Friday 29 February 2008

The Spotlight Project - Jonathan Pryce

A series of portraits where I reunite actors with their first ever headshot.

Jonathan Pryce greeted me at his front door in his dressing gown. 'I'm running a little late. Would you like a coffee?' he asked as he lead me through his gorgeous house. I stammered something back and said I'd set my stuff up in the garden whilst he got dressed. Wow, even the garden was extraordinary. I found myself not star-struck as such but with a voice that's as recognisable as the face you can find yourself struck a little dumb by the uncanniness of the impression he does of his own voice. Does that make sense?

Anyway, when he returned he told me how he had recently had a portrait taken for a project which followed the basic premise of 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' (Andy Gotts work can be found here) which sounded like a brilliant idea, much better than mine. Once set up, I handed him his envelope and we began. As you can see below; the film actor's skill is often in making minute facial gestures speak volumes on the big screen. So no big reactions then. What I was amazed by was how perfectly he was able to copy his own expression from the picture for the front-on portrait I took.

He then told me that he still had the entire box of reproductions of this first headshot in the loft. He had had them done whilst at RADA but when he was snapped up by an agent one of the first things he was asked to do was to get new headshots and so the orignals remained unused. Until I came along. Click on any image to see a larger version.

Click here to see other portraits from The Spotlight Project.


Thursday 28 February 2008

worth a look?

Morgan Spurlock looks for a needle in a haystack. I'm guessing that finding it isn't the point. I quite enjoyed Super Size Me, I thought 30 Days was pretty interesting in places, he certainly doesn't mind putting himself in the line of fire. Looks like he's taken this literally with his latest. Worth a look?


Tuesday 26 February 2008

The Spotlight Project - Sophie Thompson

A series of portraits where I reunite actors with their first ever headshot.

Sophie Thompson is hilarious. From the moment she opened the front door until she closed it behind me as I left she didn't stop talking, laughing and making me feel very welcome. Until recently Sophie was the kind of actress you might have seen stealing a scene or two in an English comedy or you might simply know of her as 'Emma Thompson's sister' but a cracking storyline in EastEnders (the only way to get more work nowadays or a berth on Celebrity Morris Dancing On Ice) has changed all that, casting her as a nasty piece of work for a change. What she has in spades is a wicked self-deprecating humour which was perfect for my purposes and meant that we had a lot of fun with the shoot.

It's always a slightly nerve wracking experience doing something like this especially given the one-shot nature of this particular project. If I don't get the shot, we can't exactly go back and act all surprised again. That might sound like a slightly absurd statement about photographing actors but the whole point was to capture them not acting, but reacting. Anyway, when your subject is relaxed it makes the whole experience much more pleasant. For those of you wondering; yes, that is a nose-stud back in the past (and still today in fact). Click on any image to see a larger version.

Click here to see other portraits from The Spotlight Project.


Monday 25 February 2008

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree

Alison Goldfrapp is not afraid of reinventing herself. After the atmospheric, film score lushness of Felt Mountain came Black Cherry and Supernature, two albums of glam-rock infused pop which sounded like the bastard lovechild of Mark Bolan and Kylie. So, what to expect of this fourth studio album? Well, it's something much closer to their debut. With her musical partner Will Gregory she has created an album of folk inspired, summer tinged loveliness which is sure to warm the hearts of many.

The change in style is clear from the start. Opener Clowns begins with acoustic guitar, strings and Goldfrapp's voice sounding like Beth Gibbons on her Out Of Season album. I've got no idea what she's singing but it sounds great and as the birdsong comes in I'm already longing for golden-hued summer evenings. Elsewhere there are John Barry like strings, Beatles-esque psychedelia and more nonsensical lyrics sung in a vaguely Kate Bush style. First single A&E is strangely catchy and would have served as a brilliant theme tune to the ITV medical series of the same name a few years ago. Things gather pace with Caravan Girl, a galloping slice of pop but best of the bunch on the first few listens is Cologne Cerrone Houdini, a glorious Serge Gainsbourgh number sung in a breathy Mitteleuropean accent.

All in all a hugely enjoyable album with much more soul and emotion than the previous two, beautiful melodies, lush orchestration and a great soundtrack to the summer (should it ever arrive).

Goldfrapp - Cologne Cerrone Houdini


never judge a chocolate by its wrapper

I have mentioned in the past my soft spot for well produced or designed books. Now this obviously is a blog about the high culture that I consume but the other day a funny thing happened. I was reading John Self's Asylum blog (himself a sucker for a lovely cover) where he was reviewing James Joyce's The Dead. To accompany the novella he had purchased a matching design bar of chocolate (click here to see the two together). A few days later, dashing around the supermarket, my eye was caught by that same design; block colour and clear typeface, but alas, the honeycomb and vanilla box was empty. What I saw next took me a while to process.

