Monthly Archives: May 2012

Barsoom Like No Other

I listen to a lot of soundtracks. And I mean a lot. Alongside speculative fiction, soundtracks (for movies, games, television shows, etc) are my drug of choice. It’s hard to imagine a world without those two things. When I read, I have a score playing in the background. When I write fiction, invariably, I’ll have my headphones plugged into my computer, obscuring the world around me, enveloping me in the world that my brain has built around the sound. And at work, it’s what helps me get through the entirety of the day.

I love me soundtracks. And I love thinking about them. And one of the things that’s caught my attention over the past few years is the move away from any sort of recognisable usage of leitmotifs or even hummable melodies. I could list any number of soundtracks (for major movies and shows) that eschew identifiable cues in favour of music that compliments the action on screen but never quite enhances it.

As a result, I was dreadfully worried about what was going to happen to John Carter of Mars, upon its arrival in cinemas. Here was a score that demanded the composer take it seriously, and give it the treatment it deserves. And when it was announced that Michael Giacchino would be composing the score, my trepidation increased. Whilst his work on Star Trek was passably acceptable, his previous work (Medal of Honour aside) felt unfocused and dissonant.

And yet with John Carter of Mars, somehow he managed to surprise the hell out of me. Here is a score that doesn’t just feature sweeping, grand themes, reminiscent of John Williams filtered through Maurice-Alexis Jarre, oh no. It also features moments of tenderness, wonder, even – dare I say? – tranquility. And of course, a fair amount of his famous love of shivering violins.

And yet, 20 seconds into track 2 (‘Get Carter’) there is comes: a sweeping, majestic theme that hasn’t been heard in popular film scores since David Arnold’s Stargate. Or consider track 8: ‘The Blue Light Special’. A haunting choir, featured as an ever-so-slight counter-point to the strings, before fading out and letting Giacchino unleash a melody that takes a highly unexpected cue romantic cue that could have come from Mussorgsky himself, had he been at the helm of the orchestra.

From beginning to end, this is an excellent score. It accomplishes most if not all of what it set out to do. Of all the film scores I’ve heard in the last year, this is the one that’s stood out the most thus far. And not many popular filmscores are content to do that anymore. Here’s one that does.

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Filed under Listen to some music, Science-fiction!

A Foxtrot Around My Feet

Oftentimes, being an alien is terribly wonderful. Me? I find it relaxing. It never stops being invigorating. It reminds me that I’m somewhere that isn’t home. Which is problematic, because my “home” doesn’t exist. The Soviet Union hasn’t existed since I was nearly a teenager. So it’s rather liberating to realise that there will never be a place in this world where I won’t be an ‘alien’. Knowing that makes life somehow more interesting. More colourful. It very definitely makes it much funnier, as was the case this past Saturday.

Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you why.

I went to a charity on Saturday evening, to help a friend’s aunt out. She had an operation, and now is walking, talking and strutting about as though she never had any problems. It was marvellous to see. But her operation was quite expensive, even by Australian standards. So of course, her family put together a charity and invited me to come.

Now, charities are usually far from fun. They’re usually quite the dour affair, serious and mature. And I just cannot do mature. Not for very long, at least. And when I am, it’s at events such as company meetings. Or my first meeting with the parents of the girl I’m dating. But I thought “this is clearly one of those serious, adult things that I’ve heard so much about”, so I wore my suit (which wikipedia tells me is ‘smart casual’, but which everyone else in the world seems to think is ‘business casual’). Yet wikipedia had images differentiating between the different kinds of ‘casual’, just to drive the point home firmly.

I showed up with my friend Noni, and realised all too quickly that I may have over-dressed. After being flattered by an older couple, and being told that I looked quite sharp, we settled in, after doing the obligatory rounds of hellos, how are yous, shaking hands, and of course, giving my boss the booklets that she left at work. I’m hoping she’ll remember that when the time comes to revue my salary grade.

Now, I love me my trivia, but what made the night stand out wasn’t the trivia (nor the all-too-easy Bond query) but rather, the events. In particular: dummy spitting. Now, you see, I can spit. I can spit quite well. When you’re a kid, you develop some truly fascinating skill sets to cope with the fact that you have to put up with adults and all their strange rules. So I learned how to spit really well. And so I thought “Yeah, this competition has my name written all over it!” So up to the stage I went. And got handed a pacifier.

I stared at it a minute. Clearly, someone had written the word ‘confusion’ on my face without my noticing, because the organiser of the competition asked what was wrong. “Well, why did you give me a pacifier?’

He tilted his head ever so slightly to one side. “What, you don’t call them dummies wherever you’re from?”

