The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

Graham Author Page

Saturday, April 29, 2006

His dark places and mine

A footnote in colleague Paul Gormley's new book says it's no coincidence that interest in Quentin Tarantino and James Ellroy peaked at the same point in the 1990s. This comment has made me more alert to the way Ellroy's fictional histories of Los Angeles, populated with a supporting cast real life local characters, sometimes permeate Hollywood-set movies these days. For instance, in Tobe Hooper's 're-imagining' of the Toolbox Murders, we know something bad is going to happen because a former resident of the crime scene was Elizabeth Short, the 'Black Dahlia'. (And because of the film title - doh!) Whether the forthcoming adaptation of Ellroy's novel will accelerate this trend remains to be seen.

As for the Hooper movie, it's far superior to the so-called original, in which - if I recall correctly - bare breasts were the main special effects and cheap scenes of torture were all that was on offer. It was about as scary as the latest Al Qaeda training video. In contrast to the 1970s slasher, the remake's under-rated Angela Bettis puts in a great performance, entertaining this insomniac with some disposable pop culture trash of the best sort. (Buy it here, UK readers.)

Talking of which, I also got to see Plato's Breaking Point at last, some five years after I worked as an extra on it. In fact I'd say it's also better than all but one of the films which have suffered from my anti-midas touch in the past. My scene, in which I sat in a greasy spoon while a crime gang discuss poor Plato (Joe Ferrara) going off the rails, was reshot with and without me in shot. In the finished film, the scene seems to have been reshot again on a bare Brechtian stage, or maybe this look is just a consequence of the extreme facial close-ups being deployed. Overall I think the film makers can be quite pleased with themselves, although the sound mix on the DVD is pretty poor at times. (Buy it here, UK readers, or click here for the trailer.)

Ever since my happy slap fiasco I've paid attention to the way search engine rankings can create a disproportionate amount of influence for the main sources they locate. My role in Plato's Breaking Point is an early example of this. The film has always been on my C.V. and, at some point, someone used this info to add me to the film's cast list on the Internet Movie Database. This (incomplete) listing is in alphabetical order, putting me somewhere near the top. When the DVD came in the post from a rental company, I'd been given third billing! A quick google shows it's not the only place in cyberspace where I have this starring role. Weird.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Search engine short cuts

Recently I was approached about going on BBC London to discuss Francis Gilbert's book, Yob Nation (buy it here). The basis for this invite was my blog commentary on the book, where I basically did a capsule review of Gilbert's earlier volume, I'm a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here. (Don't worry Francis, I'm getting round to your latest effort. Three hours out of my life I'll never back...)

I thought it strange that my blog entry, where I said explicitly that I hadn't read the book yet and therefore wouldn't be reviewing it at this point in time, was the basis for an invite to appear on the show. But I did notice that the email invitation called Gilbert's book 'Yob Culture' - an understandable error, given the reactionary niche the book now occupies.

A quick trip to a popular search engine might explain the impact of this error on selecting guests. Do a quick search for the exact phrases "Francis Gilbert" and "Yob Culture" and you get, at the time of writing, 85 hits. My blog entry is number 11, with some of the preceding ones coming from advertisers' listings. Do the same thing using the correct title for the book and there's 9650 hits, and I'm relegated to number 32. (A bit like on Top of the Pops...) Could the 'Google effect' be boosting my profile as an expert on anti-social behaviour once again?

The show itself is broadcast tonight, with Gilbert and Rod Liddle appearing. In the end BBC London decided against using me as a guest, presumably so that viewers would not think they had tuned into an episode of Grumpy Old Men by mistake.

Friday, April 21, 2006

No coincidence

From BBC News at 7.45am this morning:

Paedophile jailed for raping girl
Men 'worried to take up teaching'

In the first story, the jailing of a local lowlife in a grim criminal court case is elevated to national news. In the second story, "Fewer men in Northern Ireland are going into the teaching profession because they are worried they will be labelled as paedophiles, a union has said." Is there a connection here, by any chance?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Porn Again

Happy slapping has arrived in Denmark and the Danish daily Politiken wants to know why. This leads to a journalist phoning me, naturally enough, but I sometimes think it would make more sense to ask the perpetrators why they are doing it.

