Action is the foundational key to all success.

- Pablo Picasso

The Death Of Guy Fawkes

The Death Of Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes, 1605, plotted to blow up
Parliament –
his reasons were religious or something –
he was Catholic – or Protestant –
malcontent – psychopath –
anti what-we’re-trying-to-do-here
(in truth, his grievances are lost to history,
or even if they’re not, they’re quite irrelevant to this case) –
and Fawkes was guilty found.

How in hell did Guy Fawkes haul two tonnes of gunpowder
into the basement of Parliament without anyone knowing??
I suspect a conspiracy.

King James I, who gave us The Bible,
forbade torture,
but had the power to bend the rule ad hoc in extremis,
and he did.
He recommended the “gentler tortours” be applied first,
and then, well, you know, after that, do what you have to do.
Fawkes signed his confession dutifully
with a scrawl like a child’s drawing of the sea.

The trial dragged on for a couple days.
Fawkes’ co-conspirators – a bunch of
stupid fucks with no names –
cried out their innocence,
even up to the commencement of hanging, drawing, and quartering.

A mighty throng – throng so mighty! –
assailed Parliament to behold the swelling scene!
So many young men and women of England,
so strong in body, so wise in their simplicity,
so generous with their goods,
so fearful of god,
so devoted to their king,
grown men wept to behold the assembled
pure stock vouchsafing England’s future. Amen.

They cheered as each conspirator was hoisted,
and, kicking, opened like a hog,
their sausages removed in bulk,
the craftsman-torturer heaving on the guts
like a man trying to pull a boy out of a well,
and clipping a strip of white connective veil,
here and there, to make the whole thing
come out neat.
Sure some stayed living for quite some minutes
and all that jazz you know.

Later they would cut the cocks off and toy
with them, stick them in each others faces
and say, “Oh, you make so horny, give sucky sucky please?”
Obviously, they daren’t do such a thing
in front of Parliament. Or ladies.
But back at barracks, they could unwind a bit.

The arms and legs were separated publicly.
This was part of the ritual.
People expected it,
and they cheered like hell as each limb came loose.
When one executioner clowned with the right leg
of Robert Keyes conspirator,
the groundlings laughed.
But a conservative MP fumed
and said a mockery was being made of justice,
and he would make the saucy fellow pay for it
and maybe he would think twice next time.

Fawkes was left till last.
They wanted him first to watch it,
then after he watched it, he would mount
the scaffold it was going to be so great!
He ascended slowly,
like a grandmother afeared of a fall, hips
and shoulders barely holding true after weeks on the rack.

The rope –
limp, sleeping – and really thick too –
was looped over his neck,
and the crowd giggling glee,
stood tiptoe
to see it all
(Some ladies later reported to their maids that, well…
“A queer feeling, as like I would nurse a babe or – or – or – ”),
and Guy Fawkes, finally at the top, was heard to say,
“Fuck this.”

So he took the plunge, a great leap forward, up and out –
the hangman slapping his ass as he went,
saying “You go, girl!!” –
a leap enough to snap Fawkes’ neck and kill him. Ha!

The crowd had been robbed of the pleasures
of seeing the live body writhe
under the torturer-craftsman’s tools.
But they cheered anyway.
And then cheered when Fawkes steaming dead man’s guts
were exhumed.
And then cheered as each limb
came clear.
And the head too,
gray-faced and gray-bearded,
looking like the face of a man in prayer or on the verge of orgasm,
they cheered at that, when the head came off.
And when it was displayed to all
like the next item up for auction,
they cheered.

Eyewitnesses wrote, the crowd felt “joy”.

And we watched the whole thing on tv, didn’t we?

We were there.

And there.

And there too.
And we were in there,
and in there.
Every part of that meat was ours.
We cheered to see it accomplished.
We squeezed each other so tight round the neck,
we came in our pants.


The V&A’s Decode, Dreaming The Future Of Digital Media

(originally printed in Videography magazine, Feb. 2010)

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, generally acknowledged as the world’s largest institution of decorative arts and design, was founded by Queen Victoria in 1852. You might think that digital video technology was the last thing the grand monarch had in mind, but the V&A was originally conceived as a “Museum Of Manufactures”. From its very beginning, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, it sought to be a place for the study of the point of art and technology.