“Well, no. I’m accustomed to calling them pacifiers. I thought that, y’know, I was the dummy. A dummy who’d be spitting.”

Laughter followed, because the alien hadn’t known that the pacifier was called a dummy in Australia. Well no, I didn’t. Which is how I found myself on stage, in front of well over 100 people, pacifier in my mouth, attempting to spit it as far as possible. For charity.

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Filed under My relentlessly fascinating life, Telling stories

Down to the Paris End of King

It’s impossible to not enjoy life in this city. You see, I sing in a choir (sometimes two), and last night we had a concert, which did not just go well, no, it went astonishingly well, and we packed the church out and turned an excellent profit. It was an exceptional success. And so of course we went out for an hour to a nearby pub to chat and celebrate, before dispersing. And just as we dispersed, the phone-call came in, from Amanda, inquiring in her [usual] excited tone:

“Hey where are you?”

“At the pub near the church, having a drink with choir-mates.”

“Oh cool, well come out after you’re done!”

And so we agreed to go to The Salsbury, which is a relentlessly quiet little pub in Stanmore. It’s next to a train station, it’s quiet, there’s plenty of space, and the drinks are cheap. Everyone wins.  Except, as I’m on my way home, my phone beeped. I checked the message:

“Hey were at the sando, sorry changed venue :)”

Took a look at my watch. 10:22 PM. And it was cold outside too. But what the hell. Got home a few minutes later, nibbled quickly on some curry, changed into a pair of jeans and jumper and some tennis sneakers, threw on my leather jacket, and headed out for the Sandringham Hotel (The Sando), where Dave and Ainsley and Amanda were all waiting for me. And each of them had a strange T-shaped image on their wrist.

“What’s that about?” I asked, after having sat down and taken a sip of the stout they’d purchased for me.

Amanda said: “It’s for the concert upstairs. They were asking $30, but after flirting with the bouncer a bit, he revealed that if we just drew a T on our arm we could get in for free.”

I craned my head to look over at the stairs leading up to the second floor venue. It was bouncer-free. And not only that, the band? Why, it was Paul Collins, rocking out with a very distinct late 60’s/early 70’s rock sound that was very much somewhere between classic Bowie and early Zeppelin. But Ains and Amanda and Dave were having none of it. What can you do? Some people just aren’t into classic rock.

In the midst of all this, an infuriated woman who looked kind of like Brown Sugar herself, Marsh Hunt (of Howling II infamy) stalking some unknown target, pushing out of the way and yelling at anyone who dared impede her path. Deciding that there were better places to be where we weren’t (a) in the way of a woman who looked like she was ready to pull an AK-47 out of her frazzled hair (of which there was a lot!) and wanting to be around people our own age, we slipped away to the Town Hall Hotel, affectionately referred to by locals at The Townie.

Now, the Townie has to be just the craziest pub in the history of existence. Or at least Australian existence. Some people can be trashed out of their skulls and still be let in, whilst others will be completely sober and barred from entering. It is that kind of place. I once went there to meet up with a friend for a drink after work, and four nuns came in as I went to the bar to buy as second round. None of them were women. It’s a zany, zany place, and I absolutely love it.

So tonight, after head-bobbing along to ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’* with Ainsley and giggling as only people who’re completely comfortable in their own skin can, we both found ourselves distracted by the presence of Beetlejuice, who’d just walked in with his bride, for a midnight cap. And then a computer walked in. It occurs to me that there’s something particularly impressive and hand-shakeable about a man who’s willing to not just wear shorts and a box in the middle of the Australian autumn, when it’s 10 C outside, but who’s also willing to do so whilst Goldfingering himself up in silver boy paint. That my friends, requires a certain amount of chutzpah to do when it’s cold outside.

This was then again topped by two women who came in dressed in clothing that could best be described as suggesting that they’d decided to reinterpret The Great Gatsby as a burlesque show. And they to then proceeded to the smoking section which, again, is brave, as it was cold outside (dear smokers, you are a courageous lot).

I thought to myself that Sydney never ceases to amaze me. Never could I think to myself that I’d seen all that there was to see (and I’ve lived 30 very eye-opening years). Inevitably, something new and strange will come along and add more colour to my evening, much like the Trannie Trivia did on ANZAC Day (because who can so no to that?) and the Egyptian leather domination costume (with a fully attachable Anubis head!) did during the Mardi Gras. I sipped my beer, smiled, and enjoyed the parade of colour that passed through my field of vision, and thought: “I could have been at home sleeping right now, instead of witnessing all this”.

And that’s when the Nun walked in.

*The Hunters and Collectors. You don’t know who they are? Well, don’t you think you should be fixing that?