Lemon and Pepper. White chocolate. What? Weird. And I guess that's why I went for it. White chocolate doesn't really work for me. It's enough of a problem that chocolate is actually just fat and sugar without it genuinely looking like it. So maybe this was the 'unusual but exquisite taste' to make me appreciate the true potential of the milky bar.

Or maybe not. It wasn't awful but it was a bit like ordering a cheesecake only to find that a kitchen mixup had resulted in vanilla seeds and peppercorns being kept in similar containers on a night that the chef had left his glasses at home. Unusual, yes. Exquisite?

Kshocolat also do a dark chocolate with orange and cardamom. Who dares me?


Saturday 23 February 2008

The Spotlight Project - Charlotte Rampling

The Spotlight is the actor's casting directory. Since 1927 thesps have had their photo taken and submitted it to the now mammoth books used to cast film, television and theatre productions. It is an annual ritual which means the wallet being lightened by many pounds and occasionally the rigmarole of having a new headshot taken because every now and then you have to admit that you're no longer 21 with just the one chin.

I remember vividly having my first shot taken as a drama student. I hated it. I was stiff, uncomfortable and way too serious. Oh and my hair was from another era. I may well post it up here at a later date but I want to explain where all this is going first. Given that experience I hit upon the idea of reuniting various famous actors with their first ever Spotlight headshot and capturing their reaction on seeing this earlier incarnation of themselves again after all these years. How would they react? Would they remember the photo? And how would they compare themselves now?

When I was lucky enough to be in a play with Charlotte Rampling I proposed the idea to her and asked if she would become my first subject. She said yes. At which point I started to worry. This is one of the world's most photographed women, never mind how she might react how about me? The results are below and I must say that given the frantic nature of the shoot in between matinee and evening shows I'm pretty pleased with the results. Charlotte was fantastic, absolutely remembered the photo and was very calm and collected during the whole session, as you might expect. Some of my other subjects weren't quite so calm as you will see. I'll post up the other 5 in the weeks to come and welcome any comments you might have about them. Click on any image to see a larger version.

Click here to see other portraits from The Spotlight Project.


Monday 18 February 2008

'We're all just talking right?'

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
by Raymond Carver

I struggle with short stories. There you are, I've said it. I often find myself finishing one and thinking 'but what does it mean?', because there is a feeling that a short story should be conveying some great message or life lesson in its few pages. They can be a bit tricksy you see. Hemingway captured a story in six words (For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn) and you can't beat that for brevity. Some go for the killer first line but Chekhov wrote the perfect opening for The Lady With The Dog. More often than not it's a paradigm shifting final paragraph or a story which is just kookiness from start to finish. I have recently been impressed by A M Homes and Miranda July who in different ways have shown that short fiction can still have developed characters, plot and leave the reader fully satisfied.

I was given this collection as a Valentine's gift which, with its subject matter and sometimes bleak outlook, may seem a little twisted but the first book I bought for my wife was Angels by Denis Johnson and anyone who has read that (and if you haven't I recommend it) will know that it is not the story of a happy relationship. The spare, minimalist style of these stories is well known so the first thing that surprised me was the sense of humour that pokes through every now and then. In the the story Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit our narrator deadpans:

I've seen some things. I was going over to my mother's to stay a few nights. But just as I got to the top of the stairs, I looked and she was on the sofa kissing a man. It was summer. The door was open. The TV was going. That's one of the things I've seen.

Then comes the punchline.

My mother is sixty-five.

And he keeps doing that, using each new paragraph to develop this scenario and make it more and more entertaining. Even with a sad tale like The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off which begins:

I'll tell you what did my father in. The third thing was Dummy, that Dummy died. The first thing was Pearl Harbour. And the second thing was moving to my grandfather's farm near Wenatchee.

And after telling the story of the sad demise of Dummy he can't resist a throaway finish.

But as I said, Pearl Harbour and having to move back to his dad's place didn't do my dad one bit of good, either.

There is lots to unsettle as well. Tell The Women We're Going seems to be detailing an extra-marital dalliance by best friends Jerry and Bill but with the final paragraph Carver executes one of those paradigm shifts that sets your head spinning, forcing you to look on the whole story differently. These short stories, many of which are just a few pages, are deceptively rich, one reason perhaps that So Much Water So Close To Home was so effectively adapted into a feature film Jindabyne last year. It isn't that they're vastly detailed, the prose as I've said is unembellished but with it's acutely observed dialogue, like any good play, there is plenty of subtext to infer from what these characters say to one another.

