that they were from Scotland and my interest would have been suitably piqued instantly. Never mind, though, I have finally seen the light in a near religious fervour. I now have had their entire catalogue, dating from their debut Blackened Sky in 2002 (raw punky and noisy, tight and with much promise) right up to their commercial breakthrough Only Revolutions (2009) (containing some of the most original and catchy rock music made in years, including singles The Captain, Bubbles and Many A Horror). I’d had this entire catalogue in my car on continuous play for over a year. Within a few short years, they have become one of my favourite bands.
So it was with the giddiness of a catholic visiting the Vatican, that I finally got my hands on the new 2013 album, a double album three years in the making. Though this vast and broad collection may prove quite daunting for a first time listener, Opposites is filled with the band’s usual mix of solid song writing, tight performance, a strong combination of the quiet/loud quotient, and some of the best riffs and most unique musical ideas heard in rock today.
I always like to joke that it seems that its only me and the majority of the Scottish youth who listen to Biffy, but the band is actually hugely popular in the UK, and while I am sure there are more than few fans in South Africa, on the strength of the singles Stingin’ Belle and Black Chandelier, and a bit of word of mouth, this new album could give them a well-deserved breakthrough into the mainstream. Even though it’s only January, Opposites is currently a strong contender for my favourite album of 2013.
Thanks Melanie, wherever you may be today, I now know you meant well all those years ago. I have finally come round to Mon The Biff.
Norman Mailer – The Fight
“…it’s difficult to concentrate with the ghost of Norman Mailer swiping you across the face with a bible, right hooking you in the ribcage with the Koran and south pawing your gut with an almanac of African folklore, yelling into bloodied eardrums: ‘respect the words, boy…these are the greatest ever written, the most significant since Conrad pierced this very same particularly wretched tributary on the heart of darkness…this is greatest saga since the Iliad, the most celebrated contest since Cain smote Abel…Respect. The. Goddamn. Words!’ With sweat and tears and blood and snot and shit and spit running out of every orifice, prostrated on the mat, fists pounding to ten, I respected the hell out of each and every one of them.”
In the recent atmosphere of cracked sporting heroes – if your idea of heroic sport is grown men vampiring for competitive advantage and getting buggered in the bum by a bicycle seat around France for three weeks – and impotent sport teams fuelled by their own inadequacy and the bureaucratic corruption of their handlers, and empty vessel ( a calabash, perhaps?) tournaments, that feed the egos of the few and fortunate, and the cost of which could, but does not, feed and school the masses, rather than turn them into beer-guzzling flag-waving zombie mobs; in this current mood I decided to seek solace in a more dignified sporting prowess, one where kings stood toe to toe, talked a good game and played for glory before money.
Boxing, more specifically, the golden age of modern boxing, from the early 1960s to the late seventies. The highpoint of that era without doubt was the 1974 bout between Muhammad Ali and George Forman in Kinshasa, Zaire, billed and styled by the burgeoning, bombastic boxing promoter Don King, as ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’, a fight so intense and brutal it literally contributed to making Ali the man is today, that is: riddled with Parkinson’s Disease. However, the fight also greatly contributed to creating the Ali legend, which we still recognise as the Greatest. Not the greatest boxer, not the greatest sportsperson, simply the Greatest. And it also went a long way to make George Forman the greatest kitchen appliance salesman in the world.
In addition to being recorded for prosperity in one of the first ground-breaking worldwide satellite television broadcasts, the fight has been immortalised in both literature and film, notably in Norman Mailer’s The Fight and in the final act of Michael Mann’s Ali biopic starring Will Smith as Ali – other examples include a passionate but knowledgeable account by proto-sports Gonzoist George Plimpton and the excellent documentary When We Were Kings, which contains all the original footage of the fight, as well as interviews with all the event’s main proponents.
Mailer’s book, in particular, is an intense look at not only the fight, which is told in excruciating detail, round by bloody round, in the closing pages, but also an examination of art and science of boxing itself, something Mailer describes Ali as turning into “a 20th century art”.
