Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Create

'Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image - even as I do now.

L O R D  B Y R O N 

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Do Movies Have To Be So Violent?

Violence in films seems to have become more prevalent over the last 40 years. During this period, movies have shifted from the suggested gore of Psycho to the graphically violent and menacing American Psycho. Even films rated as suitable for family viewing, such as Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, contain violent scenes. Adapted from the children’s book by J.R.R. Tolkein, there are plenty of fights and battles in the original version of The Hobbit, of course. However, the details are left to the reader's imagination.
Just as The Hobbit was based on a semi-violent fantasy, some films are based on very violent books and even true stories. Gangster movies are a good example; the life of a gangster involves guns, drugs, booze and a certain disrespect for human life. Arguably Scarface would be a weaker film without its iconic climax which sees Tony Montana going out of his mind in his mansion, shooting wildly at his rival’s men as they swarm all over his home.
Movie violence has, however, been blamed for causing or inspiring violent behaviour in real life. Recently Quentin Tarantino was questioned on Channel 4 News about whether there might be any link between the graphic violence depicted in his movies and real-life acts of violence, but he famously refused to discuss the matter.
There was a more subtle era before the excessive blood and explosions of films such as The Terminator, but film-makers seem to have abandoned this in favour of gritty realism. Takashi Miike has gone one step further: his film Ichi the Killer features an assassin and a Yakuza (the name given to the Japanese mafia) enforcer who go about Tokyo causing as much pain and havoc as possible.
The major characters all sport classic trench coats, a motif used to highlight who the most dangerous characters are. This is a gangster film on another level. There does seem to be some justification for the excessive blood and pain portrayed in Ichi the Killer; it is as much a commentary on violence as it is a celebration of artistic liberty. But in comparison with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which was withdrawn from release in the UK when it first came out, Ichi the Killer goes to show how lenient censorship has become.
In the last half century, film-makers have dispensed with subtle conventions for concealing explicit violence in favour of a more realistic approach. Censorship has, in turn, relaxed, as showing a certain amount of violence is now often seen as integral to a film's plot, character, setting and theme. However, this has led to two extremes: over-the-top gore-fests and hyper-realism. It is important to maintain a balance of realism and subtlety in films in which violence is depicted. The audience doesn’t want to feel sick or scared that the people on the screen are really getting hurt, but they do need to feel invested and believe in what they are watching.
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Help! Literary London recommendations needed!

I have a favour to ask.

I'm researching literary representations of London transport in pre and post 7/7 bombing contexts.

That means - books, poems, plays, short stories that mention LONDON published in the late 90s - present. 

I think there will be tons and tons.  Obviously I don't have the time to read through everything written + published during that time.  So... I was hoping to draw on you, my lovely book-loving friends!

I am particularly interested in poetry and short stories mentioning or set in London during this period, but books and anything else, really - so if you know of any, know of anyone who might know of any, please please pass this on + get as many people involved as possible!

 I really want to have as wide a range as texts as possible to look at and I will be eternally grateful for your help!

Please leave recommendations for me either in the comments below or if you'd rather email me - my address is

PS: nothing is "too obvious" or "too obscure" or irrelevant in this context.  


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Party at Gatsby's

Okay, so none of us have actually been invited to a party at Jay Gatsby's...but we can always wear this sweatshirt, look forward to the film, and pretend that we did instead? 

sweatshirt can be found here.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

We The Animals by Justin Torres

Justin Torres' debut novel is a coming of age story of a young mixed race boy and his two older brothers.  They tear their way through growing up, never stopping to think, constantly being called animals by their parents and neighbours alike. So much of what happens in their home and lives isn't understood by the narrator and his older brothers rarely take the time to explain it to him.  The bruises on his mothers face are from the dentist, he needed to loosen her teeth, he explains.  No further explanation is offered by the narrator, this isn't an adult looking back on his life, this is a child, telling his story, trying to understand it all himself.

