New Flying Lotus album “You’re Dead!”

Flying Lotus' You're dead!

Fly­ing Lotus’ You’re dead!

If secretly, in a hid­den cor­ner of your psy­che kept secretly secreted just for you, you qui­etly sus­pect that that man that young mas­ter Zim­mer­man riles against with such sav­age enthu­si­asm on the first of those three extra­or­di­nary albums from 1966 is star­ing back at you from that mir­ror. And that some­how, inex­plic­a­bly, you’ve mor­phed into Jones, Mis­ter, then this is the album to dis­play so loudly and with such pride at the head of your playlist.

In his guise as Fly­ing Lotus Steven Elli­son is the man respon­si­ble for keep­ing U2 and Radio­head awake at night as they toss and turn in their tor­tured desire to stay rel­e­vant. Thom Yorke was actu­ally a guest vocal­ist on Flylo’s – as he’s inevitably been dubbed – last cou­ple of albums, the break­through Cos­mo­gramma from 2010 and Until the Quiet Comes in 2012, reviewed ear­lier here.

Flylo gets grilled by Thom Yorke.

Flylo gets grilled by Thom Yorke.

You’re Dead! is his fifth album, and it’s effort­lessly, daz­zlingly rel­e­vant, and almost casu­ally if tri­umphantly cur­rent. Nom­i­nally a con­cept album, it’s as much an explo­ration of the tex­ture and feel of sounds as it is of the idea and real­ity of death.

That excla­ma­tion mark, so often so irri­tat­ingly redun­dant, here hits the nail on the head, as they point out on their review on Pitch­fork here, where it gets an 8.3.

The album man­ages to be at once light and airy, and yet clearly con­tem­pla­tive as it con­sid­ers and pon­ders the inevitable. The art work per­fectly cap­tures that lightheavy, trippy dippy sense of happy res­ig­na­tion pro­pelled and punc­tu­ated by the rhythms and ten­sions of 21st cen­tury hip hop.

Elli­son is quite sim­ply the man, and this my friend is where it’s at. You can see the video for Never Catch Me fea­tur­ing Kendrick Lamar here.

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The Imitation Game” is surprisingly watchable.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game.

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in The Imi­ta­tion Game.

Per­son­ally speak­ing, the prospect of watch­ing yet another cos­tume drama with all of those actors who are in all of the other period pieces is about as appeal­ing as an extra Maths grind on a balmy summer’s eve. But The Imi­ta­tion Game is sur­pris­ingly watchable .

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch is Alan Tur­ing, and Tur­ing was, gen­uinely, one of the most remark­able indi­vid­u­als of the 20th cen­tury. If you’re unfa­mil­iar with his story, and you very well might be as it’s only very recently been unearthed, then I’ll not give too much away here. As all the best sto­ries do, the drama of his life unfolded in both the pub­lic and in the pri­vate spheres.

In the pub­lic sphere, Tur­ing was head hunted by the top secret wing of the then “non exis­tent” MI6 as they des­per­ately tried to unpick the enigma code. This was the code that the Ger­mans used to dis­guise their daily broad­casts of where their troops were and what they were up to. It had over 159 quin­til­lion – that’s 159 fol­lowed by 18 zeros – dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions that were changed every day. Tur­ing almost sin­gle hand­edly cracked it, and you could make a very strong case for sug­gest­ing that his was the most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the whole of the sec­ond World War.

Kiera Knightley together with Cumberbatch.

Keira Knight­ley together with Cumberbatch.

In the per­sonal sphere, he was demon­stra­bly autis­tic which inevitably leads to albeit unin­tended offense. As there’s always the sus­pi­cion that your obnox­ious behav­iour might very well be just that, merely obnox­ious and have noth­ing to do with your autism. And, he was also gay.

Which is all well and good when you are attend­ing the sort of male only pub­lic school that the British send their elite to. But which becomes an enor­mous prob­lem when that same soci­ety then con­demns and indeed crim­i­nalises those boys who grow up to be young men who pre­fer the com­pany of other young men.

La Knightley.

La Knight­ley.

Cum­ber­batch is appeal­ingly prickly as the iras­ci­ble bof­fin, and Keira Knight­ley is as ever much bet­ter than any­body ever likes to give her credit for. And yes, obvi­ously math­e­mati­cians don’t look like that. But do you really want to go to the cin­ema and watch a film peo­pled by char­ac­ters who look real­is­ti­cally like math­e­mati­cians and code breakers?

The Imi­ta­tion Game is an unashamed love let­ter to Alan Tur­ing. But if ever an indi­vid­ual deserved one, it is surely he. What­ever device you’re read­ing this on wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble were it not for Tur­ing. If any one per­son can be, Tur­ing can gen­uinely be cred­ited with hav­ing per­son­ally invented the com­puter. His con­tri­bu­tion to the world, in war and peace, is immense. And it’s only right that the soci­ety that so cal­lously con­demned him in his life should belat­edly cel­e­brate him in death. And the result­ing film is sur­pris­ingly mov­ing and appro­pri­ately stirring.

