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Showing posts from 2018

JUST START THAT BRAND NEW STORY [142]

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[N.B. This article appears at both Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers and His & Hers Movie Reviews.] After five and a half years, this is my one hundred and seventy-fourth and final article for His & Hers Movie Reviews . Thank you to Richee & Layla for inviting me to write for them back in 2013, for all their support since, and for never wanting a single word or subject in advance. I also thank you all for being along for the ride, as even I often didn’t know what I’d be writing about next. I will continue to publish new articles, on a variety of subjects, every Sunday at the home of “nostalgia culture crisis since 2016,” Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers , where updated versions will also appear of articles from “The Leigh Spence Moment,” and “L.J. Spence’s Starting Points.” There comes a time when you want to put theory into practice. For me, that was when you can treat writing an essay like it’s a creative writing exercise, and when

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT TILL IT’S GONE [141]

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It has only been a few months since my visit to the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre in London [ link ], but things have moved on a bit in that time. In fact, they have become terminal: in October 2018, Historic England announced they had rejected the application to list the centre as a protected structure, and the final approval to demolish the centre was given by the Greater London Authority on Monday 10 th December. So, that appears to be the end of that then. Historic England made it pretty clear: "although the shopping centre originally had architectural interest due to the quality of its design, this has been eroded by a series of incremental changes over the years so that it does not resemble its original appearance... the shopping centre was one of the first two, and is now the earliest surviving building of this type in England, but it has been greatly changed from its original layout and appearance". I am not sure what to make of this – you could p

IT’S AUTOMATIC, IT’S SYSTEMATIC, IT’S HYDROMATIC [140]

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So many ways have been used to get music, TV and films into the home over the years, but there is a reason I am going to talk about Sony’s U-Matic here, apart from it being the world’s first video cassette: it is the nexus point of all that has been, and all that remains, in the last fifty years of audio-visual formats, and that isn’t hyperbole either. U-Matic, named after how the tape was threaded around a large chrome cylinder that contained the record and playback heads, was first shown off as a prototype in October 1969, and went on sale to the public in 1971, beating Philips’ VCR (Video Cassette Recording, also known as N1500) and Avco’s Cartrivision by a year. Home video recorders were already on sale for nearly ten years by then, but these were open-reel devices, not unlike reel-to-reel audio recorders – U-Matic simply encased the tape in an anti-static cassette, making it easier to handle. Like the EIAJ standard agreed among open-reel machine manufacturers, Sony also per

YOU MAY BE HOMELY IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD [139]

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[1978] Seeing pictures, taken in the 1970s, of the Hollywood sign in a state of dereliction and disrepair, are confusing and disconcerting. Seeing pictures of the building of Tower Bridge, or the Eiffel Tower, bring up similar feelings: haven’t they always been there, and why was there a time when they didn’t exist? All three structures define, influence and symbolise the ideals of the areas around them, which brings me back to the Hollywood sign: what is it about Hollywood that left it to fall apart? Pretty much everyone knows the sign was originally built in 1923 to read as “Hollywoodland,” to advertise the new (whites-only) neighbourhood built further down Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area: the houses imitate the design of Mediterranean villas, particularly from France, Spain and Italy. The builders of the estate, among which included the founder of West Hollywood, and the owner of the “Los Angeles Times,” owned the land on which the sign stood, but signed it and the

MY FEET HAVE COME LOOSE FROM THEIR MOORINGS [138]

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Words, don’t fail me now. My intention here is to confirm that poststructuralism doesn’t mean you can say what you like. That is an easy thing to type. To say I have spent hours trying to work out how to describe “poststructuralism” really does not describe how exasperating the whole experience has been. It really should be so easy, but trying to condense an entire school of thought into a small space risks missing the point of it entirely. Expect only bullet points here, but enough to suggest further reading. The easiest analogy that has come to mind is “fake news.” This phrase feeds into the so-called “postmodern” landscape of truth and facts not counting for anything anymore, or at least that is how I have seen “postmodern” used in this loose way: are talking about everything that reacted to modernism, good or bad, from philosophy to art, or is it just the bits that relate to your hatred of a particular term? From there, is “fake news” meant to mean, “news that is de

WORDS ARE WORKING HARD FOR YOU [137]

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With almost no exception, these articles use song lyrics for a title. There are three reasons for this: it provides a moment of recognition before I plough into dry subject matter; it fulfils the need for a title; and it may come up online when someone is searching online for those very lyrics. The first reason relies on the lyrics remaining in their original context, while the second requires them to stand on its own, and the last simply needs those particular words to be in that particular order. This time, the lyrics created the article. Tom Tom Club is a new wave band, formed by husband and wife Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, also members of Talking Heads. Their first self-titled album, released in 1981, led to two very different single releases: “Genius of Love,” more like of a traditional love song, while serving as a tribute to singers like Smokey Robinson, Bob Marley and James Brown; and “Wordy Rappinghood,” a torrent of words and ideas more along the lines of early rap

IF YOU DON’T ANSWER, I’LL JUST RING IT OFF THE WALL [136]

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There appears not to have been a time before the mobile phone or, if there was, it exists in an alternative reality, one where Biff Tannen did not turn the Hill Valley courthouse into a casino. More seriously, the mobile phone has changed how we live, changed our habits, and changed our infrastructure. Like with the World Wide Web, I will be one of the last, at age thirty-five, to remember a time without them. I had to remind myself of how I used to keep in touch – I actually remember once having to wait until somebody finished using a payphone before I could make my own call, using my pre-paid BT Phonecard. That all changed in 2000 when, ahead of my seventeenth birthday, I bought my first mobile phone, just as they started becoming affordable to everyone. By that year, just over half of UK adults had one. I’m not sure why I bought the phone I did, but I guess I recognised the name “Philips” more than “Nokia,” who made the phones everyone else had at the time. The Philips Sav

