Simian Substitute Site for May 2021: Hartlepool

HartlepoolMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2021

Books: Continuing with the audiobooks at bedtime, we've spent most of April listening to John Cooper Clarke's autobiography, I Wanna Be Yours. It's as ideal a candidate for being read out loud as you'd expect: Clarke's spent a lifetime honing his verbal delivery, so his memoir is a breeze to listen to. It's possible that hearing it rather than reading it makes some of his personal idiosyncrasies stand out a bit more: his tendency to compile his namedrops into huge lists, or his use of multiple catchphrases throughout the book. ("What the - huh?" "Give it a name." "Luxury. Pure, unashamed, luxury.") What's more alarming is the trajectory his life story takes: it starts out as the story of a poet who occasionally dabbles in heroin, and slowly turns into the story of a junkie who does the odd poetry gig. But he's eye-wateringly honest - not to mention bleakly funny - about the ups and downs of his later years, and that honesty keeps his story compelling throughout. Like many autobiographies, the final chapter is effectively a headlong rush through All The Things That Have Happened To Me Since I Got Bored With Writing This Book: perhaps by the end of the year we'll have found one that doesn't end like that.

Internet: Sometimes, it has to be said, a whole audiobook is a bit much to digest. For this reason, we've also recently experimented with a week-long free trial of Blinkist. They take non-fiction books and smash them down into precis form, as both written summaries and fifteen minute audio pamphlets - "the app all CEOs love," says the publicity, which confirms everything you always suspected about CEOs. (Apart from one, he said, realising that he actually quite likes his job right now.) Over the course of the week we listened to, um, 'blinks' of books by David Byrne, Henry Marsh, Chris Hadfield, Brian Krebs, Adam Kay, Richard Wiseman and William E. Paul. Our first one was the Byrne, and I was impressed by how well the summary managed to capture his writing voice. But as we made our way through the other books - notably the Hadfield, which I'd already read in its full-length form - it began to strike me that the blinks were incredibly dumbed down compared to the originals, and the tone of them was invariably simplistic and patronising. (And that's when I realised that 'simplistic and patronising' is the natural tone of David Byrne's writing anyway.) It seems to be a service aimed at people who want to say they've read books, rather than people who want to actually read books. It's possible that a week-long trial is too short to really get the measure of what Blinkist is trying to do, which is hilariously ironic when you think about it. Anyhoo, we're back on the full length audiobooks again now, so watch out for the next exciting instalment in a month's time.

Music: And to make this an entire post full of things you listen to rather than anything else (including the Simian award winner itself), a quick reminder that The Blindboy Podcast is still the single best thing you can ram into your ears on a weekly basis. A recent episode introduced me to the work of Enoch Light, which sounds like the name of a minor English racist but isn't really. Blindboy, in his usual hyperbolic style, insists Light is the equivalent of Giotto in his field: Giotto revolutionised painting by being the first artist to use perspective, while Light was one of the first musicians to use stereo recording. Up until then, people had literally been using recordings of passing trains and table-tennis matches to show off their stereo equipment. Light was a bandleader, and so already had a very specific perspective on how a group of musicians could occupy your field of hearing in two dimensions. His records in the late fifties were gimmicky as hell, with instruments panning wildly from hard left to hard right and back again, but they literally changed the way recorded music was presented after that. And his innovations didn't stop there: his sleeve notes explaining what he was trying to do with the stereo process were so detailed he had to invent the gatefold sleeve to fit them all in, and he also experimented with recording onto 35mm film when magnetic tape turned out not to be high-fidelity enough for him. What a guy! Here, have a listen to five of his earliest stereo albums. (At the very least, try out track 3, which you've probably heard a cover version of at some point.)

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#PreCodeApril

Warner Archive DVDs are a bit basic, aren't they? Remember those days when DVDs used to claim interactive menus were a Special Feature? Warner Archive do.This isn’t our first encounter with the Hays Code. This was the document which came into force in 1934, and delineated precisely what sort of behaviour was unacceptable in Hollywood movies for the next three decades. It was also, by implication, the marker for the end of Hollywood’s Pre-Code era – that glorious four-year stretch between 1930 and 1934 when mild immorality ran wild on the big screen. It’s an era of filmmaking that’s been frequently celebrated by the British Film Institute, most notably in BFI Southbank's excellent 2014 season, Breaking The Code.

Shortly after that season took place, The Belated Birthday Girl bought me a four-pack of Pre-Code DVDs as a birthday present. Forbidden Hollywood Volume 7 was one of a small-run series of collections by the Warner Archive label. It contained one film from the BFI season, and three others that were unfamiliar to me. A lovely present, of course, but like most of the discs in our joint collection it was a question of when we would find the time to watch them.

