Friday, 28 December 2012

A Star is Born

This time of year can be strange. Poised between the aftermaths of Christmas and looming New Year, it marks a nebulous passage of time that disturbs daily routines and structures, creating an environment where one loses sight of many things, including day of the week. It’s also a time when your middle-aged neighbour, having secured a week off work and sent the wife and kids packing to the in-laws, can play his old Led Zeppelin records at full volume, transporting him back to an era when he was blessed with a full head of hair and could still see his toes when standing up.
It’s this sonic connection to music of your past that almost seems to have therapeutic qualities, reminding us of, for example, listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dreams in your bedroom and your parents worrying about what kind of unfamiliar subculture their kid may be involved with, or ditching school and going to a friend’s house to play Cypress Hill’s Temples of Boom while engaging in activities justifying your parents’ worries in the first place. In that sense, music is a great sensory connector, the melodies and sounds carrying us back to a time and place that may be gone, but certainly isn’t forgotten.

Simply Red’s masterpiece album, Stars, is a record that means a great deal in Britain. Released in 1991, the album was a best seller for two years straight and remains the thirteenth highest selling record in British history. Even more than a generation after its release, many cite Stars as one of the greatest albums of all time, perhaps even the greatest album ever recorded. It’s that good.
Mick Hucknall, lead singer and man behind Simply Red, took the band to new heights with Stars, creating an album of distinct personality and marvellous compositions. Produced by an American called Stewart Levine, Stars was a stellar success, a critical and commercial achievement that remains proudly British. Unlike the mixed attitudes British pop albums like Adele’s 21 or Mumford and Sons’ Babel received in the aftermath of their successes, Stars has always been reflected upon more favourably, a triumph that deserved its glory. It played well with both casual music listeners and with those that treat music like a religion. It was an album that once again showcased why Manchester, England is a powerhouse of great music artistry and continues to generate bands that create life changing songs. Whether it is the Stone Roses, Smiths, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Dirty North, Doves, New Order, Oasis or Simply Red, Manchester is the rhythmical beating heart of British music.
Stars was never quite the phenomena in America that it was in Britain, primarily because the music landscape over there during this time was populated by angry white guys with guitars and a grunge culture that didn’t want to be associated with pop harmonies or melodies instilling feelings of splendour and beauty.
In Britain, Stars remains timeless. There is not one bad song on the album and some tracks are endlessly repeatable. Stars is a sonic reminder of begging your big sister to give you a ride somewhere and her insisting on playing it in the car, or a memento to how almost every place you visited at the time would use this album as its official soundtrack. It’s an album for everybody yet remains deeply personal. In short: it is simply spectacular.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Suburban Linings Scrapbook

Suburban America is a cinematic wonderland, where interchangeable houses on any random street can accommodate affable extraterrestrial life, poltergeist activity, multiplying gremlins, or some thirteen-year-old kid facing the bittersweet consequences of making a wish to become big.
But suburban America is also a refuge for white guys of a certain age that are on the verge of hitting rock bottom. It provides the backdrop for a familiar setting in which blokes that are not quite old enough to get it together, but certainly old enough to know better, return to their family abode in a bid to reflect on life, only to find salvage through the attentions of a girl that lives a few blocks away who will forever turn their days around for better, or at least help them realise they’re still worth it. Said girl will be in equal parts kooky and kittenish, but essentially, she will be way younger than said gentleman. This is a major wish-fulfilment fantasy for numerous American storytellers and remains a staple fixture of US cinema. To understand why such trends exist requires an individual to be American, Caucasian and possessive of determinant XY chromosomes. For everyone else, read on.
Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper suffers a terrible mental breakdown after he catches his wife showering with some bald co-worker while listening to a sacred song that was played on their wedding day, spurring the protagonist to beat his wife’s lover to near death and get committed to a mental institution. Cooper is prematurely released into the custody of his elderly parents, where he fights off the unwelcome attentions of a smoking hot girl next door in the form of Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper’s character is in his late thirties, but remains irresistible to 22-year-old Lawrence who can appealingly recall football scores and historic sports results at the drop of a hat. Pure make believe.

Garden State
Some failed actor that looks a lot like Zach Braff returns to his suburban home town in New Jersey upon the death of his mother. While killing time in a place he resents, Braff books an emergency appointment to top up on his lithium, mood stabilisers and antidepressants (he’s complex). In the surgery waiting room he encounters a much younger Natalie Portman, who is also waiting for prescribed pharmaceutical candy and is a self-proclaimed pathological liar (she too is complex). The two embark upon a weekend love affair at the end of which Portman rushes to the airport and begs Braff to stay with her youthful self. Braff opts not to return LA to continue his pointless acting career and devotes himself to loving Nat fulltime. Totes emosh.