Meanwhile Channel Four is half way through its 'Dark Side of Porn' series of documentaries (suggesting there's a light side...). Cynics might say this has become the standard use of the post-11pm jacking off slot, a standard feature of Channel Four and Five here in the UK, to show sexually explicit material to people who don't want the paper trail of having ordered pay-per-view muck. (Haven't they heard of the internet?)

Here's the final entry for this week:
"THE SEARCH FOR ANIMAL FARM: 11.05pmThe last programme in The Dark Side of Porn investigates the story behind one of the most infamous films in porn history, and reveals how it came to be made. The film was smuggled into Britain 25 years ago and contained images of such sexual depravity it was never officially released. No one is quite sure where the film came from or how it was made. The Search for Animal Farm reveals the people who made the film, the impact it had on Britain's porn industry and the dark secret of the woman who became known as the queen of bestiality." (At the time of writing, summary appears here, under the heading 'Weekly TV Highlights for Creatives'. Nice.)

From time to time the series seems to fudge issues of consent* while making spectacularly stupid claims e.g. about how Emmanuelle sparked a feminist revolution in the 1970s (buy the DVD here if you must). A more sensible episode was called DOES SNUFF EXIST? [Official blurb: "The existence of snuff movies remains one of the most enduring of urban legends. The latest film in The Dark Side of Porn, Does Snuff Exist?, investigates the truth behind the lurid myth and examines the ways in which fake snuff movies are alleged to have influenced real-life crimes. Directors and producers discuss the lengths to which they went to shock audiences, creating horrifying effects by fusing footage of real accidents and executions with their own mocked-up scenes. More recently, technology has brought a new kind of snuff closer to home, with video, internet and mobile phones providing the ultimate weapons of terror with real images at the click of a button."]

Quite rightly, the film mocked the way the fictional violence in Cannibal Holocaust was treated as real by pro-censorship forces in the 1980s (buy the DVD here). The film sensibly defined a snuff movie as one in which a person was killed on camera specifically for commercial distribution. This answering the titular question 'no'. The show then went on to speculate whether new technologies, including mobile phones with happy-slap capabilities, meant that they could exist in future. Why not have your cake and eat it too, Channel Four?

*There's a thought-provoking discussion of sexual consent by Bernardo Alexander Attias in '"Police Free Gay Slaves": Consent, Sexuality, and the Law', Left History, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2004, pp. 55-83.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Losing all Respect

Back in the 1980s, through the highs and lows of the Thatcher regime, it was clear to many that the Socialist Workers Party would never make a revolution. Politics aside, they just didn't take security seriously. Before they could set up a workers' state, at the very least they would have to stop losing contact books/diaries/internal documents etc. every time they did a newspaper sale or went to NUS conference. Without professionalism, their (wrong-headed) politics wouldn't get practical results. (Admittedly, today 'security' is an issue that the pro-war left uses to criticise the SWP as cult-like, but its real absence meant I knew better than to give Tony Cliff's merry band my personal details, even at age 15.)

Cut forward to the present day and not much has changed. The Cliffites are now the majority faction in Respect, standing 51 candidates in the local elections where I live. Campaigning hard in an unfashionable area of London where the gentrification process is slow is no excuse for the usual sloppiness. Thrust into my hand on Saturday morning was a campaign leaflet and a canvassing rota. Thanks guys.

Good luck to Ahmed and Elias, Ismail and Fotik and Jackie and Shelim as they pound the streets in their assigned pairs. Not that I need to know these details, but I guess old habits die hard.

