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Books When Justin Phillips sat down to research and write a book about CS Lewis at the BBC, it was also to be a summation of sorts to his life's work. Sadly he died after the first draft was finished. His daughter took up the baton to finish the piece and it almost overwhelmed her as well. Here she writes about the challenge:
"An author can be in danger of stifling and muting their own work, taking from it any autonomous identity. But a book is always an extension of its author, however impersonal the subject matter. There’s something of the maternal relationship about it: a baby takes its own time to develop a truly original personality.

Now this author was missing. He’d abandoned his work in progress. He’d died — and I had appointed myself as the surrogate mother, or foster parent, or social services. Picking up someone else’s baby at such a late stage is not easy. Who else is there to consult when the footnote reads ‘?????? Page 24’ or ‘check later with WHCI’?
It's good to see that some posthumous writing can be worthwhile. Now if only someone would let Asimov rest ...
Music It’s 1998. October. 31st. Halloween. My birthday. I’m standing in the Virgin Megastore in Manchester City Centre standing before a rack of CDs. In front of me are five hundred or so copies of the album I’ve been waiting to hear for nearly four years. Alanis Morissette’s new album, 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie'. I’m financially challenged, so the gift voucher from my best friend and some pocket change are the only way I’m going to actually buy the thing. I select a copy from the back (untouched by fewer human hands) and almost reverentially carry it to the counter and pay for it. I stand outside, take the CD out of the bag. The plastic casing glistened in the sun, the glare flashing against the teeth printed on the cover. Then I play it. Long. Seventeen tracks. Rhythmically messy. Impenetrable difficult to follow lyrics. Annoying percussion. It seemed angry, pissed off that I had the audacity to buy it. What had Alanis been doing?

Was this the girl who’d created my almost favourite album of all time?

I first heard ‘Jagged Little Pill’ on a copy my best university friend had been given by a course mate. We were playing our usual session of the PC game ‘Worms’ and I’d just turned on whatever cassette was in his machine. My friend Bambi (a nickname, we’ll leave it at that) knew I had a generalised taste in rock music (Queen, REM, U2) but had evidently decided this was too hard for me and I wouldn’t like it (which was true of much of his CD collection, all 'Embrace’ and ‘The Red Hot Chilli Peppers’). But as I sat there trying to bazooka Boggy B.

From pixels away, I realised I was being distracted by the music. What were these lyrics? What was she singing about? Eventually the tape ended I got back my game. I asked if he knew who she was. When he told me the name it meant nothing. When he told me she was the Canadian Debbie Gibson, it sounded too wrong.

I couldn’t put my finger on what struck most about the music, even as I bought the CD as soon as my student loan came through. I think I listened five times that night. For someone brought up on folk, especially ‘The Spinners’, who’d been a card carrying member of ‘The Hit Factory’, for someone who thought Alannah Miles or Robin Beck were as good as so-called chick-rock got this kind of rock was a revelation. No traditional guitar solos. The voice an instrument at times. At no point did she think singing La was a valid way to continue a song to fade. No fades! Learning lyrics. What drew me to this more than Sheryl Crow in many ways? The honesty? The imagery? The vocal eccentricity? The fact we never knew whether the Canadian Debbie Gibson was playing with us? Did she know that few or more of the lines in ‘Ironic’ weren’t at all and that was an extra layer of Irony? That repetitive lyrics were not only quicker to learn but rhythmically easier to sing, almost chant like. And why was the second track repeated identically at the end before the two minute wait for ‘You House’, the ‘hidden’ track? Why not stick it directly after ‘Wake Up’? Or would that have been two quite numbers in a row, a no-no for home compilations let alone studio releases. I think it was all of these. The enigma. The idiosyncrasy. The lack of easy answers. It was this which had drawn me to abstract art, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Virginia Woolf. And until I met Tori Amos (musically speaking), the album filled all the empty holes left gaping in my musical taste when the real Debbie Gibson thought that sexing it up like Madonna would sell more records, when in fact it just made her look like some desperately trying to hold onto a recording career. I’d found an album I could love. Which always sounded fresh to me and would speak to over and over in different ways over the coming years. I idolised it out of all proportion.