I struggled to write a synopsis of the story.  I feel like so much happens in such a short space but there is no clear story being told.  To say that this is just the story of a young boy and his brothers growing up in New York is the tip of the iceberg - the relationships he has with his brothers, his parents, the world around him, his parents' abusive relationship all with their own separate story to tell as well.  You read excerpts from the narrators life, his experiences, the things which happened which made him the person he is now - all of the boring, the mundane, the every day is avoided.  Each chapter is a vignette, something punchy, extraordinary will happen to the narrator - another piece of the puzzle has been shared in the story which constitutes his life.  I can't tell you who the narrator is, when the events occurred  the details are missed out - these are memories, hazy, incomplete memories being shared.  The descriptions of some scenes are so vivid I felt like I had been physically punched in the stomach reading them.

One chapter tells the story of the hot and balmy night when the family, unable to sleep, decided to get in the car and go for a swim.  The narrator and his mother, unable to swim, clung on to the feet of his father, as he brought them further and further away from the shore, despite the mother's pleas for him to stop.  He then let them go.  He had decided to teach them to swim, and this was his idea of the perfect lesson.  The mother clawed and clung to her son, the narrator, who eventually had to flea her in order to save himself, and soon enough finds himself swimming away from her and his father, it had worked.  

This isn't an idyllic childhood nor story.  It is the lyrical telling of an impoverished childhood, an abusive household, parents too young to love themselves let alone their children.  You feel for the narrator, for his parents, for their situation - his father, married with three children before he's twenty breaks down in tears as he laments "we ain't getting out"; there is an eternal struggle for power, but no one actually wins.  It is a heartbreaking story, powerfully told, but there was a leap from childhood to adolescence that was just a bit too big, too ambitious, for the length of the novella.  It was hard to keep up - and whether that was intentional or not, I don't know, but it was hard to understand the sudden change in relationships and group dynamic of the family.

  It may not make a pleasant read in some parts but that does not mean that it is not a worthwhile read.  

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roland Barthes: Mythologies

I recently had to read sections of this as part of my course and am hooked.  If you're in anyway interested in the psychology behind advertisements and the subliminal messages which we not only absorb but also perpetuate on a daily basis.  Basically it's a collection of essays which Barthes wrote at the space of about once a month in 1952-4 about events which were occuring in French popular culture at that time. 
"The starting point of these reflections was usually a feeling of impatience at the sight of the 'naturalness' with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up a reality which, even though it is the one we live in, is undoubtedly determined by history..."

Striptease - at least Parisian striptease - is based on a contradiction: Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is strippednaked. We may therefore say that we are dealing in a sense with a
spectacle based on fear, or rather on the pretence of fear, as if eroticism here went no further than a sort of delicious terror, whose ritual signs have only to be announced to evoke at once the idea of sex and its conjuration.
I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.

Some candidates for Parliament adorn their electoral prospectus with a portrait. This presupposes that photography has a power to convert which must be analysed. To start with, the effigy of a candidate establishes a personal link between him and the voters;the candidate does not only offer a programme for judgment, he suggests a physical climate, a set of daily choices expressed in a morphology, a way of dressing, a posture. Photography thus tends to restore the paternalistic nature of elections, whose elitist essence has been disrupted by proportional representation and the rule of parties (the Right seems to use it more than the Left). Inasmuch as photography is an ellipse of language and a condensation of an 'ineffable' social whole, it constitutes an antiintellectual weapon and tends to spirit away 'politics' (that is to say a body of problems and solutions) to the advantage of a 'manner of being', a sociomoral status.

What's actually quite spooky is that although these were written in the much of it remains the same to this day.  I do wonder what Barthes would have made of blogging though... ;)
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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

RIP Kindle

so, the inevitable happened, my kindle has frozen.  apparently this is quite a common problem?  and whilst amazon have been nice, and offered a new one at a discounted price, there's still a big part of me which is glad i have continued to invest in solid, ordinary, run-of-the-mill books.  you know - the ones that just sit on your shelves waiting for you to read them.  the ones which don't depend on fickle electronics.
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