Running for Tower Hamlets council also means bashing its New Labour leader, Goldsmiths sociology professor Michael Keith. The comrades might want to think about whether this is the right rhetoric:

'Council leader Michael Keith is the Nutty Professor ... chair of the body which wants to cram 40000 more houses into the East End - as long as they're private and for outsiders. [Note the shades of the slogan 'Island homes for Island people' here - ed.] He is also holding down his day job as sociology professor .... send Michael Keith back to his classroom, his books and theories.' (Vote Respect 06, front page.)

Where does such philistinism leave (striking) Natfhe/AUT members, whose ranks include several SWP workmates of mine and SWP head honcho Alex Callinicos? Does the pressure elsewhere to sack lecturers with the wrong ideas mean that Keith will also be first against the wall? Or, less glibly, is it now Respect's line to keep academics out of local politics?

Congratulations to P and J on the birth on their son this weekend. Let's hope he takes after his mother ...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Moron Terror

A Geordie friend was in a south London tube station earlier today. Not content with gloating over Sunderland's AFC's relegation from the Premier League, he takes a snapshot of this football headline as it appeared on a screen in the station. Cue an intervention from a community support officer, enforcing anti-terrorism legislation by cracking down on photography in public places. Mockery follows and, like a weak school teacher getting in the headmaster to sort out a troublesome class, proper coppers are called over. They run a name and address check, get a date of birth to differentiate my mate from his namesakes, write up the incident and send him on his way. No word from al-Quaeda yet; no doubt they are still reeling from this latest setback.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Four sore points*

1) Horror movies that start with cornea transplants will not end well for the eyes in question. It's as if a sixth sense is telling me this when I'm watching, but still I watch.
2) Hardcore fans of Doctor Who, such as my daughter, sometimes debate where the Peter Cushing version of the Doctor fits in with the official canon, apparently. Having seen one of these movies recently, I'm convinced there is a better way for them to use their time.
3) Josie Appleton's school days invite a disturbing recollection: "When I was at school in Nottingham during the miners' strike of 1984, we used 'scab' as a term of abuse. For adult men, 'scab' meant a class traitor who crossed the picket line; for us, it only meant someone who picked up a 2p in the playground." As an adult man who will pick up 2p in the street - not least to avoid having to break a £20 note in future - where does that leave me?
4) An animatronic turkey will set you back $20 000. Wholesale. £49 gets you a live chipmunk in Beckton. I'm in the wrong line of work.

Time to purge some of the trivia from my brain.

*Also the title of an EP by Anti-Pasti: buy it here (UK).

'>(US readers can buy it here.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Slapping Johnny Knoxville

Johnny Knoxville of Jackass was happy slapped in a bar late last month. His critics - who see him as encouraging the trend - might see this as poetic justice. The best bit is Knoxville's response: 'So I punched him a couple of times then I went for his friend.'

NOT calling for new legislation, NOT filming a half-hour special for ITN, but sorting it out himself. Nice one Johnny.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Stags night

In an age of networking, the contact is king. So I was pleased to link up with the landlord at Stags Head, 102 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6XW. A Leicester City season ticket holder, he's sure to guarantee the right entertainment on the plasma screens. (OK, so that success is down to the timely intervention of Rob Kelly.) Thanks to all concerned for a decent Friday night - it beats staying in and (ahem!) listening to Chris Isaak.

Talking of connections, it was interesting to see Decca Aitkenhead expressing some similar points to mine about Francis Gilbert's Yob Nation (buy it here, UK readers). 'Any project that promises to reveal "the truth about Britain's yob culture" makes me nervous. As a field of media enquiry, yobbishness is uniquely prone to lurid melodrama and vicarious titillation, and more often than not produces work which says more about the jumpy panic of the middle-class wuss than it ever reveals about the character of the yob. Its trademark is the sensationalised anecdote about a fairly minor violent incident, recounted as if it were the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.' In other words, she recognises that the book and its marketing campaign occupy a reactionary niche, even though - on closer inspection - it makes some interesting points about incivility and broken social bonds. (Trends thankfully absent from Stags Head public house last night...)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gene Pitney - Don't Mean to be a Preacher

