Last summer, when Dan came down from Reading for the weekend, the two of us set about doing some video work, as we often do when he visits. However, that day it was wet outside and we were short on inspiration, so we sat around for a bit trying to come up with a project.
Eventually, we came up with the following film. The title is taken from a (very good) Pamela Hansford Johnson novel, but the rest is really just a result of a bit of brainstorming and improvising. We needed to shoot the whole thing indoors, with only the two of us as actors, and we didn’t want to get caught up in dialogue as neither of us can act. Also, we didn’t want to spend ages doing lighting and sound and stuff like that, so the whole thing is pretty much shot run and gun, with just a little bit of extra lighting to help us in the hallway shots. Consequently the whole thing looks very scruffy, with plenty of bumps and whirrs caught on the camera’s in-built microphones, and a few nasty variations in light – but given that it took us about 2 hours to film, and then about the same time again for me to edit it together (this week, after the files had sat on my hard drive for six months) I think it looks pretty good.
I’m very interested in the idea of exploring what goes wrong after one person does something foolish; I’ve another idea for a film which I want to make this spring which concentrates on something similar. It’s easy, after all, to act without thinking.
Posted 10 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan Category Books, Photos
Just finished reading Ali Smith’s lovely, confusing, inspiring ‘Artful’, which I’m clearly going to have to re-read if I want to boast to people that I really ‘got it’; it’s a dense, fast-moving combination of intriguing fiction and literary criticism, and I read it as the former, not worrying too much about wringing every ounce of meaning from the many poems and quotations which pepper the text. I did pick out a few lovely things though;
“When human beings love they try to get something. They also try to give something, and this double aim makes love more complicated than food or sleep. It is selfish and altruistic at the same time, and no amount of specialization in one direction quite atrophies the other”. EM Forster
There’s lots of Katherine Mansfield in the book, and lots of trees. I never enjoyed reading DH Lawrence, but I like Mansfield’s description of his ‘Aaron’s Rod’ as a tree, “firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig”.
And there was more nature in the following, which made me think of the ‘We are the clay that grew tall’ line in Melissa Harrison’s terrific book ‘Clay’, which I talked about the other day.
“Decay is the beginning of all birth … it transforms shape and essence, the forces and virtues of nature. Just as the decay of all foods in the stomach transforms them and makes them into a pulp, so it happens outside the stomach … Decay is the midwife of very great things!” Paracelsus
and here’s Ali Smith herself, talking about something I’ve already mentioned:
“We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We’d never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe that we’ve read a book after reading it just once. Books and music share more in terms of resonance than just a present tense correlation of heard note to read word. Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them, because books are produced by books more than by writers; they’re a result of all the books that went before them.”
That one’s pertinent.
I took this photograph of a bunch of paperwhites secured with twine.
When Sam was over for Xmas we met up with our dear friend Eva in Brighton’s nice Marwood cafe (pictures of which appear below). I am ashamed to say I hardly ever get round to seeing Eva, which is absolutely stupid, and something I must remedy in 2013.
Eva is terrific; we wished her well for the holiday season and she politely assured us that she had absolutely no intention of seeing us on Christmas Day, because she had an essay to write and also had ‘an onion and a pepper’ in the fridge that needed eating. If we did met up, she insisted, she would be unable to join in the festivities or pretend to like her presents. She also talked briefly about her new obsession with crime, her time in Turkey (when she was frequently mistaken for a spy) and her hatred of communism.
Eva is now in Greece where she is spending the next two weeks picking olives. I think perhaps she, rather than me or Sam, is the one with it all sorted out.
When we finally made it out of Brighton on the first day of 2013, it was much colder than we expected and the light, which had been thrillingly rich all day, was already beginning to dip. So we only walked around Devil’s Dyke for half an hour or so, mindful not to slip in the mud and binding our coats tight around us, as if we might conjure an extra layer by wrapping them round twice. Of course I had a hangover and new (year) promises to keep, so the cold wind did its unwelcome job of battering last night’s boozy breath out of my lungs until I felt like this was the start of something new, not just a painful bit left over from yesterday. I felt less than re-born, but glad to be alive and idling into another year.
No news yet on the resolutions, but I did take a few photographs.
A quick summary of the last few weeks, courtesy of Instagram. If it were completely accurate it would contains a great many photographs of beer bottles, but I’m with-holding them for a later post, and so I don’t look like an alcoholic.
One of the most inspiring Green organisations I’ve come across is based on my doorstep right here in Sussex. My girlfriend Lyndsey has been volunteering at The Green Centre, situated in East Brighton, for the last three years, and at a recent Open Day & Recycling Bonanza I helped out and, working with a fellow film-maker, Dan Corns, made this video about the centre and its amazing Creative Director, Melanie Rees.