The title story is slightly longer (at a massive 14 pages) and a classic 'plotless' short story. Two couples sit in a kitchen discussing love. Mel is a cardiologist, a fact which 'gives him the right' to hold forth on matters of the heart. His second wife Terri speaks about her previous partner Ed who was abusive but whom she maintains loved her. Mel isn't so sure, 'The kind of love I’m talking about, you don’t try to kill people'. He however has an acrimonius and money draining relationship with his ex wife, who is allergic to bees, 'If I'm not praying she'll get married again, I'm praying she'll get herself stung to death by a swarm of fucking bees.'

Nick and Laura on the other hand are still in the 'honeymoon phase' of their second marriage. They communicate their love physically with small gestures; a touch of the hand or leg, an affectionate smile. It is Mel who dominates the increasingly drunken talk. First with his belief that any one of them, losing their partner, would grieve, move on and love again. He later tells them all a story about an old couple in hospital after a traffic accident. Despite the fact that they are both going to pull through the man remains depressed because he cannot turn his head to look at his wife. 'I mean it was killing the old fart just because he couldn't look at the fucking woman.' As they finish the bottle of gin and evening draws in Carver conjures quite brilliantly through his narrator Nick an ending which allows us to join in, a moment of contemplation:

Terri said, "Now what?"
I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.

What does it all mean?


What would you like people to think about you when you're gone?

Muhammad Ali's recipe for life


Friday 15 February 2008


A quick check on IMDB tells me I was six when the first film came out, nine for the second and a bit too old for it to be cool when the third one came along. But if he's got the balls to put the fedora back on then I'm not afraid to admit that I'm well up for it. Go on Indy, my friend.


Wednesday 13 February 2008

always look on the bright side of death

The Suicide Shop
by Jean

How exciting, my first book to be reviewed before publication. Thanks to Scott at The Friday Project who made copies of this French bestseller available through his blog. It will be published in July and has already attracted a negative comment on Amazon from someone offended by suicide as a subject for humourous entertainment. Be assured: This is a black comedy.

Set in a future where ecological disaster has left much of the planet uninhabitable, inside the City of Forgotten Religions with the daily news filled with stories of war, famine and disaster people are killing themselves in increasing numbers. All of which is great news for the Tuvache family who for generations have provided people with the means to do away with themselves in The Suicide Shop. 'Has your life been a failure? Let's make your death a success.' is their slogan and inside the store you will find myriad ways to end it all. Ropes, guns, poisons, a seppuku set (hari-kari to you and me) and the Turing Kit (you'll have to read to understand the genius behind that one) all available for the right price and service without a smile from Mishima, Lucrece, Vincent and Marilyn. There is but one shining light on the already blotted landscape. Their youngest child Alan is filled with optimism, hope and love, and as a result is a huge embarrasment to the family. Nothing can dent his outlook on life, not even the news:

'Oh yeath, we saw those pictures again of the Dutch dykes that exploded during the latht tidal wave, and the beach that now extendth as far as Prague. They showed the emaciated inhabitants of the German province crying out and rolling naked in the dunes. If you narrowed your eyes, the shining grains of sand mixed with the sweat on their skin looked like little stars. It was unreal but everything will be thorted out'.

So as he wanders around the shop singing 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' his parents worry about the effect it might have on business. What this short novel shows is how he will change the whole family and the wider community with the power of happiness. It's full of a quirky joie de vivre and a very quick read with an oddly touching ending. Available in the summer from Gallic Books.


Tuesday 12 February 2008

a little bit of politics

Now I don't want to get involved in a big debate here but...

For a really interesting piece on Barack Obama follow this link


Monday 11 February 2008

the circus comes to town

The Equivoque Principle
by Darren Craske

equivoque: n. An expression or term liable to more than one interpretation

When Dr Marvello's Travelling Circus comes to the 'dingy dockland borough of Crawditch', their leader and master conjuror Cornelius Quaint has no idea what lies in store for them. Even the fortune teller Madame Destine is not seeing things clearly, but when the circus strongman Prometheus is arrested for murder the whole troupe will become involved in clearing his name. What Quaint will discover is not simply the answer to the grisly murder but a complex plot involving some ghosts from his own past. Set in Victorian London and featuring a cast of colourful characters this is a good well-paced romp which reminded me of the Lucifer Box novels of Mark Gattis. Whilst Quaint may not have the charm and humour of Box this is a darker more personal storyline which keeps you interested throughout as it grows in complexity. As you might expect from a magician there is plenty of misdirection along the way and as Quaint himself says, 'the real magic is never letting your audience know they're being tricked until he last minute'. With the next book in the series due next year taking Quaint away from the circus and off to Egypt this could be a genre-bending series to run and run.