The story of the fight’s build-up, the months Ali and Forman spent in Zaire preparing for the bout, is volubly detailed with some great allegories, particularly in Mailer’s deep examination of African folklore and philosophy. He also goes a long way to explaining the synergy of the African-American mind-set with continental Africa, the original motherland, both physically and spiritually. He is scathing in his portrayal of Don King, the fight’s promoter, in this his first high-profile bout – King would go on during the 1980s and beyond to define the modern business of boxing, some saying to the sport’s detriment.
Mailer also has some choice words for Zaire’s then President (for life) Mobutu, as a prime example of how, even in those early days of African post-colonial independence, the problems of corruption, greed and megalomania would taint and sadly define the era. Mobutu co-sponsored the fight’s cost and prize monies using government coffers, eventually taking a sizable kickback to his Swiss bank account. The significant sadness of two black men beating each in a ring for money in front of thousands of dirt-poor Zairians is not lost on Mailer.
Professional boxing, thanks in part to Don King and the backroom politicking behind this fight, would eventually go on to splinter into various factions, and turn the sport into a glitzy money game, much like most sport today. However, the purity of this last great fight has been capably recorded by Mailer as a glowing but honest tribute to a fierce but noble sport.
Somewhere – Sofia Coppola
It’s difficult to get into Coppola’s measured and patiently rendered story of a relationship between a hip young Hollywood star – played by a surprising Stephen Dorff – and his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). The first 15 minutes contains no significant dialogue and some uneasy listlessness which, if you can get past, pays off gradually throughout the rest of the film and into its understated coda.
Coppola – daughter of independent film’s Godfather Francis Ford – has made this movie before – a series of short, subtle vignettes that separately say nothing significant, but viewed as a whole speak volumes – in Lost In Translation which busted loose the ghost of Bill Murray’s thespianism and introduced the world to Scarlett Johanssen’s lips. But without the bizarre clunky-but-you-love-it Murray facetiousness and Scarlett sexiness to buoy it, Somewhere is a different and more difficult animal to catch. As a viewer you have to work with the film and dig deep to fully appreciate the film’s hidden nuances of ambient noise, whispered dialogue and lingering camerawork completely.
Stylistically, Coppola is more than accomplished, creating vivid and memorable paintings out of almost each frame, thanks in part to the film’s atmospheric use of the legendary Chateau Mormont hotel – a residence of choice for some of Hollywood’s hippest (John Belushi died here, Johnny Depp and the Red Hot Chili Peppers hang out by the pool when in town). The hotel’s quirky, but not overbearing collection of residents, staff and mise-en-scene help create an evanescent third ‘character’ subtly supporting the two leads. In the hands of a more conventional writer and director this story could have turned into a slushy and blatant Oscar-baiting cheese fest, but Coppola continues to prove she is one of the most original, yet most under-appreciated, filmmakers of the last fifteen years. Essentially, as a film that demands your full attention , but refuses to force feed you, Somewhere is hard to like, but easy to love.
Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman
I am so sick of Charlie Kaufman. He is a self-absorbed one-trick pony, a writer, and now filmmaker who wallows so humourlessly in his own earnestness and then gormlessly insisting that the very nature of film storytelling be so extensively and pointlessly rewired so that we pay more unwarranted attention to him. He’s like a Woody Allen who forgot to refill a Ritalin prescription.
And Being John Malkovich is one of my favourite films ever, but without the absurdity of a Spike Jonze or the visual mindboggling of a Michel Gondry, Synecdoche, New York is just an incomprehensible and unpronounceable mess of a movie. It’s painful to even write about it here. This movie has shaken me off so-called independent art film so much; I have had to watch the entire American Pie series just to cleanse my palate. I like films that fuck with me, but I don’t like a film that rapes me with a dog-eared copy of Fellini For Dummies and then feels sorry for itself afterwards. Buy a Mad magazine once in a while, Mr Kaufman.