“Decode: Digital Design Sensations” is a new exhibition the V&A is putting on in partnership with contemporary arts & design organization, onedotzero. “Decode” runs from Dec. 8, 2009 to April 11, 2010, and strives in every way to break the boundaries of the typical museum experience. The Victoria & Albert Museum has been collecting digital art since the 1960’s. An exhibition called “Digital Pioneers” showcases this material concurrently with the “Decode” exhibition.

Today’s interconnected world of social and digital information, becoming familiar to even the most luddite household, has broken down traditional structures of space, and time too, in media. People are increasingly used to the idea of watching a movie when and where and how they want to, for example, and the 20th century notion that it is an experience restricted to a brick and mortar theater with predetermined show times is moving toward becoming a novelty of the entertainment.

Shane Walter, co-founded onedotzero in the mid-nineties, and has been on the cutting edge of digital media production since. He is named as the curator of the “Decode” exhibition, but thinks of himself as more of a producer, and collaborator. A couple of the pieces in the show were commissioned directly by onedotzero, with Walters taking an active interest in their production.

“Decode”, arranged more along the lines of an extended festival than a gallery show, takes for granted the 21st century decentralization of media and then tries to see into the far reaches of digital media with fluidity and change being the focal element. Not only does an audience have an array of choices regarding its relationship to the digital pieces presented in the show, but the pieces themselves are morphing and changing as a result of their relationship to the audience.

The exhibition is divided according to three themes – “Code”, “Interactivity”, and “Network” – each representing an element of the digital creative process. “Code” presents pieces that use computer code to create new works and looks at how code can be programmed to create constantly fluid and ever-changing works. It emphasizes the idea that the code itself is a kind of creative entity that makes content – and that is willing to collaborate with the audience if instructed to do so. It’s asif the original programmer had created another little artist existing in a virtual realm – The Code.

“Code nowadays is a raw material,” says Shane Walter, “A coder is as creative as someone is a sculptor, for example, or a painter or designer.”

A museum space is traditionally, almost by definition, a place where something is preserved in stasis. The Decode exhibition strives to turn that on its head. “We’re saying,” says Walter, “Yes, touch things as much as you want, take pictures, and you can download elements of the exhibition, you can upload things too. We want to make you, the visitor, a part of the exhibit.” Some of the exhibits in fact can’t exist without an audience there, and are designed to spring into motion in response to the movement of the visitors, as if the exhibit itself was an artist, interpreting its subject – the museum-goer. Golan Levin’s “Opto-Isolator II”, for example, takes the form of a human eye that stares at the viewer, and blinks and moves in direct response to the viewers blinking and movement. “A lot of these ideas and techniques have been around for some time, but I think only in the last five years have people been using them less as a novelty and more part of their digital toolbox.” ”

The “Network” portions of the exhibition focus on and utilize the digital traces left behind by everyday communications. Walters points out how the digital web that we live in is something living, connected to us in a very intimate way. “It’s almost impossible to switch off. Even when you’re asleep , your Facebook is still going, your Twitter feed. You’re leaving all these digital traces behind. So artists are trying to make sense of this area by data mining this realm, and using that data to re-represent the world.” Aaron Koblin’s “Flight Patterns” uses FAA data to create animations of flight patters that are both ghostly and dream, as well as fascinating and informative. Repeatedly in Decode, hard fact and hallucinatory visions combine to produce a revelatory experience.

DECODE also offers people the chance to actively participate with via Karsten Schmidt’s piece, “Recode”. Created as a digital identity for the exhibition, the code for the ever changing CG piece is available on an official Decode Google code page, which also has a detailed user guide and gui. New creations can then be uploaded as part of the Decode exhibits online gallery, contributions which are considered no less legitimate than the original Karsten Schmidt work.

A fascinating challenge Decode presents to the museum world is that the digital media in the exhibit is entirely fluid and in fact quite difficult to practially catalog in a museum’s inventory. If it’s constantly changing and altering, how legitimate is the description of the piece, and if viewers are an integral part of the experience, can they be said to be part of the museum’s archive?

Decode presents a fascinating array of digital wonders and fascinating experiences, types of things which might have been seen on by attendees of SIGGRAPH, but have not been offered to a wide audience. Technologies that might have languished as a mere curiosity, have now, in the hands of artists, been made to communicate – and in some cases, commune – with a new generation of media audiences.

Netflix Yes; LOVEFiLM nO

It was a no-brainer to put Netflix in my 2005 list, “10 Things I Love About The Film Industry”.

Netflix really has been revolutionary. By making virtually any DVD available on demand to anyone in the entire USA, it has smashed the local brick & mortar video store irrevocably, and it has altered the way people watch TV and movies as much as TIVO and digital video recorders have changed viewers’ relationship with the broadcast industry.