Mel has turned the centre into a real community project, working with local people to create a sustainable, open and inspiring space. The Green Centre market is full of nice objects which keep the business ticking over, but the heart of the Centre is the amazing recycling resource it offers, helping to ensure that practically nothing goes to waste, but is re-used, re-cycled or re-purposed. Out in the back of the Centre, a new pond provides social housing for the local wildlife.
Went to Pride today; lovely as always to join in the festivities, especially as we went to hang out with our friends Oli and Sanj beforehand, in what they cheerfully term their ‘gay house’. Sanj was ashamed to have no sparkling water to hand, and rebuked me for folding my arms at one point. “I need you to relax”, he told me, wrenching my posture. “This is a gay house”.
Squirrel watching in the local park is probably something I do frequently enough to legitimately describe it as a hobby – but if it’s not that it’s certainly a holiday tradition; there’s nothing nicer than wandering over to St Anne’s Well Gardens at lunchtime on Boxing Day and mooching around spying on wildlife. Accordingly – the latest dispatch from the animal kingdom:
I’m limbering up towards feelings of Christmassyness; this weekend Lynds and I trotted up to Cambridge to see my folks, and were given gifts of hats, scarves, socks and gloves. As always, my parents’ were liberal in their provision of alcohol. Over a long boozy lunch on Saturday, we managed to sample delicious ale, Italian wine, sloe gin, amaretto and spiced rum – bravely fighting off the offer of prosecco to finish. A long afternoon nap followed.
Best bit of the weekend was a lovely walk around a lake near their house – it was a beautiful winter morning, crisp and crunchy with frost but the sky was a clear and brilliant blue. Lyndsey picked some lovely purple catkins.
They’re now our christmas tree, following an aborted attempt to construct one out of cardboard.
Not many people flying red flags in rural Cambridgeshire, but I take your point. This sign actually denoted a little archery change in the village of Offord Darcy, just up the road from where my parents live. The archery looked fun, but I didn’t like the look of the ultra-modern bows. These sorts of things shouldn’t, I don’t think, be allowed to move with the times.
Here we all are, on set – this video was created by Dan, who when he wasn’t helping set up, or making coffee, or doing sound, could reliably be found hovering in a corner with his camera in hand. Every time he put it down, I scampered over, switched from video to stills, and took a photo or two. When he returned he’d look at the settings, tut loudly, switch back to video and resume filming. Then some important audio check would prove necessary and I’d switch back to stills. In this small way I chipped away at his all-pervading good humour.
Annoyingly, his video turned out much better than the photographs I took.
This little collage of activity shows us on days 1 and 2 of the Amina shoot. Thanks Dan!
So, two months ago my friend Sam emailed me and mentioned that he was planning on spending a couple of weeks in Brighton in August, and he suggested that we grab a bit of time while he was over to make a short film. This wasn’t totally unexpected. Sam and I spent some time with our friend Dan in the spring, working on a few projects around Brighton, and Sam has since worked on some terrific videos for Depaul International, a homeless charity who do some amazing work. And he’s weighing up film school later this year. Nevertheless, for reasons of time, expense and logistics, a big project was never on the cards.
But it happened anyway. Following a series of excitable Skype conversations, I completed a first draft of a screenplay on the 29th June, which was repeatedly revised until we had a complete script, a little over a week ago. Sam set about assembling the crew, casting actors, securing locations and planning the look and feel of the picture. Ten days ago he arrived in the UK and we sat down with our cast – two Richards and a Kate – for the first time and began rehearsing, chipping away and sculpting the script along the way. I’ve never written a screenplay before, and the insight and improvisations of the actors – plus amazing ideas from Sam, Lyndsey and Vic – helped immeasurably in creating something I was proud of.
And then, aided and abetted by the most good-humoured, enthusiastic, patient and talented group of people imaginable (particularly Eva, who from behind the camera provided some stunning shots and filthy Greek phrases), we made ‘Amina’. We started filming on Saturday morning and worked four consecutive 12 hour days, shooting and re-shooting, concentrating, laughing and joking, half-falling asleep – until at around 8.45pm last night we hauled our lead actor, Richard, out of a cold bath and shouted ‘It’s a wrap’.
Along the way we were helped out enormously by people who gave a very generous amount of their time – Eva, Dan, Jackie, Lyndsey, Victoria, Louise, Marina, our fabulous cast – and lots of tolerant by-standers who allowed us to film outside their homes and on their high streets and resisted the urge to wander into frame, rebuke us or interrupt. (Although a lot did stop to tell us about the history of Shoreham’s Norman churches.)
So – will probably describe the process in more detail; but in the meantime here are a few snaps taken on set…
I’m a big fan of the Information is Beautiful blog, and increasingly coming round to the value of infographics as a pedagogic or communicative tool. But even by that blog’s high standards, this is terrific – created by its author, David McCandless, in association with London-based designer Stefanie Posavec – it’s a map of left and right in the world of politics, taking into account beliefs, instincts and ideals. One can probably tell it comes from an author of the left, but I’d like to know what right-wing readers think of it – it may not be particularly fair and balanced to me, but it’s a decent effort at itemizing something intrinsically complex and hard to prove. And of course, it’s very nice to look at.
Click to enlarge – or rush out and get a copy of today’s paper to get a nice print out of it.
Posted 28 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan Category Photos, Video
This timelapse was done on my phone, so quality is not amazing – but it’s still quite nice I think. Brighton darkening out of my back window. There goes Brighton. I can sit and look out of my window for ages, provided I have a beer. It’s sort of more interesting in the flesh. But imagine you’re me for a moment.
Instead of just saying, here is my latest song, it’s about… I thought I’d use this week’s post to describe something, if I can, about my experience of writing lyrics. Specifically about the way that songwriting in this way is very different to any song writing I’ve done previously. I’m writing a song every single week of this year, and doing so, with all the time limitations that come with it, means adapting my technique according to circumstance. Previously, it would have been quite normal for me to occasionally get my phone, or a notebook, out, and jot down lyrics on the train, with the knowledge that, one Saturday in the future, I could sit down with my guitar and spend a few hours cycling through chords and looking for ways to hang the words on interesting melodies. In that scenario, there’s no urgency at all in the equation; you think through, abstractly, a few ideas, until the opportunity presents itself to do something with all that unguided preparation.
Having a deadline, naturally, changes everything. It’s unavoidably true that while, in the greater scheme of things, I regard lyrics as being unarguably more important than music, I can do less at the end of a week with a complete set of words and no tune at all than I can with a chord progression, a melody and no words to use. For that reason I sometimes idly fantasise about spending *next year* writing no music at all, and concentrating exclusively on writing words which I can come back to the year after. But this is planning gone mad. Either way, the fact remains, I’m now having to write chord progressions, bass lines and drum patterns on the train, and until Sunday afternoon, lyrics are forgotten. (Thank heavens for my iPad, which enables me to do this stuff – otherwise it’d be pretty impossible).
So I’ve had to approach words in a different way, and the whole song-writing process has changed as a result. For example, imagine that I had started off with the notion of writing a song about, say, being haunted by ghosts. Starting with the idea, it’s deeply unlikely I’d have opted for a bunch of cheerful major chords, and would instead have opted for eerie minor chords and a stilted, atmospheric rhythm. But writing the other way around, the scenario is reversed. I create something bouncy and optimistic sounding? There go lyrics about the First World War.
What happens more and more is a kind of free association, and it’s an oddly accurate way of working. I’ll record the bare bones of a song, with a few suggested melodies picked out on my guitar or in garageband, and from then on it’s the case of looping the recording and singing nonsense over the top, repeatedly, looking for harmonic clues that get me nearer to having a finished song. On almost every occasion, in doing so, I find a phrase that seems somehow apt, and it’s from there that the lyric springs. (Sometimes I leaf through a book of poetry while I’m searching for vocal melodies, so quite often the turn of phrase which sparks my imagination is not my own at all).
Anyway, this week’s song worked in the following way. I wrote the chord progression on the train between Kings Cross and St Neots on Wednesday, embellished it in the kitchen of my parents’ house in Cambridge on Thursday, added guitar at home in Brighton on Sunday morning, and worked out some lyrics that afternoon. The free association here came from finding something in the music which had that kind of mournful, country rock grief which centres on a failed relationship. There’s a wonderful lyric on the (terrific) Caitin Rose album which goes:
“remember the day that the whole thing started / and the little black box in the glove compartment”.
I found myself forming a mental picture of a couple sat in a restaurant, with the guy opening up a jewellery box to reveal… not a ring but a necklace. That was all really. But from that sudden image, summoned up through sheer free association, I present this:
Posted 12 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
Hot new musical trends so fast fade, so fast feel nostalgic. Me and most of my friends spent much of the middle part of the 2000s listening to the rash of bands that blossomed around LCD Soundsystem; The Rapture, Radio 4, !!!, The Juan McLean. This was artful, muscular, American music which had echoes of the forceful angularity of post-punk and hardcore, but which drew most of it’s energy from club music – funk, disco, electro and house.
It was brilliant; and it soon felt passé.
Holy Ghost are signed to LCD Soundsystem’s label, DFA, and ludicrously, their sound – which draws heavily from 1980′s italo-house – somehow feels more nostalgic for 2005 than 1985. No criticism implied though. Having heard their name vaguely, but not knowing what to expect, I caught them at The Great Escape last month and they were absolutely terrific – all the more so because events conspired thoroughly against them. Big technical problems at the start left them facing an unusually hostile audience, and the frustration on their part was only too apparent. At first I misread their body language as anger at the audience’s impatience, but once they got started it quickly became apparent how keen they were to play a good show, and what looked like anger was mortification at the thought it wasn’t going to happen. They came to party, not to fight. And once things got going, their set was awash with relief; consequently sweat-drenched and delirious – one of the best live shows I’ve seen in ages.
Considering the incredible volume of the PA that night, it’s kind of incredible that I ended up with any audio at all, given that I thoughtlessly lobbed my sound recorder up on top of the speaker stacks, but despite the throbbing bass, this came out kind of well.
The Holy Ghost website is here. Their LP is bloody great.
While we were in Alsace earlier this month, Anne-Sophie took us up into the Vosges mountains, where we spent a few hours clambering through a series of impeccably preserved, incredibly interesting, World War One trenches. It was quite an experience, although one that seemed to spark in all of us – except perhaps Anne So – a vague feeling that there was something important missing from our individual knowledge about the events of the Great War, or just a dissonance so huge between our lives and those lost then that punctured a hole in our capacity to imagine what it must have been like to have been living and fighting on the Front. We tend, here in Great Britain, to see the wars from a very British perspective, and unless my lack of awareness is atypical, we have a far more realistic sense of the travails of the Second World War than we do the first. We speculated, walking around, that much of people our age’s visualization of war in that environment comes not from books, nor even films, but rather from video games – although I’ve never played a war video game in my life, so I guess that’s not the case for me.
What did I feel? Mostly I think I just felt a sense of serenity, inspired by the stunning views and pin-perfect temperature, and a kind of placid fascination, which manifested itself in the kind of self-indulgent over-intellectualization you’ll find in these paragraphs. We talked a lot about how it must have felt, without really understanding. But once or twice, down in the cool dark chamber of a trench, I felt a glimmer of panic, a sense of the immensity of what was faced in that place. I need to read more about it. At times we stood at points where the French and German trenches were a matter of 20, 30 metres apart – a stunning contraction of distance in a vast landscape. Then, seeing a branch shiver in the wind or hearing the snapping of undergrowth, you could get something of that claustrophobic closeness – the notion of your enemy appearing suddenly before you.
Mostly we talked, paradoxically, about the near-century that has passed since. We speculated – in an uninformed kind of way – about how the forest would have slowly been repopulated with trees, about wildlife timidly returning to a landscape pockmarked with the echoes of gunfire. The incredible thought of a century of near-peace in a mostly unchanging landscape is quite something. It made us wonder, actually, if there might not be some potential in a book which was called something like ‘A Natural History of War in the Twentieth Century’ – a study of the impact of conflict on the natural world, on flora and fauna. Oddly I can’t find anything online that does that. We spent a lot of the weekend, actually, talking about bats, frogs, butterflies, the sound of cicadas. On the way down the mountain we passed a stationary deer, and it was – unsurprisingly – quite magical. We drove past and it stood alert in a pose which was simultaneously full of movement and perfectly still. Unmoving, and yet taut with the expectation of flight.
This Sunday afternoon, I sat outside the lovely Berthom bar, in central Strasbourg, with my friends Vic, Alec, Ant, Anne-Sophie and Rich. We actually stumbled upon the bar about eight months ago and immediately fell in love with it; the stylish font on the sign, the dazzling menu of beers, the dark alcoves and friendly waiting staff. This time, barely recovered from clambering breathlessly up hundreds of steps (and 66 metres) to the viewing platform of Strasbourg Cathedral, we collapsed gratefully into our seats and ordered:
A Maredsous 6 Blonde and a Bel Pils, for me. The former a very refreshing Belgian beer, slightly sweet and dry, with a nice, burnt, orange colour, the latter a plain but hugely drinkable pilsener from the Duvel stable.
A Faro Lindemans and another Maredsous 6 Blonde for Vic, who (rightly) found the former – a Belgian Lambic beer – unbearably syrupy, although it also had a counterbalancing (but not very pleasant) sourness, too. The latter, as mentioned above, made up for the ordering faux-pas.
A couple of strong beers for Ant; I forget what the first was, but it was a heavy, dark, bitter concoction (and very nice for it). The second was the dark variety of the first beer I had – a Maredsous 8 Brune which was lovely – malty, thick, and laced with something spicy. Both these beers were 8% ABV and upwards. Brills.
A very sweet, light, fruity Pêcheresse for Anne-Sophie, which came – like all the beers at Berthom – with a really beautiful label. And I can’t recall exactly which beers Alec and Rich had, but I recall a very pale Vedett Extra White sat on the table, and also another brune, so thick and dry it was essentially stout. There may have been more.
Given false confidence by all this booze, we took these (very transparent) photographs of a guy we liked the look of. He totally knew.
"Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right."
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green