Category Archives: Writing

“Remain Indoors” — Mitchell and Webb Saw It Coming

From the British Emergency Broadcasting System’s highest-rated (and only remaining) show, here’s “The Quiz Broadcast”.

Remain Indoors

Remain Indoors

Way back in 2008 – 2009, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, of the BAFTA-winning British comedy team called, uh, Mitchell and Webb, saw the dark clouds on the horizon. To prepare their TV audience for the worst, they began to run these short segments from the post-apocalyptic “The Quiz Broadcast” on their weekly show.

Now the Quiz Broadcast has become unexpectedly relevant again, ever since The Event made it  critical for many of us to

Remain Indoors


More David Mitchell

You may have seen David Mitchell on panel shows like Would I Lie to You? where he plays a posh urban sophisticate opposite Lee Mack’s Northern lout. I’ll post some clips when I get around to it.

He’s also currently starring as William Shakespeare in Upstart Crow, the cheerful and hilarious debunking of Shakespeare’s life and works by Ben Elton, who gave the world the infamous saga of the Blackadder dynasty. Here’s a look at the real Shakespeare:

The Last of the Chelsea Hotel


Just got my copy of Colin Miller and Ray Mock’s book, Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven, about the few remaining residents of the legendary hotel.

Legendary? Well, for starters, the Chelsea is the hotel where Sid Vicious (maybe) murdered Nancy Spungen, and where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. Mark Twain stayed there, and so did several survivors of the Titanic. Former residents include Bob Dylan and Madonna, Jackson Pollock and Bette Midler.

And Stanley Kubrick, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsberg, and Patti Smith. And Jim Morrison. And Andy Warhol, but of course you probably already assumed that.

Oh, and the Chelsea is where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jack Kerouac typed On the Road.

In 2011, the Chelsea was sold to a real estate developer who closed the hotel “for renovations”.  Residents protected by rent regulations were allowed to stay, but no new tenants were accepted. The disruption and health hazards caused by renovation construction were widely perceived as an attempt by the new owners to drive the protected residents from the building.

The attempt was largely successful. Nine years later, the “renovations” are still ongoing, and only a few of the old residents are still living in the building. And not just living, but living well, which is the best revenge.

Here are some of their homes. (All photos found online.)


Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel

Leonard Cohen had a brief, very 60ish thing with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea, and wrote two songs about it. Here’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. (Mildly NSFW lyrics.)


Chelsea Girls and Lads All Must
As Chimney-Sweepers, Come to Dust

After Nico left the Velvet Underground, she released a solo album called Chelsea Girl which included a song about some of the speed freaks, debutantes, hustlers, drag queens, and heiresses who made up Andy Warhol’s assemblage of Superstars and who lived, sometimes, at the Chelsea Hotel. Here’s an audio-only recording of “Chelsea Girls”

High Fidelity — The Remix

My earlier post about High Fidelity (the book) was by way of leading up to this posting about High Fidelity (the TV series). But before we get to that, have a look at the trailer for High Fidelity (the movie).

High Fidelity (the movie) was released back in 2000. It’s a pretty good film. The setting was switched from London to Chicago, but the script otherwise stays close to the novel, breaking the fourth wall to incorporate direct quotations from Rob’s internal musings. That great “What came first, the music or the misery?” passage made it into the movie intact, for instance.

Now Hulu is bringing High Fidelity to what used to be called “the small screen”. (With today’s wall-size monitors, that name no longer seems appropriate). The gimmick this time is that the 10-episode series flips the sex and race of most of the characters from the original novel. Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack in the movie, is now played by Zoë Kravitz.

Should be fun, and it’s bound to have a great soundtrack.

The series begins on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2020. While you’re waiting, read the book!

High Fidelity — The Book

“The term ‘paradigm shift’ has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought pattern—a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing.”

I haven’t heard the phrase “paradigm shift” in ages. Has it fallen out of use, or am I just hanging out with the wrong people? Or…wait a minute!…has the paradigm shifted again while I was so distracted by my addiction to watching “Sovereign Citizen” videos on YouTube that I just didn’t notice?

Anyhow. There are some books that, if read at just the right time of your life, will shift your personal paradigm all the hell all over the place. If you’re a sensitive young white male, reading The Catcher in the Rye in your early teens will change you forever.  Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a few years later will open your mind to possibilities you’d never imagined.

For me, High Fidelity is one of those life-changing books. You probably have to be over 30 to fully appreciate Nick Hornby’s hilarious male confessional novel about loss, fear of commitment, and the obsessive creation of “top-five” music lists.

Spoiler-free, abbreviated plot summary: Rob Fleming, 30-something owner of a failing record shop, has just broken up with his most recent girlfriend. (Her choice, and a totally justified one.) He decides to track down five former girlfriends in an attempt to find what went wrong with each of the relationships. Meanwhile, music, and the unhappiness that it creates in the people who love it. Here’s the key passage from the book:

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”


Selected Passages

It’s tempting to just cut and paste the entire text of High Fidelity, but this small sample should be enough to let you know whether the book is something that speaks to you.

“Is it wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things I should have studied at school, including music.”


“Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang or something – not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.’”


“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits, and the exit sign.”


“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here – mostly young men – who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased – underlined – Frank Zappa albums. Fetish properties are not unlike porn. I’d feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn’t… well… kinda one of them.”

Added to My “Someday” List: A Stay at L’Hôtel in Paris

Oscar Wilde’s last words, as he lay dying in a shabby Parisian hotel, were “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”  At least that’s the official story, and who would want to question it.