Saturday 9 February 2008

World Press Photo Awards 2008

I am always blown away by the scope, beauty and power of the photos I see each year at the World Press Photo Awards. Above is this year's overall winner by Tim Hetherington from Liverpool of an American soldier in Afghanistan. Please go to the website to see the other prizewinning images or, even better, see them in the flesh when they come to London (usually at The Royal Festival Hall).


Friday 8 February 2008

family matters

by Kent Haruf

After introducing us to its inhabitants in Plainsong, Haruf takes us back to Holt, Colorado. And if Plainsong, with its tight seasonal structure, showed us through the pregnancy of Victoria Roubideaux the importance of the family unit, he shows us in this more complex sequel that maintaining a family is difficult and that the pain of seperation is something you 'don't get over'.

Victoria herself has left with her daughter Katie to attend college, leaving the McPheron brothers alone again, a situation they find it hard to come to terms with. But nothing can prepare them for what is coming. It is fair to say that Haruf has included some truly shocking moments in this novel which pack a hefty emotional punch. He introduces us to Luther and Betty Wallace who are struggling to raise their two children. The state is intervening to help with food stamps, home visits and lessons on basic cleanliness but things take a nasty turn when Betty's Uncle, Hoyt Raines, a violent drunk, imposes on their hospitality. It is painful to stand by as you read and see them struggle to confront him, especially when the stakes are so high, as they will later discover.

Elsewhere D J Kephart is a young orphan, now living with his grandfather, who strikes up a friendship with one of the neighbourhood girls Dena Wells. Together they convert an empty shed into a sanctuary; succeeding, where the adults around them have failed, to create domestic bliss. Dena's mother meanwhile, abandoned by her husband, tries vainly to find a man to replace him. But again it is Raymond McPheron who often finds, with his simple summations, the phrase that best describes the realities of life. Through his own painful experience in this novel he realises that 'Every living thing in this world gets weaned eventually' and it is only through the redemptive power of love that he will find how to live past that point.

Throughout, Haruf's writing has the simplicity which made Plainsong so effective; his vivid descriptions of landscape or environment echoing the emotional landscapes of his characters and the sometimes harsh changes that time forces on them. His skill in drawing up this community and making us invest so much in its members is what makes this novel hit home so hard. Make sure you have tissue nearby.


Thursday 7 February 2008

magical monochrome

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

As I have mentioned before I am a sucker for the book-as-art-purchase. Well produced volumes can give so much pleasure just from being taken down from the shelf as anyone who owns a hardback copy of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth will know. So I couldn't resist what is really a children's book when it was so beautifully produced and illustrated.

Hugo Cabret is a 12 year old boy in 1930's Paris, who lives at the train station in a small room behind the workings of the station's clocks. He has been scraping by after the disappearance of his Uncle by stealing what he needs from the stations various kiosks, but he is caught one day by the owner of a toy stall. On turning out his pockets the stall owner, Papa Georges, is shocked to see a notebook containing drawings, notes and diagrams of a mechanical man which Hugo has been working on to repair. What is the connection between this old man and the automata, what secrets of the past has Hugo uncovered and what will it mean for his own future?

The illustrations are gorgeously rendered in dark pencil and the book is a combination of picture book, graphic novel, film storyboard and childrens adventure. Drawing influences from silent movies and the work of Georges Méliès (which features in the story) it conjures beautifully those early days of film experimentation and the magic of discovery is enhanced by the odd double page spread which is a photo or film still rather than illustration. Whilst the book has a satisfying heftiness (534 pages) it is a quick read and one too good to be restricted to children alone.

The book has recently been awarded the Caldecott Medal and movie rights have been optioned with Martin Scorcese mentioned as a possible director.


Wednesday 6 February 2008

No Country For Old Men

I continue my Cormac McCarthy season with the Coen brothers much nominated adaptation of No Country For Old Men. I haven't read the novel but I understand that this a very faithful filming and it marks a welcome return to grizzly form for the Coen's although I'm not sure that this is quite the masterpiece that some are declaring.

When Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the carnage of a botched drug deal whilst out hunting and finds a case filled with roughly $2million he makes one fatal mistake; to return to the scene later that night with a bottle of water for the one man who was still alive. His car is spotted and he barely escapes from two pursuers but he has now become the prey of a man, Anton Chigurh (a truly terrifying Javier Bardem), who will hunt him down like Death itself armed with a shotgun and heavy silencer and a pneumatic cattlegun, cutting down any who cross his path. Following this trail of bodies is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played with deadpan world-weariness by Tommy-Lee Jones) also trying to find Moss and protect him and his wife.