Which is why as I sat trying to listen to ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ a second time, I wondered what I’d done to deserve it. The CD actually had a naked photo of her in the faetal position on it. Why? The enigma was still, there, but in a different way. I didn’t actually finish the second listen. It took me a full year to play it again, when I heard ‘Thank U’ again at a club and thought perhaps it wasn’t that bad. Now I think I may have been too harsh. Everything is a bit over produced. But you have to marvel at someone who can write coherent lyrics and lines which are so long they barely fit into the width of a page in a lyric book. But it’s all just a bit too much ‘The Phantom Menace’. Not as great as the original Star Wars.

‘Pill’ still sounds great, even now, six years later, as all good albums should. And I have grown with it. I now understand what ‘Not The Doctor’ is talking about – it’s no good fathering someone who can quite happily make their own decisions. I follow the sordid imagery of ‘Right Through You’. I know that some of the songs are actually about men she’s been out with. But I see in girls I’ve met what she saw in these boys. And I’m sure in five years time actually what she ‘really wants’.

What, you’ve never heard it? You really should.

[I just found this review knocking around my hard disk, and since it's a Thursday (and you know what they're like), I thought I'd best post this rather than any new incoherent ramblings. Apologies if you've already read it.]

92% Good

Film M. Night Shyamalan is a interesting character. For a start his surname sounds like a book by Tolkein, but reading interviews and watching films he seems to be championing himself as a latter day Hitchcock / Spielberg. And indeed what he is trying to do – apply a style of film making to a number of fantasy genres in turn has some validity. The difficulty I have is that his films only tend to be good for 92% of the time. I’'m able to come to this figure through careful study and making things up. All three of his latter films (ie, not the early one about the dog), are engrossing, scary, look great and make you jump out of your skin many times. They make you think, and the acting and casting is always impeccable. He has great flare with child actors, who often turn in performance better than some of their adult piers have won Oscars for.

8%. His films are always 8% not good. 2% of that covers the fact that he is always in them. In a sharp curve his participation on screen has increased until in his new work ‘Sign’ he plays a character who is central to the plot. I must point out here that I don'’t have problem with directors appearing in films. I’'m a Kevin Smith fan for goodness sake – he doesn'’t just appear in his film, he plays the same character in every one –and everyone loves the fact he is there. Indie film makers are always doing this, look at Tarantino. But at least he knew not to turn up and muck up 'Jackie Brown'. A scene in ‘Signs’ exemplifies what I don’'t like about Silmarillion, sorry, Shyamalan. The entire cast of the film (almost) are sitting in a pizza parlour and they turn to look out of the window. Joaquin Phoenix turns to Mel Gibson and says ‘ Is that him?’ (for reasons which would spoil the good 92% of the film), and Mel says that it is. Cut to our director getting out of a car. Insidiously this is an important moment in the film, when we need to pay attention. Instead, half the audience is thinking ‘Who the hell is that guy?’ whereas the other half are going ‘Ooh look it’'s the director’. Unless you'’re a ‘Night’ fan, in which case you'’re laugh ecstatically at this hilarious in-joke. Or you’'re even sadder and you’re thinking "‘Isn'’t that the guy Bruce Willis frisked for drugs in ‘'Unbreakable’'?" In any case you'’re pulled out of the film and miss something which gives impitous to the rest. Just so that the director can say 'Look at me! I'm in my own film!'

Another 2% is pacing. Or in particular characters inability to hold a competent conversation without having to pause and think about it for while. Most of when we do something as simple as turn on a light, just do it without think. M’s characters look at the switch take a breath, look around, breath deeply, wonder about how important turning on the light might be to improving the universe then turning it on. This happens most annoyingly at the climax were everything happens even more slowly so that people who …… are ….. very ….. slow ….. on . ….. the ….. up…take …. can understand that a twist has happened.

