Archives for March 2011

Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan.

Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s Black Swan.

Why does every­body always make such a big deal about sto­ry? Who says that every film has to be so say “dra­mat­ic”? Just because a bunch of Greeks decreed it thou­sands of years ago, and yes, that is thou­sands of years ago.

I mean for heaven’s sake,  when they were devis­ing their laws for dra­ma, what they had in mind was a bunch of guys in togas run­ning around half-built the­atres on a hill in the mid­dle of nowhere. How on earth is that going to be rel­e­vant today, when we expect to see things is glo­ri­ous 3D and in fab­u­lous 5.1 Dol­by dig­i­tal sur­round sound? Things moved on a bit since then you know.

And what’s the big deal about dra­ma any­way? I don’t actu­al enjoy being perched for­ev­er on the edge of my seat, won­der­ing what’s going to hap­pen next. Who needs that kind of stress? Some­times it’s nice to be able to sit back and actu­al­ly enjoy a film, with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly being so trans­fixed by what’s hap­pen­ing up there that you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

That was then, but this is now...

That was then, but this is now…

Which is what makes Black Swan so mar­vel­lous­ly refresh­ing. There’s no dra­ma in it what­so­ev­er, because bril­liant­ly, they decid­ed to dis­pense with sto­ry entire­ly. And I for one say Bra­vo! Instead, what they give you is a suc­ces­sion of mind­less­ly beau­ti­ful pic­tures that bare absolute­ly no rela­tion­ship to one anoth­er at all, not being bound by the tra­di­tion­al glue that is nar­ra­tive drive.

So instead of hav­ing to wor­ry your pret­ty lit­tle head about what may or may not hap­pen to any of the char­ac­ters up there on the screen, you’re free to lie back and relax. And before you know it, your mind will have won­dered off and your thoughts will be miles away. It was the best two hours I’ve spent at the cin­e­ma in years. Thank you.


Bible’s Buried Secrets” — BBC

Archae­ol­o­gy is a sur­pris­ing­ly mod­ern prac­tice. The word was first used by Thucy­dides in the 5th cen­tu­ry B.C. where he warned future his­to­ri­ans against under­es­ti­mat­ing the impor­tance of Spar­ta if all they did was to look at the evi­dence that Spar­ta left behind. It wasn’t until 1738 though that we first began to study ancient remains, when the digs at Her­cu­la­neum and then at near­by Pom­peii were begun. But it was only with the advances made in the 20th cen­tu­ry that Archae­ol­o­gy began to be prac­ticed in a con­sis­tent­ly sci­en­tif­ic manner.

The only way to ever dis­cov­er any­thing is by using the sci­en­tif­ic method. You look at an event or phe­nom­e­non and sug­gest an expla­na­tion for all those sorts of things. Then you devise exper­i­ments to test your ideas, which you mod­i­fy sub­se­quent to the results that you get, when at last you can pro­duce a the­o­ry. This is then exam­ined and test­ed by your peers, who eval­u­ate the tests you used and your inter­pre­ta­tion of the results, until hope­ful­ly a con­sen­sus is reached as to the valid­i­ty of your ideas.

So, in archae­ol­o­gy, you gath­er what evi­dence you can find, bits of pot­tery, rock, seeds, pollen, bones, and, if you are very lucky, texts, and you test them to see what infor­ma­tion you can extract. For any­thing up to about 40–50,000 years old for instance, radio car­bon dat­ing can give you a very good idea as to what time frame you are look­ing at, and the more recent it is, the more accu­rate the read­ing. Alter­na­tive­ly, you might look at the use of gram­mar in a text to com­pare it with already estab­lished lit­er­ary norms from oth­er texts, to see whether what you have belongs to this or to that tradition.

