Monday, November 24, 2014

What I'm consuming these days

I started an MSc in October. The hours are long, but at least the work is hard. I'm not having as much time to make or read or watch as I'd like, but there've been a few books/films/shows that have stuck out, and are a good way of figuring out what I want to make.

1. I started Moby Dick in August and I'm only half-way through. I'm a speedy enough reader, but as I said, I have a shortage of time and nothing goddamn happens. There's stuff to like in it - the description of Queequeg comes from a fond if intensely racist place - but Ishmael keeps stopping to describe how much he likes the sea for an entire chapter, or list everything he knows about whales, and I don't care. Ahab is also contemptible. I think you're meant to view him as pathetic and twisted, consumed by revenge, and yet admirable in his pursuit of his dream, but I can't get past "pathetic". Also, hell of a victim complex, wanting to kill something for daring to hurt him in self-defense. Also: "Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low enjoying power." I went out with that person, and it was awful. (They loved Moby Dick. I got to that line and it became apparent why.) It reminds me a little of Philip Roth for its time - by a dude with a boring notion of integrity and masculinity, for dudes with a boring notion of integrity and masculinity. I'll finish it, but I don't expect to start enjoying it, which is a pity.

2. Lights Out. I watched this yesterday, and I'm enamoured. I love short horror. It doesn't bother with world-building or explanations, which can undo a good monster. It captures a very childish fear, and has the protagonist trying to behave maturely while clearly fighting those childish self-preservation instincts. This pushes a lot of the right buttons for me. When I switched off the light before I went to bed, I felt a flash of anticipatory terror, expecting cruel claws around my spine and Achilles' tendon. I think that's a good sign in two and a half minutes.

The ending undoes it a little, but that's the nature of short horror special effects.

3. I saw Welcome To Night Vale's live show The Librarian in The Olympia in October. The Sugar Club sold out in no time, apparently, but I think a theatre was the right venue for it. I have the same problem with Night Vale I have with anything once I catch up on marathoning it. I get immersed in a world, and once I get out I can't get into it the same way. When I started listening it made me laugh until my face hurt, and now I think it's still clever, but I'm a little inured. I also have mixed feelings on the fandom - I think it's quite wonderful how people have created canon imagery to go along with it, but I also find the fandom pretty annoying, and I'm not sure how I slot in with that, as a fan who's not in the fandom.

That said - oh wow does it work live. As a podcast, it's all about the writing. Weird things happen, and some of those weird things are very intelligent, but I love the wordplay, the imagery, the sense that they take real joy in it. There are some absolute gorgeous turns of phrases in there. It's carried by Cecil Baldwin's voice - Jesus, that voice - and it's rich and dark and knowing and innocent and edged with savagery, and just right. I wasn't sure how that would translate to the stage. The show was mostly Cecil in the middle of the stage with a script in his hand, and it was absolutely mesmerising. The podcast can't convey his presence, his magnetism. I'm interested in the way stories are told, and he told a story with his whole body. He could make your heart race and create the most wonderful terrible silence. I lack charisma or story-telling flair, so both are something I find compelling. I went in thinking he was a man with a wonderful voice, I left thinking him so attractive it makes me angry. I'm a sucker for a story-teller.

I've given a few public talks in the last year - I spoke at Electric Picnic, so I think I get to say now that I've performed at Electric Picnic - almost all pop-science. There's been a lot of figuring out what works on me and what doesn't. I can't do jokes with a build-up - I get a better laugh with off the cuff-remarks. I can play to my advantage the fact that I'm quite an awkward presence. People don't expect me to be funny, they expect me to plod through something I've clearly learned by heart, so a straight-faced one-liner, in the same tone (slightly over-eager, slightly apologetic for taking up the audience's time) works well against that. I shift around a lot, which I can exaggerate and have read as energy or enthusiasm, and my body language is quite deferent, which, again, complements comedy to which I can play oblivious. I can't stand on a stage and spell-bind people - I don't have the voice or presence - but I can wrong-foot a room full of people and make them laugh when I want them to, and that's not something I expected to be able to do.

4. I'm late to the game, but I'm digging Lana del Rey. Her voice drips with sorrow, and I really like love songs that are broken without romanticisation.

I have so many books to read and there are so many good films in the cinema! One day, I will create for myself a world where I have free time, and it will be awful.

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