As you would expect from McCarthy this is a tale filled with men and violence and as you would expect from the Coen brothers it is shot with style and even the odd flash of humour but when you come down to it is there that much seperating this film from, say, The Terminator? Chirgurh's relentless progress is shown to have little consequence, these are bad guys he's killing remember (or if not bad then certainly undeveloped characters who we will find it hard to care about), and just when it looks as though karma will come full circle he walks way from a car crash (albeit with a broken bone protruding through his arm). Yes, there's some philosophical musings along the way but even Terminator 2 managed something similar ('there is no fate but that we make').

It's all in the casting I suppose. Tommy-Lee Jones is excellent; subtle and nuanced. He speaks volumes with that craggy face when in conversation with his Uncle Ellis. 'You can't stop what's comin'. It ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity', he is told, and having watched Chigurh slaughter both innocent and guilty alike we know exactly what that means. This is the kind of apocolyptic vision familiar from McCarthy's novels but missing is the hope, the mercy, dare I say it the humanity that would make it a convincing parable rather than a high class shoot-em-up.


Monday 4 February 2008

one take wonder

Work It Out - RJD2


Sunday 3 February 2008


The Waters of Thirst
by Adam Mars-Jones

After such fulsome praise from John Self on his Asylum site how could I resist? Especially when the protagonist is an actor called William and I'm an. . .well you get the idea.

William is looking at his relationship with his partner Terry, one framed of course by the AIDS crisis, but dominated not by that so much as the small domestic affairs which define any long-term relationship. To sustain what is essentially a monologue for 180 pages is no mean feat and Mars-Jones does so by peppering the text with wit, humour and warmth. He is very good at the middle class observation:

"There's a moment in a dinner party, isn't there, when you realize that all is not well between your hosts. It's nothing crude, it's not that they're using packet gravy or anything. I've tasted gravy made almost to competition standards in homes where, the same weekend, someone's hand got shut in the knife drawer really quite nastily."
The quip:
"There are quite a few heterosexuals in the airline business, mainly in administration. I'm always surprised by how many straights there are, and in all walks of life, not just in the obvious professions."
But biggest laugh it raised from me was with a subject a little closer to home:
"...most of what passes for acting is no more than text-based wheedling... 'Please believe in me,' you're saying. 'See, I've even put on a little bit of an accent for you. What more could you want, really? Come on, start believing. You know you won't enjoy yourself until you do. Why waste the price of your ticket? Shocking what they ask these days, isn't it? And all down the drain unless you believe in me - please? - with my costume and my moves and my lines and my little bit of an accent.'"

There are two major topics which are used to great effect. William is an avid collector of the pornography, of one American star in particular, a collection he keeps away from Terry who, shall we say, doesn't measure up. But through his close 'reading' of Peter Hunter's work and a hilarious cross referencing of index cards he has created William thinks that he may have spotted that his hero is ill. William is also in need of a kidney transplant and this accounts for his interest in motor cyclists given that they 'really are organ donors-in-waiting. A dab of grease or a handful of gravel, and a motorbike just wants a good lie down'. The progression through the novel of humour into pathos is brilliantly judged and there is a clever unifying of these two topics at the end of the novel.

Whilst I might stop short of the word masterpiece The Waters of Thirst is quite an achievement.


Saturday 2 February 2008

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Collegiate. Preppy. Are these good words to associate with rock music? And for that matter, can you get away with describing your music as 'Upper West Side Soweto'?

Apparently you can. What this New York four piece have with this self produced debut is a catchy collection of short, sharp, afro-infused, pop-rock which keeps your feet tapping all the way through its 35 minutes and will surely appear on plently of album of the year lists even though we are still in the icy claws of January. In fact it's a shame that this album has been released now rather than nearer the summer as it's one of those albums you want to take to the park with you whilst you enjoy a picnic and some ill-judged ball games.

There's some Paul Simon in there and some Talking Heads too. Peter Gabriel even gets name checked in 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' and singer Ezra Koenig sometimes sounds a little like Sting but it seems to be a joyful appropriation of influences rather than a blatant ripping off of others excellence.There is a healthy dose of classical strings and harpsichord as well just so we don't forget that these are Columbia graduates but it combines well on the whole, each track individual and interesting although I don't know that I'll be able to take M79 seriously again, having read Alexis Petridis compare it to the Ski Sunday theme tune in The Guardian. But maybe I'm not supposed to take it seriously. I'm off to pump up the football and plan a picnic.

Vampire Weekend - M79


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP