Hi. Below is a random selection of things I would normally clog up your Facebook feed with; things that have helped distract, inform and inspire me during these uncertain times........
MONDAY 25TH MAY
Jaws (Universal) How does one pick a favourite film? A Matter Of Life And Death, Withnail & I and North By Northwest are just a few that would absolutely have to be in my top ten. Being a child of the 70s, Star Wars was my number one favourite film until I got my hands on a VHS copy of Jaws. As with most things that capture my imagination, I became totally obsessed with it and immediately wanted to know everything about sharks even doing a school project about them and making a fake shark fin (just like in the film.)
There's so much amazing stuff going on here: it's a monster movie, it's a buddy movie, there are laughs, jaw-dropping monologues (Quint's introduction and the Indianapolis speech), an amazing cast, excellent screenplay, fantastic score... And, if you watch any 'making of' documentary about it, it seems amazing that it ever got finished! The pressure Steven Spielberg was under while making Jaws was insane; technical problems with the shark, problems shooting on the water, Universal threatening to pull the plug... I mean, fuck! Of course, he would go on to have unbelievable success (Close Encounters, Raiders, ET, etc) and is, without doubt, one of the great film makers of all time but, while I love pretty much every film he's made, Jaws will always have a special place in my heart. I really think it's still my favourite movie of all time; it's a remarkable, game-changing piece of work and is so much more than just a monster movie.
SATURDAY 23RD MAY
The Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm Ltd.) When Star Wars crash-landed in 1977 it was unlike anything my generation had experienced before. The previous year my parents had divorced and my father moved far, far away - the Star Wars universe became a major escape for me in the midst of all that. I played with the figures, collected the bubblegum cards, read Star Wars Weekly, memorised the soundtrack.... I was seriously into it.
The Empire Strikes Back - the second Star Wars film to be released - is 40 this year and for many (myself included) it's the best film of the series. I can still remember being completely blown away by it when it was first released; the Hoth battle, Yoda, Cloud City, the big reveal between Luke and Vader and, of course, the mounting sexual tension between Han and Leia. Their scene in the carbon freezing chamber was the moment I realised I didn't want to be Luke anymore; Han was the man. There doesn't appear to be as many moments of light relief as there are in Star Wars. Right from the start there's an underlying tension that builds up to that devastating final act. I remember being genuinely upset that things were not going to work out OK although, even at the time, I loved that it was so dark and dramatic and 'grown up.'
As much as I love the Empire Of Dreams documentary, Michel Parbot's The Making of The Empire Strikes Back delves deeper into the technical challenges involved with creating the movie. It's a fascinating watch and a reminder of how far we've come in terms of technology within the film industry - much of it thanks to the team behind the Star Wars movies. There's also an interesting BBC programme from 1980 on You Tube which focuses on the financial aspect of making movies back then, called The Risk Business (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.) As for the film itself, it still looks fantastic 40 years on and stirs up the same emotions for me as it did back in 1980.
TUESDAY 19TH MAY
Records on repeat (various) Following on from my recent Pistols binge, I decided to revisit PiL's back catalogue and, specifically, First Issue, Metal Box and Flowers Of Romance; all records I struggled with first time around. I can't tell you why these remarkable and incredibly influential records suddenly appeal to me now - to the point of obsession - when, in the past, they felt incredibly confusing and confrontational. Perhaps it's because I feel I now have a better understanding of the Pistols' story and, thus, the need for John Lydon to wipe the slate clean. Having just finished several Pistols books, watched the excellent PiL documentary, The Public Image Is Rotten and re-absorbed these daring, fearless landmark albums, I feel I've completely misunderstood Lydon all these years.
Swell Maps are a band I'm sure I would've dismissed in the past when I was a bit of a snob and thought I knew everything about everything. Thankfully, I appear to be getting more open minded in my old age. The 1999 compilation, International Rescue is excellent but, 1980's Jane From Occupied Europe is fucking mind-blowing. Exciting, inventive, inspiring music made by people who sound like they're having a lot of fun doing it. Whats not to like?
FRIDAY 8TH MAY
Pistols binge (various formats) After my recent Damned binge earlier this year - see here - this week I have been mostly scouring the internet for Pistols-related interviews, live footage and documentaries. After rewatching the brilliant Classic Albums episode of 'Never Mind The Bollocks', 'The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle' and 'The Filth And The Fury', I wanted to know more about the other people involved, about the various record deals and where all that money went! Some great stuff to be found including Arena's Punk And The Pistols, BBC2's Malcolm McLaren: Artful Dodger, Janet Street-Porter's The Year Of Punk and her post-Pistols Lydon interview. Fascinating, remarkable and insightful snapshots of this remarkable period in history. l remember seeing punks on the King's Road at the time ("cor, mum! Look at that man!") and was vaguely aware of the music but, it's interesting to look back and understand just how important and necessary it all was - on multiple levels - and the ripples it created. Rewatching the infamous Bill Grundy interview, one marvels at how young they were and how badly the "grown ups" (Bernard Brook Partridge, Grundy, etc.) handled the situation. I'd love to be able to pick Malcolm Gladwell's brains about all this - I'm currently immersed in his brilliant book, Talking To Strangers which deals with misreading strangers and the consequences resulting from that. Speaking of books - and punk and the Pistols - I've just ordered Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, Jordan's Defying Gravity and Brian Southall's 90 Days At EMI so, round here anyway, punk is definitely not dead.
Faust (band) A gig I was particularly looking forward to was Faust at Union Chapel tonight. Obviously, that's no longer happening and, although the date has been rescheduled to later this year, who knows where the World will be by then? (I quite like the idea of personal pods myself.) Anyway. I first head Faust IV 20 years ago when my flatmate was turning me on to all things Krautrock and I instantly fell in love with it. Had I heard Faust IV a few years earlier I probably would have dismissed it but, there are certain records (or films or books or whatever) that find us at just the right time. Our initial reaction might be uncertainty or confusion but, in time, they come to mean everything to us and somehow become part of our DNA.
WEDNESDAY 29TH APRIL
Podcasts (various) They're everywhere! Think of a random esoteric subject and it probably exists in podcast form somewhere. For me, Talking Politics and The Adam Buxton Podcast have been personal favourites for a while now. RSM NHS at 70 is very insightful and I'm currently listening to Radio 4's excellent - yet at times heartbreaking - NHS Front Line which follows frontline staff and interviews COVID-19 patients at Bradford Royal Infirmary. Finally, Louis Theroux's Grounded got off to a great start with his conversation with Jon Ronson. Podcasts: something for everyone.
Never Mind The Bollocks Sex Pistols (Virgin) Like a lot of great artists, so much of their success was down to timing, opportunity and having the right people around them - in this case, Chris Thomas and Bill Price. The rise of the Sex Pistols is such a fascinating story - with its punk rock heroes and boo-hiss villains - from a pivotal period in pop culture. I never get tired of this particular Classic Albums episode. One of the greatest Rock 'N' Roll albums ever made.
SATURDAY 25TH APRIL
They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (Netflix) As I was watching this last night, I said to myself, "this is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen!" Powerful, fascinating, exciting, frustrating... What can I say? I'm a sucker for a 'genius shunned by the powers that be' tale. Excellent editing, brilliant use of footage and staggering, also, to comprehend the sheer magnitude and quality of Orson's cinematic output. I haven't seen 'The Other Side Of The Wind' yet - the unfinished film on which this documentary focuses on - but, there's a posthumously-assembled version also on Netflix.
WEDNESDAY 8TH APRIL
Northern Soul (Netflix) I'm not sure why I missed this when it originally came out because I remember thinking the trailer was great. I finally saw it this morning and it blew me away. Obviously, the music is incredible but, the film captures that era of '70's Britain so well and that feeling of being young and bulletproof. Not to mention - speaking as an amateur crate digger - the joy of vinyl.
Tiger King (Netflix) You've all seen it and, if you haven't, get ready for a truly batshit bonkers story. Last week I finally got to see what everyone has been talking about and inhaled the entire series in two days. I feel if I even attempted to describe it I couldn't possibly do it justice. Unbelievable.
Silence (Sony Classical/France) A really tastefully put together 4-CD compilation I picked up years ago featuring great works by Mozart, Bach, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Rachmaninov, etc. When it all gets a bit overwhelming, I bung this one on along with Faure's Requiem (Harmonia Mundi) which really is a remarkable piece of work and probably my all-time favourite classical album.
Isolation DJ sets (everywhere!) For instance, check out the lovely Helena Hauff killing it on the Boiler Room You Tube page. Also, HÖR BERLIN (You Tube) Great sets on there by Chloé Lula, Tigerhead (favourite comment: "is this why girls take so long in the bathroom"), Ellen Allien (omg, what a set!) and loads more. Fantastic and crammed with bangers, as I believe the youngsters call them.
Berlin (Germany) Blame "Heroes" and "Some Great Reward"; that's where my fascination with Berlin began. For as long as I can remember, I've felt an inexplicable pull to visit this city; a longing fuelled by art, literature, film and music. Last year I finally booked a ticket to go there and see Einstürzende Neubauten performing...on April the 20th. Doh! Obviously, that's not happening now so, tonight I'm commiserating by listening to Neubauten and crying into my Lederhosen.