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December 2008
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February 2009

SPANK GOLD: London Film Festival 1989

Beryl Cook's cover image for the 1989 LFF programme, back when they used pictures rather than graphic design 1989 was a busy year, as I've already noted elsewhere. Within a couple of months of frying my brain with the overload of my first ever Edinburgh Festival, I was doing it all over again with my first ever London Film Festival. And it's a similar story to Edinburgh, really: I dived straight in, made quite a few mistakes, but made sure I learned from them for future years.

The main mistake I made here was to do with weekday matinees. No cheapo matinee vouchers in those days, meaning I had to pay the full ticket price of (gulp) ¬£4.50 for every screening. But somehow, I'd got it into my head that I could do my day job and see lots of films simultaneously: or more accurately, spend a week working mornings in the office, and seeing films in the afternoons and evenings. Inevitably, this left me a complete and total nervous wreck: in future years, I'd experiment with taking more and more days off work to dedicate totally to the LFF. 

As for my choices of films back then... well, you'll have to read on and see how that turned out. I was still keeping my 1989 diary as late as November, so I've got contemporary records of what I thought of everything when I saw it. I reserve the right to change my mind, though.

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VidBinge 2008

A shameless bit of pandering to The Belated Birthday Girl: Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men, shooting a dogI won't lie to you: the 2008 VidBinge was a bit of a disappointment compared with previous years. Usually, there are six or seven of Spank's Pals voting on their pick from twenty of the year's best movies, in preparation for an all-day screening of the four or five most popular ones at my place. But thanks to shopping commitments, illness and other reasons, only two people could attend the December 2008 event: fan favourites The Belated Birthday Girl and Old Lag.

But you know what? We went ahead and did it anyway. Sure, the vote ended up a little less granular than it has done in the past. We ended up with one runaway winner in first place, and four films tied in second place. Happily, the combined running time of all five allowed us to just about squeeze them into the traditional 1pm-11.30pm slot. So with the help of some booze and the takeaway pizza place over the road, we watched all of the following.

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SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1989

Fringe Programme 1989, sponsored by British Telecom. Whatever happened to them? The story so far: on Burns Night, 1989, I visited Edinburgh for the first time and fell in love with the place. (Even though the Lothian Road was covered with blobs of vomit at ten yard intervals, showing how enthusiastically at least one person was celebrating the day.) From that day on, I started formulating a plan to visit the Edinburgh Festival that summer. By the following month, I'd already booked two weeks in a pleasantly central B&B (the Clifton Guest House near Haymarket, though I believe it might be called The Guards Hotel nowadays): and as mid-August drew closer, I grabbed each individual festival's programme and started booking events like there was no tomorrow.

Which was a stupid thing to do, of course. Edinburgh 1989 was where I made all my mistakes, and gathered a large part of the wisdom that I've been passing on to Festival virgins ever since. Don't book for shows in advance unless you seriously need to: you'll just end up throwing away tickets when better offers come along. Don't try to see two shows with a gap of less than ten minutes between them. Don't sign up for huge amounts of International Festival shows just because they're the first to announce their programme. All obvious now:  apparently not so obvious twenty years ago.

I've got a 1989 diary and two decades of hindsight to play with. (Although it looks like back then, I was less interested in using the diary to document detailed artistic analyses, and more in using it to jot down jokes I could tell people back at the office.) Let's go back to that heady fortnight in August 1989, and see how far I can get into my first Edinburgh Festival before I terminally embarrass myself.

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These Beats Are 20 Years Old: Pick Of The Year 2008

Photography: The Belated Birthday Girl. Shirt: model's own (sob). Let's start with the cover, for a change. Once I'd nailed down the title (supplied by rock music's premier pair of intellectuals), it was a question of finding an image somehow reminiscent of 1988. The warped acid house reference of my old Watchmen t-shirt fitted the bill quite nicely, particularly with the tie-in to the movie coming out in a few months time (or is it?). There wasn't much nostalgia involved in putting it on, just the horrific realisation that there was once a time when medium sized t-shirts actually fitted me.

Anyway, you know the score. Here's a selection of my favourite individual tracks released in 2008, assembled on CD for a select audience of mates and one lucky competition winner. Which could be you, if you answer the question at the end of this piece by 11.59pm GMT on February 28th 2009. Read on to find out more.

(Video links are available for all the songs, as is the usual YouTube playlist: though be warned that both of the Japanese clips have already been deleted at least once by over-eager intellectual property lawyers, so there's no telling how long those two will remain available. Fans of The Felix Project are directed towards track 18.)

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SPANK GOLD: An Introduction Of Sorts

This is what my research material for 2009 looks like when spread across a duvet.("This isn't going to get too confessional, is it?" asked The Belated Birthday Girl the other day. Well, I don't think it will. You can never be sure, though, can you?)

Have you ever had one of those Januaries when you suddenly decide that Something Must Be Done? Not just your usual half-hearted New Year's resolutions, but the feeling that your life's drifted off track and needs a concentrated plan of attack in order to make it work again?

Don't worry, I'm not having one of those now. But I had one twenty years ago, back in 1989. The decisions I took then are still having an impact on what I do today, and our all new Spank Gold feature will be where I get to look back at them in more detail than anyone could reasonably want.

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Simian Substitute Site for January 2009: Monkey Cup

Monkey Cup Happy New Year, y'all. Those of you who were here this time last year may recall that our regular New Year's Eve hangout, the Red Rose Comedy Club, started hitting problems almost immediately after their 2007/8 celebrations. They're still currently closed, so our substitute for this year was the Hampstead Comedy Club, taking over Downstairs At The King's Head for one night only. Former Red Rose compere Ivor Dembina introduced standup from Sol Bernstein, Otiz Cannelloni and Imran Yusuf, all for the bargain price of a tenner. It wasn't quite the wild celebration that the Red Rose NYE dos were - and it was sad to see Ronnie Golden wandering around the place like a sausage roll at a Jewish wedding, given the large part that his band Ronnie And The Rex used to play in generating that atmosphere. But still, a good evening for all that.

Later on today, we'll be meeting up with Spank's Pals for our usual New Year's Day movie blowout, attempting to see just how much Mexican food and beer it will take to make Australia any good. Or should that be Austr√°lie?

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