GET READY FOR THE SQUARE DANCE [135]

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Watching YouTube involves a lot of understanding. You understand that the people creating the videos are most often people at home, who have turned a passion into a paying job. You understand that, to earn a living from their passion, they need to advertise, seek sponsorship, and offer subscriptions for more content. You understand the advertisements you see are what pays for your ability to watch the videos, and what contributes to the creators’ income. You understand that Google, YouTube’s owner, will take the information generated by your having watched the videos to target you with the ads that will attract your interest the most, to ensure you continue watching. However, what I don’t understand is why YouTube is bombarding me with ads for only one company. In one evening, across six videos, five of them started with different ads for the same website, two were interrupted with another ad for that website, and when one of these videos joked that they were going to be interru

YOU TAKE YOUR TIME AND TAKE MY MONEY [134]

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It took me until October 2016 to subscribe to Netflix, but it didn’t take long from then for me to discover my problem with it. I had never seen before the 1978 version of the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and a very early appearance from Jeff Goldblum, and I knew I would want to watch it again... until Netflix removed it, possibly after their rights to it expired. The same was also true of “Psycho II” a film far better than that title suggests, and one that disappeared before I could get to it. In the end, I did the obvious thing – I bought both films on Blu-Ray, so I can watch them whenever I want. From the same publisher, I now also have a copy of the 1980 Italian horror film “Incubo cilla citt à contaminata” (English title: Nightmare City), something Netflix was never likely to have. In fact, when I came across the interesting science fiction film “Cherry 2000” on Netflix, I made sure I had my own copy in case it also went

JUST FOR THE TASTE OF IT [133]

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Every so often, I will look in a shop that purports to sell American candy and drinks, or look online, to see if they have cans of Tab, the original Diet Coke, for sale. It has been over two years since I last tasted Tab, and over two years since the shop I bought it from had closed. A seller on Amazon is apparently selling two cases of twelve cans, imported to the UK, for nearly £60 – this is approaching wine prices, but unless I can find something for less, it may be my last resort. Is it the taste, or the thrill of the chase, that keeps me looking? It’s not just me – even in its country of origin, people are getting desperate. Stories have been running about the largest independent distributor of Coca-Cola drinks in the US, covering fourteen states, deciding to discontinue Tab. With what remains on store shelves, supplies are drying up, and the search for its delightfully bitter aftertaste – a result of sweetening with saccharine, instead of the smoother taste of aspartame

AND BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE TO FLY [132]

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...aaand time’s up. At noon today (Monday 22 nd October), the UK Government’s consultation on reform to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act ended – it was meant to end at 11pm the previous Friday, but a last-minute minute flurry of responses crashed the online portal – it had been open since 3 rd July. I answered its questions two weeks ago, later than I really should have, but with the discourse, or argument, over transgender rights having become what they have over the last year in the UK, I would be doing a disservice to myself not to say something. The proposed reform to the Act will update the process by which transgender people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, so their correct gender can be recognised in law. I don’t have any irons in that part of the fire anymore – in fact, this week will mark one year since I received my certificate. The first thing I did with it was to update work, then obtain an updated birth certificate – the system for this is run, oddly

AND PLAIN TO SEE THE FACTS ARE CHANGING [131]

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Memories are short. Instant access to information via the World Wide Web has only been available to the general public since August 1991, with mobile and broadband internet only becoming commonplace in the last fifteen years. However, if you had the right television, instant recall of news, sport and financial updates, TV and radio listings and even recipes, was possible as early as 1974, before the first home computers appeared. Look down at your remote control, and the remnants of Teletext will stare back, marking where the information superhighway begins. The world’s first teletext service was the BBC’s CEEFAX (“See Facts”), launched in 1974, following two years of testing technology developed by Philips, which had already launched the first consumer video recorders by then, and were readying what would become the LaserDisc and Compact Disc. The BBC had already been experimenting with “BEEBFAX” in the late 1960s, using TV transmitters to broadcast a page of information overni

EVERY DAY I WRITE THE BOOK [130]

Monday Is there any point to keeping a diary? You know what you did, and how you feel – is it for reference, or to confront yourself, or as a writing exercise? The last of these was my reason for having first begun a diary fifteen years ago, but also why it has petered out – I have other outlets for that sort of thing, outlets more than one person can see. I could do with a way to collate all those disparate thoughts you have during the week, those ideas that felt like a good idea at the timer, but they let you go before you remember to write them down. Tuesday So how did Ceefax work anyway? And why did my mind make me think of this? And why am I now entertaining this as a subject for a future article, instead of looking it up? Teletext is still a recent history for most – oh yeah, that’s why it’s a good idea. Wednesday Of course, today is when you actually started writing your diary, in the hope that, when you read through it as preparation for the inevitable autobiogra

I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME [129]

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“If you didn’t live in that time, you’re not allowed an opinion in my view.” “If you didn’t live in that time, you’re not allowed an opinion in my view.” “If you didn’t live in that time, you’re not allowed an opinion in my view.” This sentence has rattled through my head for the last week, because I have never heard anyone say something like this before. I also cannot think of a situation where you could get away with saying something like it. How do you respond to it? Am I allowed? When writing about why I don’t like chat shows [ link ], I came across an interview gave to the “Mail on Sunday” newspaper in 2016 [ link ], just as a book on his encounters with Muhammad Ali was published. Even if I wouldn’t have made a point of tuning in to “Parkinson” in the 1970s, if I had been around then, I probably would have if Ali, or Billy Connolly, or Peter Sellers, or Kenneth Williams was a guest – some people are worth hearing, even if they are mainly there to promote something