... but it's sad to see the premature death of the falsetto-prone singer midway through a UK tour. My teenage credibility was undermined by a fondness for Pitney (and Matt Monroe), based first on a friend's vinyl and later on those greatest hits CDs discounted for sale at petrol stations. These easy listening habits meant I'd never score 100% in a BBC how punk are you poll. Nevertheless, Pitney spoke - in an arcane and vaguely camp time capsule - to my moods from time to time. I recall being in a Nottingham pub, pleased to see the video for his chart-topping duet with Marc Almond playing in the corner. You'll be missed, Mr Animal Crackers (in Cellophane Boxes).

Half term entertainment:
Doctor Who - The Green Death (buy DVD here, UK) ('>buy DVD here, US)
Russell Troy, Monster Boy (buy book here, UK) ('>buy book here, US)

You guessed it, my girl's school is closed for Easter.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Zepti search engine

Will the mighty Google ever be challenged? Is a monopolistic, industry standard search engine desirable? I'm can see both sides of the argument, but meanwhile I'm pleased to add a zepti link for people to add their sites/blogs to a different search engine. From here you decide...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

School Fool

Francis Gilbert's book Yob Nation has become part of the national debate on anti-social behaviour. Syndication of sections of the book jostles alongside commentary on Britain's social decline which namechecks Gilbert favourably. I haven't read Yob Nation yet, and it's policy on this weblog not to 'review' things I haven't read or viewed, so no further comment for now.

That said, it's clear that Gilbert's hour is at hand because he has something to say about an ongoing national preoccupation. There are some similarities in his elevation as an expert and my own experiences as a happy slapping guru. Perhaps this makes us niche neighbours - a bit like soul sisters, only not so close.

Gilbert's early career is detailed in his book I'm a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here. My suspicions of our parallel lives are aggravated by certain biographical similarities. He was finishing off an English degree at Sussex University in 1989 when I was just starting one (albeit with media studies). Upon completing our undergraduate studies, we both drifted into public sector jobs, mainly out of inertia . Like me, he worked in inner London and kept a close eye on jobs in Waltham Forest (p.177), although I actually reached this enchanted realm before I ended up drawn back to blinking light atop Canary Wharf Tower (part of Gilbert's East End scenery). (He was also in Waltham Forest at some point, long enough to find out - in Leytonstone High Street, no less - about a child-molesting colleague [p.206]). There's a fair chance that some of his East London school students from the early 1990s, or their offspring, have passed through my university at some point in time - maybe I even taught them. (Except these kids 'are composite characters and essentially inventions of my [i.e. Gilbert's] own'.)

Like Bea Campbell before him, Gilbert's initially left-wing concerns with the plight of the disadvantaged opened up opportunities created by elitist hostility to a British underclass. Here's how he tells the story: 'It was a Marxist fairytale, but a fairytale nevertheless, because it was here [Cambridge University] that I planned to gather all the intellectual and emotional resources to enable me to venture forth into the dark forest of working class Britain where I would slay the dragons of class envy and alienation .... until the day after the Berlin Wall came down ... the game was up regarding the Revolution' (I'm a Teacher... pp.18-20). All that remained for Gilbert to do was stew on 'the bitter divorce of [his] parents' (p.22).

It seems to me that Gilbert's strategy in the early 1990s was rubbish to begin with. Why not treat teaching as a way to fund one's revolutionary career, rather than see teaching as intrinsically revolutionary? And why was this day-to-day struggle necessarily tied to the fate of the Berlin Wall? It's not too big a leap to imagine that the author's own disenchantment with the working class and social change stemmed from his own limited vision. When that failed, a hostile free-for-all of chav-bashing and misanthropy seems like an acceptable outlet for these frustrations.

Francis Gilbert, I'm a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here (London: Short Books, 2004, pp.11-12; buy it here in the UK; here in the USA).