Fittingly, the other 4% is the ending, or more particularly his use of the ‘twist ending’. Now here we have a problem. In order to discuss this I’m going to give away the ending of 'Signs'. So as a service to you I’'ll make the text white (so block to read). Night constructs his entire films around his twist endings. The issue I have with this is that they tend to be related to the underlying theme of the show and have nothing actually to do with the plot. In ‘Signs’ for example, the underlying theme is fate and faith – do things just happen, or do they happen for a reason – something which could have been explored in any number of ways. Night decides to jam it into what is basically a 'Blair Witch' version of 'Independence Day'. In that final scene, it could have been any kind of intruder with a poisonous gas a diabolical serial killer working in the local area for example. The alien is a mcguffin. In the end the thing feels like two different scripts which have been bonded together like badly mixed cement. In a nutshell for non-spoiler readers, his ending don'’t work because they disrespect the audience into thinking they’'ve watched a more intelligent film than they have. Although 'The Sixth Sense' was spoilt for me because I worked out the twist from watching the trailer.

So should you bother seeing 'Signs'? Well 92% isn’'t a bad score. It is engrossing. I did jump several times. Just be ready for the unpleasant taste of disappointment in your mouth when you leave. Or then again like the IMDb reviewer 'Maybe my expectations were too high.'

Buffy Spoiler alert, but too good not to include. As a sideline for fans the current writers of the show have set up a personal website for one of the charactersoftheweek. Exceedingly realistic (it's even at Geocities) it's a treat, whatever it all means. The Whois record is a great detail. But as I said spoiler alert. Give the guest book a wide birth if you haven't seen season six yet (starts halloween on BBC2 by the way). [via Wheadonesque]
Social I think you know you've had a good night when after a show you find yourself in the car park of the most dangerous drive-in Macdonalds in Manchester eating a Big-Mac meal listening to Ethiopian string music on the radio ...
Comedy I could never put my finger on which of ‘The Fast Show’ characters I particularly liked because the show was as much to do with form as anything else. I always loved the northern vignettes with Caroline Aherne; the Brilliant character; Monkfish (mostly because it pointed up when we needed a reminder that every show seemed to be a bout a detective and they always seemed to be played by the same actor). The only characters which seemed not to be about form were Ted and Ralph which would account for how successful their one off special was. I like the incidental pleasures like The Patagonians and Ed Winchester. I’ve always liked repetition in unusual circumstances. Perhaps I liked them all. Perhaps I liked none at all. But the show had a quality which is why I needed to see them live, one more time.

'The Fast Show Live' at the Manchester Apollo was a £25 a ticket chance to say a final hello and goodbye to all the characters which have entertained us over the past ten years (collectively anyway -- a sitcom based around Swiss Toni will be a launch show for BBC3). The team could have arrived and run on stage and done their catchphrases, and although there was some of that, a genuine attempt has been made to bring new material mixed in with some of their favourite sketchs from the last live performance and the TV shows. It's a very difficult to show to review because much of 'The Fast Show' has been built around the surprise element; also the performers have nailed their characters so successfully opinionating on their performance is a mute point. Needless to say some of the classic moments features their attempt to do one of the signature characters without the presence of John Thompson, and via the topic humour which has crept in. Chase and see if there are any tickets left ...
Web I was happy to get an email back from the admin of pickupyourowndamnsock, the website for women who can't believe what lazy goodfornothings their boyfriends and husbands really are (I haven't linked to them before because everyone else has). I'd been in touch because as I predicted at Metafilter, the site got a mention in The Guardian on Saturday. They've asked that I send along the actual printed copy which I'll be happy to do when I get an address. It has occured to me how odd it is that out of the entire reader ship of the paper (something like half a million) it didn't seem like anyone else has got in touch. This is a real shame because I thought the internet was a community and a great number of us do read the afformentioned organ. Letting people know that their work is getting some kind of recognition can only brighten their day, surely (unless it's negative, but in The Guardian column their is often very little criticism -- sarcasm usually). So I've got one paper covered. If your newspaper or magazine runs an article about a personal website, why not get in touch with the subject? It could be your good deed for the day. Think of the extra karma at least. These favours do get re-paid somehow I'm sure.

