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August 2020

We Are One

Obviously, there are lots of incredibly pressing problems that need to be solved on the planet right now. But there's been one particular problem that's been preying on my mind ever since the lockdown started in March. It's this - how are film festivals supposed to work now?

You have to sympathise with the BFI, who had to consider that question more urgently than most. Their second biggest festival of the year, the LGBTIQ+ fest that they nowadays call Flare, was due to start on March 20th but had to be cancelled just a few days beforehand. In a herculean effort, they pivoted to video in virtually no time, and had a reduced series of films running on their online player for the duration.

Their biggest festival - the London Film Festival - is coming in October, and some fascinating hints have already been dropped as to how they're going to make that happen. We'll talk about that here nearer the time, of course. But in between Flare and the LFF, the BFI was one of a number of organisations involved in the creation of We Are One, a free film festival that literally spanned the entire planet. This was back in June, so you've already missed it. Luckily, I didn't.

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22: The Death Of All The Romance

Well, this is awkward. For two reasons, in fact.

First reason: having committed myself to a song that I haven't heard in over a decade, it turns out I don't like it very much. Or, more accurately, the bit I like is from 3' 45" to the end, once they've all stopped singing. I'm lumbered with this dull video of the album cover because the official video is of the radio edit which stops before the coda, and all the full-length live renditions on YouTube have been filmed on analog telephones, judging from their sound quality. (The other alternative would have been to go with 22 Grand Job by the Rakes, but the video for that's problematic ay eff.)

Second reason: I needed a song with 22 in the title to help me announce that The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey first appeared on the internet on July 14th 1998, which is 22 years ago today. It launched with a review of one of my favourite comics at the time, Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. And by pure coincidence, yesterday (July 13th 2020) saw the launch of a new website called So Many Of Us, an extraordinary piece of work in which dozens of women share their stories of how Ellis has abused and manipulated them over two decades or more. I guess I'm not so disappointed these days that he blocked me on Twitter.

All of this is rather grim, which makes the transition into this next bit a grinder of a gear change, but here goes: today is this site's 22nd birthday! Hooray! As The Belated Birthday Girl keeps telling me, she can think of very few commercial websites that have been around as long as this one, so I suppose this counts as some sort of achievement. Thanks to all of you who've hung around this long, and still seem to be somehow enjoying it.

Right, that's that out of the way. Now I guess I've got 365 days to find a better song with the number 23 in the title.

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Simian Substitute Site For July 2020: SCP-983


Internet: Well, let's be honest, everything we're doing at the moment comes under the category of Internet one way or another, doesn't it? And it's been interesting to see how people and organisations have coped with the requirement to move all their activities online. Take, for example, the Japan Foundation, the body set up to promote Japanese culture around the world. They're mentioned on this site annually because of their Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, and also got a namecheck earlier in the year for a combined movie and lecture event. But now their lecture series has moved onto Zoom, with two fine examples this month. Ninja: Their Philosophies And Duties saw Professor Yuji Yamada entertainingly demolish most of the myths we've picked up from tatty martial arts movies, most notably that ninjas spent most of their time dressed like ninjas. (They're primarily spies: having a recognisable uniform is a bad idea.) Meanwhile, How Do They Read? Voices And Practices of Japanese Language Translators was a panel discussion about the art of translation. Polly Barton (who was at that live event we attended a few months ago) talked about the space between English and Japanese as a physical thing she felt she navigated as she worked, while Ginny Tapley Takemori went into the nitty gritty of how some of the subtleties of the Japanese language (like gendered first person pronouns) can be a nightmare to reproduce in English. I can't help you with the first talk, sadly, but if you think literary translators are more interesting than ninjas, you can watch How Do They Read? on YouTube.

Music: We haven't seen any live music since the New Routes showcase night in Cambridge back in March. Correction: we haven't been in the same room as any live music since then, but we've seen plenty of it, thanks to a wide array of streaming events. Some of them have been charity events to raise money for struggling venues: for example, the Green Note in Camden has run a terrific series of live shows every Wednesday and Friday on their YouTube channel, each featuring a trio of acts performing in a round robin format. There have also been various one-off shows for a similar cause, like Ed Harcourt's fundraiser for Bush Hall. Some acts, however, are just trying to raise money for themselves: from the self-explanatory Andrew O'Neill Sings! broadcast from the comedian's living room at 11am UK time for his Australian fans, to the mighty Soil & "Pimp" Sessions streaming a full-on Death Jazz gig from the empty Blue Note club in Tokyo. Nevertheless, for all of this live wonderfulness, I have to admit that we've spent an awful lot of Saturday nights watching - and dancing to - United We Stream, a series of webcast DJ sets raising money for all the people who lost their livelihood when Manchester's nightlife was shut down. They're currently on hiatus after raising close on half a million quid, but their last two Saturday night shows were a fine finale, featuring firstly Mr Scruff live from the Cloudwater brewery (3 hours 38 minutes into here) and then a full-on DJ battle between the mayors of Manchester and Liverpool. Meanwhile, in recorded music news, the best album to come out of the pandemic so far was recorded in a car last Sunday night.

Telly: Huffity puffity Ringstone Round, if you lose your hat it will never be found... We've all seen enough archive TV by now to realise that revisiting shows you remember fondly from childhood is usually a bad idea. But when Talking Pictures TV announced that they'd be repeating the 1979 series of Quatermass, I couldn't keep myself away. I remembered it being a thing we talked about at school the morning after it was on, but very few of the details, apart from that song and that ending. A good couple of decades after his original adventures on the BBC, Professor Bernard Quatermass is now an old man searching London for his lost granddaughter. England has gone completely dystopian hellscape at this point, enlivened by gangs of hippy punks known as the Planet People who gather at stone circles in the belief that aliens will beam them up to a better world. The truth is actually a little more complex than that, but only a little. Forty-one years after transmission, it's surprising to realise that ITV pulled off their own version of Mad Max a) on an ITV budget and b) a year before the release of Mad Max. John Mills is magnificent throughout, balancing quiet intensity with alarming moments of vulnerability. But it's hard these days to miss writer Nigel Kneale's subtext that Everything Is Terrible And It's All Young People's Fault, with the satirical angle getting a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, Kneale's grumpiness also manifests itself in his delight at killing off his characters in a series of increasingly apocalyptic cliffhangers, so on balance it all works out. Talking Pictures are sadly too old-fashioned a TV station to believe in anything as useful as an online catchup service, which makes it convenient (though unfortunate for the rights holders) that someone appears to have persuaded the Internet Archive that the series is in the public domain.

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