You can see The Imi­ta­tion Game’s trailer here. And this review also appears on here which obvi­ously you should all be read­ing as avidly as you do this.

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Stanley Kubrick at the Light House, great technician but a minor film maker.

The peerless Paths of Glory.

The peer­less Paths of Glory.

There’s a sea­son of each and every one of Stan­ley Kubrick’s films on at the Light­house cin­ema in Dublin at the moment. The best place to start is with his sec­ond film proper (his actual fourth) Paths Of Glory (’57).

One of the great anti-war films, it sees Kirk Dou­glas come fruit­lessly to the defence of unjustly accused sol­diers in the 1st WW. What’s so strik­ing about the film in ret­ro­spect is how glo­ri­ously mov­ing it is. There’s a tremen­dous emo­tional invest­ment in the fig­ure of Dou­glas and the result is a sear­ing indict­ment of war. It was though the one and only time that Kubrick ever allowed emo­tion sully any of his films.

After that, we have a series of films each of which seems to have its own par­tic­u­lar excuse as to why it fails to engage on an emo­tional level.

The Planet of The Apes.

The Planet of The Apes.

First, there’s the bloated if curi­ously blood­less spec­ta­cle of Spar­ta­cus (’60), fol­lowed by his under­stand­ably cold take on Lolita (’62). You could hardly have become emo­tion­ally invested in that kind of a pro­tag­o­nist. Hence the cast­ing of James Mason instead of the younger, darker and more obvi­ously cyn­i­cal Dirk Bog­a­rde – who would later reprise the role for Fass­binder in the glo­ri­ous Despair (’78).

Next up, he was appro­pri­ately detached for the bril­liant polit­i­cal satire Dr Strangelove (’64). Nei­ther it nor 2001:A Space Odyssey (’68), the sci-fi clas­sic that fol­lowed had a dis­cernible pro­tag­o­nist, so there was no one there to invest your emo­tion in. But that’s the nature of sci-fi, seems to be the sug­ges­tion. Even though it hadn’t been for the other sci-fi clas­sic that came out in exactly the same year, Planet Of the Apes.

2001 A Space Odessey.

2001: A Space Odyssey.

And you can hardly blame Kubrick for fail­ing to get us to invest emo­tion­ally in the pro­tag­o­nist of his next film, Alex in A Clock­work Orange (’72). Or for that mat­ter in Ryan O’Neill’s Barry Lyn­don (’75) or Jack Nichol­son in The Shin­ing (’80). And while you do care about Matthew Modine’s Joker in Full Metal Jacket, he’s not what the film is about. His are just the eyes through which we view the war. While in his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, he ditches the pro­tag­o­nist, Nicole Kid­man, after 90 min­utes and we spend a fruit­less final hour watch­ing an actor at a series of orgies being directed by the only man in the world even more wary about sex than he is.

Ton Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut.

Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut.

Paths to Glory ends with a female Ger­man pris­oner being humil­i­at­ingly forced to sing in front of her French cap­tors. But as they watch her, they become increas­ingly moved by the pathetic sight of her, and the plain­tive sound of the song that she sings. And they crum­ble before her, reduced to com­mon tears. The Ger­man actress was called Chris­tiane, and Kubrick promptly mar­ried her.

And it’s almost as if, hav­ing found emo­tional sat­is­fac­tion in his per­sonal life, he was never inclined again to invest any emo­tion in any of his pro­tag­o­nists, and there­fore into any of his films, ever again. Or per­haps at that early stage of his career, he just hadn’t found his voice yet. Per­haps engag­ing emo­tion­ally just wasn’t some­thing he was inter­ested in. And hav­ing made the mis­take once, he made sure never to do so ever again.

There’s no deny­ing the tech­ni­cal bravura of say the light­ing in Barry Lyn­don, the use of the steady­cam in The Shin­ing (remark­ably fore­shad­owed in Paths of Glory by the way), or the per­for­mances he gets out of Peter Sell­ers in Dr. Strangelove, or the sheer daz­zling spec­ta­cle that is 2001. But in the absence of emo­tional invest­ment, that’s all they are; daz­zlingly bril­liant, spec­tac­u­lar, tech­ni­cal exercises.

They all glis­ten, but none of them are gold.

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Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” at the cinema.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

After the 1966 film Blow Up became a sur­prise box office hit, and espe­cially after the com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess of Easy Rider in 1969, Hol­ly­wood was des­per­ate to grab ahold of the zeit­geist and jump on board. And so Ital­ian film maker Michelan­gelo Anto­nioni was invited by MGM to go over to Amer­ica and make a movie for them. This is what he pre­sented them with.

Blow Up.

Blow Up.