[That last part sounded like a spam email -- oh well -- but you get the idea. Perhaps we could start some kind of campaign or whatever]
Blog! I used to think I was the only weblogger in Liverpool. It seems I was very wrong, and even worse than that someone is doing this thing better than I am. The magnificently titled 'Imperial Doughnut' covers mainly pop culture of the Adam & Joe kind. Today for example features a brilliant review of 'Bubble Bobble' the dragon game which I played for hours and hours on my Commodore 64. Dashing through the archives I find myself grinning over and over ... how could I have missed this? The guy links to Scary Duck for goodness sake!
TV There is something of a stigma attached to admitting that you’re a 28-year-old male who likes ‘Dawson’s Creek’. I can’t remember how I began watching it – I usually end up watching the first episode of any new American import. I think I was drawn in by that very first scene of the very first episode. Dawson is about to settle down for bed after watching ET and for the first time since they were kids Joey refuses to join him, she’s trying to limit the fallout from their raging hormones getting in the way. It was sweet a scene and I think I was sold in that moment. This was the substitute I was looking for what with there being no new My So-Called Life. As the pilot progressed we had something which was smart, funny and had all of it’s film references in the right place. Plus I liked the way Katie Holmes talked out of the corner of her mouth all the time.

Like ‘Friends’ I suppose it can never be the show it once was. These things are like relationships or friendships, once the initial spark goes something incredible has to happen before it comes back. Like friendships in particular you’re often there out of habit sometimes and not because you really want to (see The X-Files). Certainly in The Creek there have been times I’ve wanted to turn off and watch ‘The Breakfast Club’ again instead. Even old friendships have their moments you see. Sometimes it’s been really hard though. The time Andi McPhee took ecstasy to point up that drugs are bad being one. The dip in the quality of musical choice for another (at one point a scene was accompanied by C’est La Vie by B’witched … stretching product placement for the record company to the limit somewhat).

But I’m still here. And in this new series, three episodes in, the watchablilty has shot back up again. The cinematic qualities I loved at the outset have returned. Adulthood is wearing well upon the characters – everyone is now the age they’ve always looked.

[For American viewers, in this lunchtime’s episode, the man who used to play The Flash was abducted by aliens – at least that’s what it looked like with all the white light and whatnot. Actually I think it was supposed to be a horrific car accident, the repercussions of which will probably filter through a few episodes to come which means, if the quality of the writing continues to improve, there will also be a return to the things ‘The Creek’ does best – heartbreak, misery and hope. This show has always done conflict very well.]

Today’s episode wasn’t particularly ‘special’ I suppose. It was just filled with those nice details which I’ve always loved. When Dawson returned to Capeside it no longer felt like his home – rather the magical place we return to when we need a reminder of who we are; Pacey being a wiseass for thirty minutes until he’s reminded that actually the entire world isn’t against him and that people will put their faith in him, even if it is just to slice truffles; Joey still not believing her potential either, even when her room mate (great new character by the way) sits down and tells her; Jack not quite believing that everyone isn’t homophobic – it was him who had a problem with his sexuality not them; Jen enjoying a typical student sex life – coloured by her previous exploits – she wants to know more about this guy so that knows that she’s making a considered choice; and that final moment when it becomes clear that Dawson still had time to go to the cinema while he was at home, only to find it had been demolished to make way for a multiplex. So real.

So despite all the odds I’m still here. I’ve lost count of which Season we are in, I don’t really know what the future holds in the story (unlike Buffy were I know everything which is going to happen) and I’m really looking forward to it. I think above it all this is a show which does allow me to forget the world for forty-two minutes which in times like these is the best thing you can hope for.