In the U.K. the most popular DVD-by-mail service is a company called LOVEFiLM.

LOVEFiLM is not Netflix.

The main thing that makes Netflix great is its genuine “on-demand” aspect. If I want to watch “Down By Law” (1986), “Gladiator” (2000), the entire series of “Freaks and Geeks” (1999), and “Andrei Rublev” (1969) – in that order – I will be sent “Down By Law”, “Gladiator”, the entire series of “Freaks and Geeks”, and “Andrei Rublev” – in that order. Rarely, and usually only in the case of extremely popular titles just after release, Netflix will be unable to provide a requested title. This is usually accompanied by ample warning from the company, and a reliable promise that the title will be sent as soon as it is available.

The other key to Netflix’s success – and it is a thing of beauty – is the Rental Queue. The Netflix Rental Queue allows you to fine-tune the order in which you want your movies to arrive. If you want to see Andrei Rublev first, and then “Down By Law”, then split up the discs which comprise “Freaks and Geeks”, maybe with 3 before “Gladiator” and 3 after, well, then no one’s going to stop you. In fact, to us morbidly incurably cinemonks, the populating and ordering and massaging of the queue is an end in itself. It’s a real pleasure to add movie after movie and then try to prioritize them, plan your viewing, create for yourself a 1st rate cinema education for the next year and a half. And of course there’s the maxing out of the queue and having to decide which individual title you will have to remove from the list in order to add another title that you want to watch.

And Netflix also has a good engine that encourages you to rate movies and then gives you solid recommendations based on those ratings.

If I were to make another list, a “List Of Reasons To Return To The USA”, Netflix access would go on it.

But, as I indicated, here in Britain, there is no Netflix. There is LOVEFiLM.

LOVEFiLM is very much like Netflix – up to the bright red envelopes in which the DVD’s are mailed and the white-on-red, black-bordered logo.

In the same way that minority ethnic groups can make jokes about themselves that no one else can, I being officially – and actually – British have to say that it’s a sad and wretched thing to see, over and over, Britain taking on ideas introduced from the outside and with the enthusiasm of an over-praised child, apply those ideas slap-dash to its own local situation while missing the core of what made the idea good in the first place.

Exhibit A: Mexican Food. What is Mexican food? Well, it’s – generally speaking – simple, meat and vegetables with spices often wrapped in a flour or corn tortilla, etc. I have eaten British-made Mexican food – I kid you not – which has been tuna and peas with chili powder wrapped in a pita. With cheddar cheese sauce.

Exhibit B: Sweet Potatoes. At University of Kent, a Thanksgiving dinner was arranged for the American students. Sweet, no? No. Traditionally, sweet potatoes are served at Thanksgiving. The American students were served sweet … potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes … sweetened with sugar. There was weeping.

Exhibit C: British rap music and hip-hop. All I have to say is that if you don’t have genuine actual gangsters actually shooting each other with military-issue automatic weapons on a daily basis in your city streets, please, please, please avoid attempting rap music of any kind. It’s embarrassing for all of us.

And so, LOVEFiLM:

LOVEFiLM bills itself as “Europe’s NO. 1 Online DVD Rental Service”, but it offers relatively few continental titles, so I don’t know how seriously to take that assertion.

First off, LOVEFiLM is not a good name. I know some marketing person somewhere really worked hard on it and I appreciate that. But just step back and listen to the word: “Luvfilm”. The fricative “V” and “F” disappear into each other – and they are not helped by that disintegrating “ILM” sound at the end. “Lovfilm” sounds like the last thing a drunk might say before passing out cold on top of his girlfriend. Could we just have one hard consonant, please? Or an “S”? “LOVESFiLM” maybe?

And with the name “LOVEFiLM” you’ve already alienated half of your user base. Because no self-respecting macho-man-with-an-inferiority-complex is going to want to say to his colleagues on a Monday morning: “Hey guys, I joined LOVE-FiLM!” He would be shunned. Even I, who get weepy when Judy Garland sings “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, am loathe to say “LOVEFiLM” in mixed company.

But that’s nitpicking. LOVEFiLM has a similar engine as Netflix for rating movies, and then getting recommendations back. But it’s vague. And the accuracy of the recommendations doesn’t seem to improve much after a certain amount of rating. Whereas it is a pleasure to rate movies on Netflix and watch your recommendations gaining more and more focus, it’s depressing to rate film after film on LOVEFiLM and get back repeatedly “If you loved ‘The Seventh Seal’, you’ll love ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves'”.