Even­tu­al­ly you pub­lish your con­clu­sions, which are then care­ful pored over by your peers. What you can­not do, ever, is to begin with your con­clu­sions, and then go about search­ing for evi­dence that sup­ports them. This though is pre­cise­ly how “archae­ol­o­gy” was con­duct­ed in the Mid­dle East dur­ing the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The start­ing point from where they all began was, the bible is an his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment. Any evi­dence that was then unearthed that didn’t sup­port that was, at best ignored, at worst destroyed. In any oth­er part of the world, this sort of behav­iour would have been deemed beneath con­tempt, and wouldn’t have last­ed a week. But such were (and of course are) the sen­si­tiv­i­ties around the nascent Israel, that these incred­i­bly un-sci­en­tif­ic prac­tices were left unchal­lenged for an entire generation.

Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s superb first episode in the BBC’s the Bible’s Buried Secrets charts this mis­use of pseu­do-sci­ence, and exam­ines the copi­ous quan­ti­ties of actu­al archae­o­log­i­cal evi­dence that the region has pro­duced. The bible isn’t a fac­tu­al doc­u­ment, and any­body who tries to read it as such is doing it a mas­sive dis­ser­vice. You’re meant to learn from its sto­ries, moral­ly. Its per­ma­nence and depth derive from its moral truth, not from its his­tor­i­cal accuracy.

It’s a con­cise and con­fi­dent intro­duc­tion to ter­rain already cov­ered by William Schnieder­wind (, and Thomas L. Thomp­son ( The for­mer is the eas­i­er read, the lat­ter the more relent­less­ly scholarly.


Cathy Davey + Two Door Cinema Club

With pre­dictable unpre­dictabil­i­ty, this year’s Choice Music Prize went to Two Door Cin­e­ma Club. Their Tourist His­to­ry is exact­ly the sort of thing you’d expect from a trio a respectable teenagers. One of them has even insist­ed on grow­ing a beard. That’s how young they are.

Basi­cal­ly, they’re Hot Chip lite. Which is fine, but it does mean that they are omi­nous­ly radio friend­ly. Hope­ful­ly I’m wrong, and they will still be around in five years’ time. But a cer­tain part of their anato­my needs to drop if they’re to inject any spunk into those tunes they so effort­less­ly pro­duce. There needs to be a bit more indie in their tron­i­ca and a lot less pop if they’re to avoid end­ing up as this year’s D:Ream.

The best album of those nom­i­nat­ed was com­fort­ably Cathy Davey’s The Name­less. It’s only her third album, but there’s a sense of sub­stance to it that only time can give you. Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly con­fi­dent melod­i­cal­ly, you nev­er­the­less have the occa­sion­al sus­pi­cion that any moment now, it’s about to slip into twee­ness, which isn’t helped by the knowl­edge that she’s cur­rent­ly see­ing Neil Han­non (if you know of a more grat­ing­ly fey album than The Duck­worth Lewis Method, kind­ly keep it to yourself.)

Hap­pi­ly though, it glides instead into the ter­rain orig­i­nal­ly fash­ioned by Jacques Brel and Scott Walk­er and cur­rent­ly occu­pied by Pink Mar­ti­ni, and what might have been mere­ly a col­lec­tion of bril­liant songs is giv­en a time­less sense of per­ma­nence. The Touch espe­cial­ly evokes the seedy deca­dence of an Ams­ter­dam broth­el in the 1970s, where Serge Gains­bourg is being ser­viced by a nymphette who looks like she might be at school with his daughter.

Made by and for grown-ups, and unlike any of the oth­er nom­i­nees, The Name­less will still be lis­tened to in at least five years’ time. And ulti­mate­ly, it’s time not prizes that we’re judged by.

MGMT — “Congratulations”

MGMT explod­ed onto the scene in 2008 with the fire­works that was Orac­u­lar Spec­tac­u­lar. And the two lead sin­gles, Time To Pre­tend and Kids kept licens­ing lawyers busy for months. Their dif­fi­cult sec­ond album Con­grat­u­la­tions arrived in April 2010, and telling­ly, the first thing they did was to announce that there wouldn’t be any sin­gles released from it. Any­one hop­ing for more of the same was clear­ly in for a disappointment.

The truth of the mat­ter is though, that those famous sin­gles weren’t actu­al­ly ter­ri­bly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the album as a whole. So Con­grat­u­la­tions, despite the dearth of obvi­ous sin­gles, car­ries on where Orac­u­lar left off. MGMT are what Boland and Bowie might have sound­ed like if they’d tak­en what they were doing in the first half of the sev­en­ties, and devel­oped it fur­ther into the sec­ond half.