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Buses and Books

Books are great. In fact, they’re pretty much up there in my top 3, alongside girls and dogs. Yes, I know, I have a very simplistic top 3 favourite things in the world list: Girls, Books, Dogs. I’m a guy, what do you want from me? Now, coming back to the subject of books, you see, I really like books. Physical books, I mean. Digital books and I have yet to work out a proper relationship. We’re rather like that distant cousin that you see at family reunions, where you both nod in acknowledgment of one another’s existence, and maybe even shake hands and say ‘sup yo’, but won’t get into any sort of complex conversation. That’s how I am with digital books. There’s no universalised platform, the cost of purchasing them is too expensive, and, well, they run out of batteries. Admittedly, they can be read in the dark, which I do like, but that’s why we have clip-on lights for books, after all.

Thing is though, it’s much harder to work out what someone’s reading on Kindle or Mobile Phone Reader (no I don’t know what they’re called, but not because I don’t want to know, I just…don’t know). And do you know how much harder it is to strike up a conversation with someone if you can’t tell what they’re reading? Thus, my delight this morning when, on the bus, on the way to work, there I am, pulling my hardcover copy of A Dance With Dragons out of my bag, when I notice that the woman in front of me is reading The Little Prince. It’s the English translation (I’ve only read it in Russian, and didn’t even realise that there was an English translation). I leaned over after she’d put the book away (after all, who would dare interrupt someone while they’re reading? That’s just so rude!) and said:

“Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! You have good taste!”

She turned around. “Sorry?”

“The Little Prince. It’s a great book.”

“Yes it is. You know him?”

“I’ve read his other works, including Night Flight.”

She smiled. “It’s so rare to meet a reader. What are you reading?”

I pulled out A Dance With Dragons, which I’d since put away. Her eyes widened.

“What book is that?”

“A Dance With Dragons. Book five in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series.”

She then explained that she was actually a scifi and fantasy fan herself, and I remarked by explaining that I was one as well, and also a huge fan of Exupery, and suggested that she read his book ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ (as should you, reader).

We got off the bus, still talking, and she said “There is a book you must look up, oh I cannot recall the author’s name, but the title is ‘The Words of Mercury’, you must google it!”

And indeed I have, and it looks like a really good read. So, lady from the bus today, if you should come across this post, thank you for a lovely conversation this morning and for the lovely book recommendation! It would be lovely to chat about books with you again some day, should we meet again.

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Filed under Telling stories

Untitled Surrealism

I have several degrees. It took me a while to get them. Some of them are a bit useless, I think (a grad dip in Business Management? I still don’t know what I’m ever going to do with that), but some of them are a bit useful, like my degree in Western Culture and Civilisation (I know, bit of a mouthful, that one, isn’t it?). The unfinished minor in theology? Not so much. An athiest with a degree in theology is obviously a gag unto itself. But it’s not useful. Understanding artwork? Somewhat useful.

It makes going to museums a pleasureable experience. I’ve gone to art galleries where I’ve seen (no joke) a piece named ‘Untitled No 2’. It was rectangular, and was divided into two panels. The first (left) side featured a pink bunny. The second (right) featured the back half of a ute. The front half was missing. All of this was illustrated against a white backdrop. (For those wondering where this painting can be found, visit MOMA, in New York City) For years I’ve assumed that the answer a comedian would give to account for the missing front-half of the ute would be: “The bunny clearly ate it”. Me? I just said it was surreal. Because honestly, that is a bit surreal.

Sometimes though, people don’t get surrealism. Or they just don’t understand how to use the term properly. If you’re uncertain as to how surrealism works, the painting above is one example. If you’d like another, nothing quite gets the point across like Australian comedian Adam Hills’s brilliant (and somewhat circuitous) explanation as to what surrealism in fact is.

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It’s Not About Pants

I delight in the absurdities and oddities of languages. For example, you say? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s a word for you, brought by the Department of What You Can Learn By Watching Doctor Who.

Pantophobia
Main Entry:       pantophobia
Part of Speech:       n
Definition:       a fear of everything; also called panphobia
Etymology:       Greek pantos ‘all’

 

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Nesting

Movies don’t get humans right, sometimes. At least, the big movies, the ones that end up as images that flit about cities on the sides of buses, aren’t about real human lives. I may have enjoyed the shit out of The Avengers, but offer profound insight into the human condition it doth not. Some movies, however, try to maintain a certain verisimilitude that’s staggeringly rare in films. One such flick that will be heading to theatres soon is ‘Nesting‘, which focuses on a couple going through growing pains together. And it feels authentic. Real. Especially the John Hughes crack at preview’s end.

That’s right. John Hughes. Intrigued now? Good. So go watch the preview. I’ll wait here.

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Filed under Telling stories