Beautiful Girls
Crikey, Portman is at it again, only this time in jailbait form to Timothy Hutton’s well past his best thirtysomething struggling pianist, who returns home to attend a high school reunion while also deliberating if he should commit to his girlfriend back in New York. Portman’s rendering of a 13-year-old girl next door going on 37 is worryingly convincing, though her neighbourhood Lolita act is the most affecting performance in the movie. She is the incarnation of suburban white girl redemption, but that age factor leaves much to be desired. Unwholesome.

Jason Bateman, despite having lucked out by being wedded to a Jennifer Garner-type, finds solace in the force of nature that is high school surrogate mother to be, Juno. Unlike his onscreen wife, enfant terrible Juno cites 1977 punk rock to be the most important era for music and totally gets Bateman in a way suburban white women of his own age don’t. It doesn’t quite romantically work out, but Juno teaches Bateman that he’s better off alone than being stuck with some prissy wench that doesn’t share his taste in music. Emancipating.

American Beauty
Kevin Spacey’s lusting for his daughter’s popular best friend, played by Mena Suvari, manages to get him out of his existential rut as well as (spoiler) getting him killed. Middle-aged guys hankering after underage suburban white chicks has never gone well, but in this film such activities help characters realise they are either beautiful, gay, psychotic, depressed, beyond hope or straight-up weird, often all at once. Vintage stuff.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Little Green Cars’ “The John Wayne”

The aim was to lay off doing any music video blogs this month and try and get back to filmic roots, however, after a post about pornography attracted the attention of Russian spammers, who riddled comments with invitations to watch teen sex, a change of strategy is required.
And what better way to kick things off than with Little Green Cars fabulous new song The John Wayne, which is tearing up UK radio stations like a hurricane. This Irish group of country-rock teenagers are one of the most exciting things to have happened in the British Isles since Bombay Bicycle Club released their debut track.

The major attraction with Little Green Cars is that they are on a precipice, either destined to be huge everywhere or a music footnote for 2012. The reason for this is because they’re being talked about in all the cool newspapers and hyped by presenters like Jo Whiley. They’ve got a record deal with Island in the UK and just signed with Glassnote in the US, which means they have the backing of the same people that made Mumford & Sons a household name. Due to the fact that Little Green Cars are lacking a discernible image at the moment, which is something that will need some work if they’re to conquer America, it’s hard to tell exactly where their careers will go.
Little Green Cars lack the charisma to really make the best use of music videos, but that’s something that can be developed. The current use of cheap digital cameras and a setting that looks like it took place in Ferris Bueller’s friend’s house may to do the trick in the short term, but MTV will demand something more expensive next time. At the moment they look like those kids at school that push television sets around to different classrooms, but a freelance stylist will soon put an end to that and give them haircuts to die for. In truth, if the buzz is to be believed, this is the purest version of Little Green Cars we’re likely to see, that is before fame problems and second album difficulties materialise.
Big things await these guys.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Support Your Local Pornographer