Like most of the best music com­ing out of north Amer­i­ca at the moment, it’s steeped in the sounds and feel of the UK in the late sev­en­ties and ear­ly eight­ies. And, as with a lot of these bands, you have the dis­tinct feel­ing that if you were only able to pick up on half of the musi­cal ref­er­ences sly­ly allud­ed to here, you might very well enjoy the album almost a much as the peo­ple mak­ing it.

What lifts this album from the mere­ly clever to the thor­ough­ly infec­tious are the duo’s impec­ca­ble gift for melody. It’s almost as if they can’t help them­selves. Try as they might to knuck­le down and pro­duce some­thing seri­ous, those damn tunes keep burst­ing forth. Hence the con­fu­sion that exists on where they stand on the indie/pop axis.

What­ev­er about their imme­di­a­cy, these songs have a sat­is­fy­ing sense of hav­ing been con­scious­ly con­struct­ed. Someone’s Miss­ing takes a minute and three quar­ters to build up at 33 rpm, before its melody final­ly bursts forth at a joy­ous 45. And then, as quick­ly as it began, it’s over. Bri­an Wilson’s lega­cy lives on. Sim­i­lar­ly, the mon­u­men­tal feel to Flash Delir­i­um gives it an expan­sive sense of per­ma­nence. While Lady Gaga’s Nigh­ta­mare nods respect­ful­ly at The Smiths’ Last Night I Dreamt Some­body Loved Me, with­out ever tread­ing on its toes. And don’t be put off by Siber­ian Breaks’ 12 min­utes. It’s real­ly just a med­ley of three of four songs sewn togeth­er, and all the bet­ter for it.

In short, if you missed it first time around and you’re look­ing for some son­ic adren­a­lin, enjoy.

Corp + Anam” — TG4

Corp + Anam is the new “grit­ty” crime “dra­ma” in Irish, from TG4. Well, it is cer­tain­ly a crime. Like RTE’s recent Love/Hate its com­mend­ably slick high pro­duc­tion val­ues are pleas­ing­ly easy on the eye. And, sim­i­lar­ly, its com­plete inabil­i­ty to under­stand the fun­da­men­tals of sto­ry means that it fails to gen­er­ate any­thing that might be mis­tak­en for drama.

Awk­ward­ly, like a much younger sib­ling star­ing up at his old­er, much cool­er broth­er, Corp + Anam insists on stand­ing side by side with The Wire. Very well.

Orson Welles said of Jim­my Cagney, that he nev­er gave a real­is­tic per­for­mance in his life. But he was always true. I don’t know how mem­bers of the Bal­ti­more police depart­ment actu­al­ly speak to one anoth­er, but I believed in every word of the The Wire. The writ­ers had so com­plete­ly immersed them­selves in the world of their char­ac­ters, that every scene rang mag­nif­i­cent­ly true. And because of that, you had a huge emo­tion­al invest­ment in all of the characters.

In stark con­trast, the jour­nal­ist in Corp + Anam inhab­its a world that is unrec­og­niz­able because it rings so hor­ri­bly false. Nobody, espe­cial­ly in rur­al Ire­land, would use a funer­al in the way the he does. And when his Editor/boss, a pan­tomime Mrs Doyle, fol­lows him into the (shock hor­ror) Gents, she might just as well have hooked up her skirt over her head and uri­nat­ed into the sink.

The News room depict­ed here was sub one-dimen­sion­al. It was an insult to card­board cut-outs. How can you set a dra­ma in a News room, when you patent­ly have no idea what goes on in one? And then there was the cen­tral event around which the dra­ma of the first episode revolved; a car crash. I’m sor­ry, but a car crash is not dra­ma. It’s an accident.

I men­tion all of which, just in case there are any of you who feared that you might have missed some­thing worth see­ing. And, giv­en the benign reviews it got on the likes of RTE’s The View and in the Sun­day Times, who could blame you?

Well don’t wor­ry. You didn’t.