The LOVEFiLM rental queue – called, ironically, a “list” by LOVEFiLM, not a “queue” – is really not much of a queue at all. Whereas Netflix allows you to fine-tune your queued movies via an interface that allows you to assign an ordinal number to each, LOVEFiLM offers you the opportunity to put movies in one of three categories: “HIGH”, “MED”, “LOW” priorities. And that’s it.

The obvious – and typically British – problem this introduces is that it entirely removes the “on demand” aspect that makes DVD-by-mail appealing. The very point of having a rental queue is to be able to watch the movies I want to see exactly when I want to see them.

If I want to see “Down By Law”, “Gladiator”, the entire series of “Freaks and Geeks”, and “Andrei Rublev” – in that order (well, I’m not going to be able to get “Freaks and Geeks” because that is a particularly American tv series that executives somewhere have decided will not translate to the other side of the Atlantic and they are very wrong about that but you may insert your own imagined tv series) – the only way I’m going to have any chance of watching them in the order will be to put the one I want to see next in my HIGH priority list and put all the rest on the MED or LOW priority list. Because if they all go into the HIGH priority bin, they will be sent to me in an unpredictable order selected by some oily fingered worker at the LOVEFiLM distribution plant.

And that, if I’m lucky.

In a recent LOVEFiLM experience, my household received not a single one of the films in our HIGH priority list. We were told, after sending an email query, that none of the half dozen films tagged HIGH were available at present. And so, we were sent randomly selected titles from our very long MED priority list – one of these titles was a dull reality tv show about families building their new houses. That MED priority section can be a real quagmire of impulse clicks. We did watch the show. But our weekend was ruined. A queue that allowed you to put a title like that at the bottom of a long list would easily prevent such tragedies.

There is too the LOW priority section. But, let’s face it, the idea that you would select a bunch of movies so that you could put them in a list marked “Low Priority” – well, it’s kind of idiotic.

In LOVEFiLM’s defense, they do have a system to warn users that there might be a wait for a film. A gray, half-full hour-glass icon indicates: “It is likely there will be a short wait for this title.” A red, full hour-glass icon indicates: “It is likely there will be a long wait for this title.” However, I have yet to see the icon next to any of the HIGH priority movies we have requested that we have been refused.

The impression one gets, as a user of the service, is that LOVEFiLM wants to make it as easy on themselves as possible, but still get you to give them money. Apparently, it’s working because we continue to give them money.

I want to make clear that LOVEFiLM is not lousy. The service is perfectly adequate. But given the technology, expertise, and creative fire so readily available in this wide wired world of the 21st century, “adequate” is now synonymous with “insulting”.

If you want to become a multi-millionaire in Britain, you can – as I’ve said before – open a good, authentic Mexican restaurant. Or you can offer us the DVD-by-mail service that we deserve.

Sorry, Your Filmic Majesty

Alright, I apologize for saying that Britain has no film industry. I realize that must have been very hurtful to Britain. And, let’s face it, it’s my own arrogance and intolerance of Others that brought me to my mispokenness and unrashness of mispeechisms.

Britain has a lot going for it movie industry-wise! I mean, it’s got Madonna barefoot and pregnant. What more could a film industry ask for?

Truthfully, many – if not most – of my favorite (or favourite) directors have been British. In fact, this may have contributed to my lack of A-List Superstardom in the L.A.-based industry. It’s not that they don’t revere British talent in the US, it’s just that they would prefer you say in your pitch “It’s going to be like a Tony Scott movie”, rather than “It’s going to be like a Tony Richardson movie”. One simple reason being that most studio employees have never heard of Tony Richardson, and regard Tony Scott as one of the old masters.

So, yeah, sorry ’bout all that, mate.

Let’s just do a Top 10 List and sing “Kum Bay Yah” …

Neal’s Top 10 Favorite (or Favourite) British Directors
  1. John Boorman
  2. Kenneth Branagh
  3. Alfred Hitchcock
  4. David Lean
  5. Lawrence Olivier
  6. Michael Powell
  7. Richard Lester
  8. Mike Leigh
  9. Carol Reed
  10. Ridley Scott

Apologies too to Tony Richardson, who did not make the list.

Britain Shoots Itself

Why doesn’t Britain have a film industry?