Tra­di­tion­ally, Zabriskie Point (’70) is seen as the sec­ond and by far the weak­est of Antonioni’s Eng­lish lan­guage tril­ogy. An unfor­tu­nate and uncom­fort­able trip to Amer­ica in between the twin mas­ter­pieces of Blow Up in ’66 and The Pas­sen­ger in ’75. That’s cer­tainly how I would have regarded it before see­ing it again in the cin­ema this week. And that I think is the key, you really do have to see this film in the cin­ema. It’s a revelation.

What­ever about the crit­i­cal past­ing that it got at the time, it’s not hard to see why it bombed at the box office. It’s exactly the kind of frac­tured, anti-narrative por­trait of counter-cultural dis­gust for con­ven­tional bour­geois cap­i­tal­ism that you’d expect from the dar­ling of the Euro­pean avant garde. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of film Hol­ly­wood would have claimed it was look­ing for. As ever, be care­ful what you wish for.

Monica Vitti and Alain Delon in L'eclisse.

Mon­ica Vitti and Alain Delon in L’eclisse.

The rea­son that it makes for such remark­able view­ing today is not because it offers up such a fas­ci­nat­ing snap shot of Los Ange­les as the ide­al­ism of the 60s became sub­sumed by the nihilism of the 70s. Although it is def­i­nitely that. Rather, it’s the com­bi­na­tion of Antonioni’s excep­tion­ally mea­sured and care­fully con­structed com­po­si­tions in a film that invites con­tem­pla­tion at the expense of a con­ven­tional story.

Many, indeed most of the shots are long lens, but in close up. So, say, a man sit­ting at a desk will lean for­ward, thereby going out of frame, before com­ing back into frame as he changes posi­tion in the chair once again. What results is a hyper aware­ness of the frame and of the very tac­tile nature of film, as in cel­lu­loid. You can feel the tex­ture of the images as they unfold before you. And the exper­i­men­tal sound­track, both the use of sounds, and the music of Pink Floyd, the Stones and Roy Orbi­son accen­tu­ate and com­pli­ment the images as they reveal themselves.

Daria Halprin in Zabriskie Point

Daria Hal­prin in Zabriskie Point

The Mon­ica Vitti tril­ogy of L’Avventura (’60), La Notte (’61) and L’Eclisse (’62), together with the other two films from the Eng­lish lan­guage tril­ogy, Blow Up and The Pas­sen­ger, are con­ven­tion­ally under­stood as Antonioni’s mas­ter­pieces. Zabriskie Point can now also be included in that august list. It con­firms Anto­nioni as one of the two most impor­tant film mak­ers to have ever worked in the medium. The other of course was Bergman. And they both died on exactly the same day in 2007, on July 30th. But, and I hate hav­ing to say this, you really do have to see it in the cinema.

You can see MGM’s trailer for Zabriskie Point here. Groovy.

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Syro”, disappointingly safe new album from the Aphex Twin.

Aphex Twin's "Syro".

Aphex Twin’s “Syro”.

Syro is the much awaited new album from the Aphex Twin, and the first offi­cial release from Richard D. James in 13 years. James is to elec­tron­ica what Mar­tin Luther King is to the civil rights move­ment. His is the name that shall not be taken in vain.

And sure enough, the music press fell over itself in its deter­mi­na­tion to wel­come it accord­ingly. The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an 8.7 here. And the doggedly pos­i­tive review that Sasha Frere-Jones gave it in the New Yorker here ended with,

Syro” is Aphex Twin say­ing, “Yes, that was me,” rather than “Here is the new frontier.”

But being asked to lis­ten to an Aphex Twin album devoid of the new is like being invited to lis­ten to a Simon and Gar­funkel album denuded of har­monies. New is what he does.

Richard D. James in, perhaps, slightly less happier times...

Richard D. James in, per­haps, slightly less hap­pier times…

I sup­pose it’s inevitable that a music so inex­orably linked to the tech­nol­ogy that pro­duces it is des­tined to become redun­dant in the blink of an eye. What would you think about being offered a brand new ten year old mobile phone? Nonethe­less, it’s impos­si­ble not to feel mon­u­men­tally under­whelmed by an album that sounds and feels so safe. And con­ven­tional.

When it comes to the act of cre­ation, emo­tional depth and peace of mind are inversely related and can be mapped math­e­mat­i­cally. Art is the prod­uct of pain. So one can only hope that James is as happy and con­tented as this album sug­gests. There’s noth­ing wrong I sup­pose in pro­duc­ing a new album of great­est hits. But if this is your intro­duc­tion to the Aphex Twin, you should prob­a­bly start off with 26 Mixes for Cash from 2003.

In the mean­time, here’s some­thing to put hairs on your chest. It’s the video for the title track to the 1997 ep Come to Daddy, directed by Chris Cun­ning­ham. And here’s a track from his new album Syro.

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