Oscar Wilde has been dead since 1900, but the hotel, known simply as L’Hôtel, still exists. Wilde wouldn’t recognize it, though. It has been massively upgraded and enhanced, and now rates five stars and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant (currently closed for renovation).

The wallpaper has been replaced, too.

The Oscar Wilde Suite

The Oscar Wilde Suite

If you’re in Paris in mid-April—which means you’re already living a charmed life—you can spend a night in the 35 sqm (377 sqft) Oscar Wilde Suite, for as little as €766 ($848). I can’t embed the hotel’s video tour of the suite, but you can watch it here.


Exploring L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

Reception

Reception

Chic Room

Chic Room

Mignon Room

Mignon Room

Grand Room

Grand Room

Le Restaurant

Le Restaurant

Le Bar

Le Bar


All images from L’Hôtel.

His Dark Materials Arrives Tonight on HBO

The new adaptation of Philip Pullman’s bestselling fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, a collaborative project by the BBC and HBO, premiered in the UK last night, to rapturous reviews and the highest ratings for a new drama on British TV in five years. The Independent called it “A beautiful, brooding vision of Philip Pullman’s universe that is unafraid to air the book’s anti-theocratic messages.” (★★★★★). The Telegraph said it was “…a gorgeously-realised version of Philip Pullman’s novels.” (★★★★). And The Guardian hailed it as “a riveting realisation of Philip Pullman’s magic.” (★★★★★).

American critics have been somewhat less impressed, but the Tomatometer is still 82% “certified fresh”.

His Dark Materials is set, at least at the beginning, in a world that is not quite ours. There’s an Oxford University, but the Magisterium (a thinly disguised Catholic Church) dominates society. Technology is at about the same level as it was during our Victorian Age. And then there are the dæmons….

The eight-episode series will run from 4 November 2019 through 22 December 2019, and has already been renewed for a second season. That suggests the show will take its time covering Pullman’s three-volume epic, and may well extend the scope of the story.

Fourteen-year-old Dafne Keen plays the key role of “Lyra Belacqua”, with Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in prominent roles.

Worth checking out.

Audio Version of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, Available from BBC Radio 4 for a Limited Time Only

For the past few weeks, BBC Radio 4 has been running a full-cast reading of an abridged version of The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The project is now complete, and, if you move fast, you can listen to all 15 episodes.

Each episode is only available for 30 days after its original broadcast. That means that the opening episode, first run on 16 September 2019, will be unavailable after 15 October 2019. Since each episode is only 14 minutes long, though, binging shouldn’t be a problem.

The Testaments is set fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. The monstrous Republic of Gilead still exists, but seems to be crumbling from within. Aunt Lydia, however…

Well, just listen to the program. You can start here

Knives Out — First Trailers

I think I must share a common sensibility with Rian Johnson, the writer/director of the upcoming movie Knives Out, because the film so perfectly matches my idea of what a purely entertaining movie should be. It’s a murder mystery set in a posh but isolated location, peopled by diverse and glamourous characters who are all hiding secrets.

The plot to my dream movie should be reminiscent of an M. C. Escher print. One big switch isn’t enough—there should be switches-on-switches.  And switches-on-switches-on-switches.

And the location matters. A snowbound English country house is an ideal setting, but a snowbound train works as well. Even a luxurious boat will do if it’s in a suitably exotic part of the world, just as long as there’s a room large enough to assemble all the suspects and expose the killer(s) in the closing moments of the film.

Let’s think. Who’s famous for that sort of thing? (Hint: Her initials are “A. C.”, and she’s not Al Capone.)

Knives Out has Agatha Christie’s bloody fingerprints are all over it, and Rian Johnson happily acknowledges his debt to the best-selling fiction writer of all time, with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare and the authors of the New Testament. Johnson has improved on his inspiration by adding a dash of wit to the mix; Christie’s works are conspicuously devoid of humour.

He’s also assembled the kind of All-Star cast that brings in an audience for those remakes of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile that earn nice profits every decade or so, even though everyone in that audience found out whodunit years ago.

And what a cast it is! The film has Chris Evans,  Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette(!), Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer. Best of all, there’s James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, playing a detective with the intriguing surname of “Blanc”.  I can only hope he introduces himself as “Blanc. Benoit Blanc.” For reasons yet to be explained, Craig plays the part with a Southern accent.

Here’s the latest trailer for Knives Out:

And here’s the original one:


http://www.mynewplaidpants.com/2019/09/so-sharp-these-knives.html

Knives Out opens on 27 November 2019, the night before (US) Thanksgiving Day. Can’t wait for this one.


Professor Plum, in the Library, with the Candlestick

Toni Collette

Toni Collette

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis

Visiting F. Scott and Zelda

Tuesday, the 24th of September, was the 123rd anniversary of the birth of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and as I do every few years, I took Metro up to Rockville, MD, to visit his grave. He and Zelda are buried in the little cemetery next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

I’m sure Fitzgerald would have made short work of those plastic flowers, but he’d probably have enjoyed the bottle of Hendrick’s Gin that had been left by an earlier visitor.

I thought back to the time, years ago, when two more-than-just-friends and I made a highly chemically enhanced 2 AM visit to the Fitzgeralds’ grave. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

“Boats against the current….”

I didn’t stay long this time. I sat on the grass for a while, read the last few pages of Gatsby, and headed back to the city.