“Oh, it has a film industry!” you say, “What about Danny Boyle and that other guy and Helen Mirren?”

Remember when David Puttnam said “The British are coming!” after winning the Oscar for “Chariots Of Fire” (1981)? The British never really came, did they?

Well, they came in the sense that Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Alan Parker, Roland Joffe, and Adrian Lyne left Britain to come make movies in the US.

The UK is stuffed full of some of the most talented people in the world. This I firmly believe.

But most of those people work in post-rooms and hydraulics factories and exercise their talent down the pub on a Friday at Trivia Quiz Night.

Why this is I can’t say for certain.

I theorize three possibilities:

  • 1.) Excellence is simply not a thing highly prized in British society.
  • 2.) Excellence has so often been crushed in British society that no one risks trying for it anymore.
  • 3.) Britain is saturated with so many security cameras, staring at you all day long, that any kind of inspiration is quickly drowned in self-consciousness and performance anxiety.

Maybe it’s number 3. Maybe the security camera system IS the British motion picture industry. I mean if you could gauge a motion picture industry by the number of frames a second turning at any time of day, Britain would certainly be the world’s front-runner. In fact, maybe the British film industry has actually attained a state of Zen perfection in observing itself so thoroughly and continuously. Millions of British cameras pointing at British people being watched on British monitors by other British people in tea-stained rooms filled with monitors and empty bags of snacks. No interpretation, no spin, no story, no character arc. Just Britain watching Britain being Britain.

Wow. I guess Britain does have film industry.

Camera Testing

HD camera shoot out on Shepperton’s Stage E – with free beer and sausage rolls.

shepperton camera test

10 Words Never Used By The Queen

Yesterday was Her Majesty The Queen’s 103rd birthday.

“The Queen of what?” you ask.

“Why, the QUEEN!” I answer indignantly. “The QUEEN! The Queen of all of us! Queen Elizabeth II of the Rose and Crown and Elephant and Castle of the Garter of Tudor. The QUEEN!!”

“Oh, her,” scoffeth you, “She’s just like you and me. She’s just a human being.”

No, she ain’t.

I have heard Queen Elizabeth II speak. Or give speeches, at least – which is very similar to speaking. I even have seen the Royal Her in the flesh once or twice. She came down to the University of Kent at Canterbury when I was there, with her hubby in tow, and some of the rest of The Family (that guy with the ears, who was married to that blonde who died – he came) to open the university’s new vertebrate vivisection wing.

It rained that day. I’d like to think it was the Queen’s divine juju power that brought the rain. Or did it snow? Actually, now that I think about it … yeah … it snowed. Either one, I’m sure the Queen was responsible.

But, yes, I’ve heard The Queen speak. I’ve seen her speak her Christmas address. And The Queen speaks good. Not like an American, no. No, she speaks like someone from another country. THAT is how good of a speaker she is.

I think one of the things that makes The Queen such a good speaker and speeches-maker is her choice of words to use when speaking them. To prove this, I did some research. I just adore facts and figures. I arrived at some startling results, which I will share here with you, the world (although soon I hope to publish in one of the academiac journals!!).

For your study:

10 Words The Queen Has NEVER Used

  1. Femidom
  2. Goyim
  3. Klingon
  4. Pentium
  5. Lobot
  6. Nucular
  7. Pizzazz
  8. Shit-hole
  9. Spliff
  10. Triceratops

And that’s what separates Her Majesty from the rest of us.

Archers Manifesto

Emeric Pressburger
Emeric Pressburger wrote a letter to persuade Deborah Kerr to appear in “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943). Thank God, he succeeded. In the letter he laid out a “manifesto” for The Archers, the name he and Michael Powell gave to their long collaboration.

“The Archers Manifesto”

– One, we owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.

– Two, every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else’s. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.

– Three, when we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.

– Four, no artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.

– Five, at any time, and particularly at the present, the self respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on. They will fight or intrigue to work on a subject they feel is urgent or contemporary, and fight equally hard to avoid working on a trivial or pointless subject. And we agree with them and want the best workmen with us; and get them. These are the main things we believe in. They have brought us an unbroken record of success and a unique position. Without the one, of course, we should not enjoy the other very long. We are under no illusions. We know we are surrounded by hungry sharks. But you have no idea what fun it is surf-bathing, if you have only paddled, with a nurse holding on to the back of your rompers.

We hope you will come on in, the water’s fine.

Check out the Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger fan and scholarship site, which features this manifesto as well as a wealth of info and links re The Archers and their films.