This post may get dirty, so discretion is advised.
Pornography is lucrative as any prominent entertainment sector out there. It generates huge profits and employs countless people. Los Angeles, which is the hub of professional pornographic filmmaking, is worth $1 billion (£628 million) to the American economy every year and employs 10,000 people, producing 8% of the all adult films released each year.
The powerhouse that is the LA porn industry outmatches the UK’s entire adult entertainment revenue. The most remarkable differences between American and British pornography industries is that despite the UK having more liberal sensibilities to fornication, hardcore sex videos were banned here until only 12 years ago, which is more than 30 years after America first legalised the sale of non-simulated material.
While the entire American pornography industry can accumulate estimated revenues between $2 billion to $13 billion (£1.2 to £8.2 billion) annually, its fortunes are increasingly under attack from political adversaries, shrinking home entertainment markets, amateur digital competitors and global piracy. The current business model for LA based pornography is increasingly outdated and unsustainable.
Whereas British pornography is defined by its low-level smuttiness, often comprising of pseudo-gonzo scenarios consisting of, for example, unsightly middle-aged men coaxing dour supermarket checkout girls into staged ménage à trios, American pornography prides itself on decent production values and the employment of celebrity porn stars, all of which comes at a cost . A good porn agent will broker up to $2,000 (£1,256) for a sex scene, charging more if his client is required to apply her own makeup before filming and drive herself to set. The typical budget for a professional American hardcore pornography movie is between $50,000 to $300,000 per shoot (£31,000 to £189,000), employing ten to forty people on each production. When we consider that the equivalent international production costs significantly less, and is cheaply distributed, it’s easy to see how badly impacted the American pornography industry is. In fact, things are so bad that according to top porn agent, Mark Spiegler, a female porn star’s yearly average earnings have gone from $100,000 to $50,000 (£63,000 down to £31,000) within the space of a decade. (For educational purposes, Spiegler kindly provided Hollywood Reporter with a breakdown of the current payment scale for an in-demand porn actress, who is paid about $800 for a girl-girl scene, $1,000 for a guy-girl scene, $1,200 or more for anal sex and $4,000 or more for double penetration. For the UK porn pay scale, adjust currency to pound sterling and deflate all fees by 50 %―we come cheap.)
The priggish American Establishment has its talons out, tearing away at an already compromised industry. Last month, 55% of countrywide voters passed a law called ‘Measure B’ that will introduce costly new health permits for all porn films shot within Los Angeles County. The way Measure B is written means that pornography sets will be considered clinical environments, essentially requiring the utilisation of gloves, masks and condoms during sex performances. The eroticisation sought will ultimately be bargained, thus ruining all perceptions of verisimilitude for the viewer. As California and New Hampshire are the only states where pornography shoots are legal, the wiggle room for adult entertainment studios will be severely curtailed.
The quagmire of bureaucracy faced by the Californian porn business will be massively complicated because of these new measures. LA can hardly do with any more of its film industries leaving for new pastures, which the state fears will happen.  The new legal requirements mean producers will have to obtain permits from the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, in addition to the filming permits already required by FilmL.A. According to preliminary estimates, the county expects the entire program will cost about $300,000 (£189,000) annually. Porn producers will have to foot that bill entirely. The price will be based upon the number of people who purchase these permits, the fewer production companies that get the permit, the higher the cost will be. This means that if fifty permits are issued, the cost per permit would be roughly $11,658 (£7,326).
Pornography is as much of an American institution as apple pie manufacturing, but these new laws will seriously ruin its standing as the world’s biggest adult film industry. Like it or not, it’s an industry that contributes significantly to the American economy and is as essential to the Californian entertainment sector as either Hollywood or Silicon Valley.

But pornography has a chequered image. It flies in the face of feminism and good values, exploiting women for the entertainment of men. (Gay pornography is also a part of the American adult entertainment industry, but its profile is nowhere near as mainstream or profitable.) Just because an industry proves lucrative, that doesn’t mean it should be given free reign, right? After all, all developed societies have placed massive restrictions on the sale of harmful materials like alcohol and tobacco, and those industries survive. With the rampant proliferation of sexual content filtering its way into numerous mediums (from Fifty Shades to Christina Aguilera music videos), government has a duty to make the production and acquisition of pornography hard as possible.
As liberal and progressive the UK appears to be when it comes to sex, it is perhaps the only country in Europe that has more stringent measures in place to restrict the availability of pornography. Unlike in America, where one can easily purchase hardcore videos from some mainstream emporiums (I’ve seen it); Britain restricts sales exclusively to licensed sex shops.  Whereas hardcore pornography can be accessed through reputable hotel chains in the US (I’ve seen it), such material is unlawful to broadcast even on subscriber based UK adult entertainment channels.  In addition, the UK is still the only Member State of the European Union that prohibits private imports of adult pornography by consumers coming from other Member States. Recently, agents of Her Majesty Revenue & Customs seized 96,783 items of pornographic media carried by people travelling into the UK, proving that sex doesn’t sell in every territory.
One realises that this is an extremely prudish and academic account of the pornography trade, but it’s a distillation of what that industry is: a profit-driven business. The best thing about legalising hardcore pornography is that respective countries can monitor and tax it accordingly, but the greater issues concern pornography’s more ethereal possibilities, where videos can be shot, pirated, uploaded and accessed with great ease, ultimately bypassing stringent laws and ending up in places where it shouldn’t.
Governments can make the production processes of porn as complex as they want, but they may be wielding a sledgehammer when what’s required is a scalpel. By identifying sex education deficits in school teaching methods and carnal misperceptions between males and females (primarily in the former), maybe society will be better placed to tackle the grander challenges posed by pornography. The issue isn’t with the availability of pornography as much as it is with the lack of understanding about the subject matter.
In fact, the best antidote is to simply read this post because it manages to make pornography sound utterly unexciting and operational at once. Not an easy thing to pull off.