That time turned out to be April 2021. My MostlyFilm colleague and Porn Valley High alumnus, FilmFan, set up the hashtag #PreCodeApril on Twitter, and invited everyone he knew to watch some Pre-Code films and write about them. If you follow the hashtag, you can see it’s been a roaring success: half the images in my timeline this month have been in black and white, as Film Twitter has rushed to post countless stills and GIFs from these films to accompany their reviews.

I don’t really do film reviews on Twitter. So here they are.

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Beerfests In A Box

Plenty of work to be done here before recycling collection day.This past year has normalised many things that we wouldn't have even considered a thing not too long ago, and one of them is this: the beer festival that you attend from home. Send people some money over the internet, have them send you a box full of beer in exchange, and then on a specified day connect with those people over a different bit of the internet where you can share the experience of drinking the beer together.

And yes, that is normalised. If it wasn't, how come we recently attended three of these things over the space of four weeks? And how did they end up being so wildly different from each other? Research data follows.

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2021: Medicine Monkey

Medicine MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2021

Books: Two months into our audiobook-at-bedtime regime, The Belated Birthday Girl came up with a perfectly valid point: "could we have a female voice for a change?" So after Buxton, Mortimer and Whitehouse, our next book was The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, inspired by that recent film that was kinda sorta about her. Our first attempt at listening to fiction in audio form, and to be honest short stories are perfect for the 20-30 minutes a night we're allocating to the task. Narrator Francine Brody does a decent job of making all these tales distinctive, although inevitably certain voices keep popping up again and again - the buttoned-up housewife, or the whiny teen. As for the stories themselves, they're a fascinatingly diverse selection, ranging from whimsical tales of petty inconvenience to out-and-out psychological horror. Jackson's sense of place is extraordinary - the homes where her characters live inevitably come to define who they are, which is what makes Like Mother Used To Make such a wicked little tale. The fact that she was even prepared to discuss race out loud in the late 1940s is something I wasn't expecting, although the way in which Flower Garden announces itself as a story about race halfway through comes as a jolt these days. The odd little themes and motifs that reoccur throughout these otherwise unconnected stories give the collection an implied throughline, making the whole thing a very satisfying listen. We finished it a couple of weeks ago, and now we're back to non-fiction and men again - but that's a discussion for next month.

Music: March 2021 has been notable for people looking back at their naive predictions of how things were going to pan out after March 2020. Here are mine, if you're interested. (And as we started the first year of this mess with a monkey-themed cartoon from Private Eye, let's start the second year the same way.) Many of these monthly roundups since then have been full of reports on online gigs. We don't do as many of them as we used to, but they're still very much happening. Here's a good one from this month: Kid Carpet, live from the Town Hall in Trowbridge. Alarmingly, it appears to have been almost exactly a decade since we last saw the Kid play a gig for grown-ups: theatre shows and stuff for children have been keeping him occupied since then. Some of the songs from those shows end up in this set, along with a couple of unreleased ones and some old favourites. (He even plays Gordano! Thank you oh Lord and Baby Jesus, as a wise man said in some YouTube comments once.) It's all as ramshackle and entertaining as ever, and it's almost in keeping with the music to have it videoed by a company that normally does weddings. It's part of a whole series of gigs shot in and by Trowbridge Town Hall, because they'd like people to give them some money while they can't put on live shows. Maybe you could consider doing that.

Travel: Last month's posts were all about online film festivals: and next month I'll probably say a bit about online beer festivals too. Is there any kind of festival that can't be held on the internet? Well, if anything was going to test that theory, it was the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin. Magnificently, this year the parade was replaced by a YouTube-based arts festival that literally occupied a six day weekend. The theory was meant to be that all the video they produced would be taken down a few days after Paddy's Day itself, but it's the beginning of April now and it all still seems to be here. Two highlights stood out for me, both coincidentally involving artists who were on last year's Pick Of The Year compilation. Mary Coughlan contributed A Song And A Chat, a mixture of leisurely interview and greatest hits set, both of which were extremely enjoyable. And Blindboy Boatclub was all over the shop, delivering a set of five nightly short lectures on the subject of Creativity And Mental Health, topping it all off on the final night with a reading of his short story Jo Lee (content warning: contains content). To be honest, those are the only ones that I saw, but there's hours (if not days) of other stuff available, and the big traditional finale live from Whelan's has to be worth a look.

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This Is My Place: #JFTFP21 (part 3 of 3)

Little Miss PeriodWell, you've missed it all, I'm afraid. The 2021 edition of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme was only online between February 19th and March 10th, and now it's all gone apart from a few of the accompanying webchats (specifically the season introduction, a discussion on realism in Japanese cinema, and a chat about Bizen pottery that ties in with one of the films I didn't see). Yes, the final part of this writeup of what I saw in the season is a bit late, but at least it's not three months late like last year's.

So, assuming we can skip the basics because you've already read part one and part two, here comes part three of my review of this year's programme, which of necessity has to start by explaining why the photo at the top of this page is meant to represent a menstruating woman.

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