Ryuk

It was the little ones birthday pretty recently. My housemate Patryk, having spent much time with him and developed some affinity, wanted to get him something he would like and so opted for something a bit dark. A little cartoonish vinyl of a character from the show Deathnote. The character being a demonic God of Death who oversees the killing of a bunch of kids for his own amusement.

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Just in from work, whilst I was giving the boy his nightly dose of Dahl, Patryk knocked on his door and explained how, as a fan of anime and manga himself, he wanted to give him a gift that would combine their interests. To introduce him to something new, but keep it a bit freakish and weird.

Seeing the black lipped wide smile and the deranged look on it’s face he pulled it close and sat it on his lap whilst I finished our chapter. And as I was turning off the light to wish him goodnight, he stopped me so that he could carefully lay Ryuk under the bed to sleep.

Not checking to make sure there are no monsters, putting one there so that he could be certain.

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They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

Written for RAF News November 2018

Asked to produce some content for the centennial of the end of the First World War, Peter Jackson has focussed the world building wizardry of Lord of the Rings on something much closer to home: a documentary about British soldiers on the Western Front. Granted, the way in which he does this is grand cinematic spectacle but it is truly breathtaking to behold.

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Jackson’s grandfather fought in the Great War and so in his memory, Jackson and his team have tried to position the viewer with the soldiers and bring their experience to life. They do this by using audio of interviews with veterans played over archive footage, which might sound like regular fare, but the difference here is that the video has been speed adjusted, blown up, colorised and, depending on where you see the film, even put into three dimensions.

The opening of the film begins with a familiar small square box in the middle of the screen playing jittery, black and white footage of soldiers marching, whilst all you hear is the clatter and whir of a projector. Gradually though, this little window grows and pushes out to the edges of the screen until it envelopes you. The images are sharper now, more defined, and like some great illusion you begin to hear what the soldiers are saying.

Working with forensic lip-readers, audio has been recorded and matched to the images so that you can listen to them banter, with such painstaking precision that even the dialects are accurate.

Working with BBC and Imperial War Museum, this is an ambitious project that could only be written off as a gimmick by those who have yet to see it. As one soldier recounts of his experience on the frontline, “It was a world of noise” and this is certainly what is captured by underlaying sounds of mortar fire and mine explosions, to the smaller more intimate noises of say a tiny fire in the trenches for brewing a desperate cuppa.

The veterans speak with a warm pride of their experience, of course this turns to tragedy when faced with the horrors of war, but for the most part they show no despair and no regret. They talk of the camaraderie and euphoria, the excitement of battle that lead many underage to sneak in and sign up – if you were 16, it was suggested that you pop outside and have yourself a few birthdays. There is a great humour that runs through their commentary, calling on casual and humorous euphemisms. Their jovial tone is somewhat romantic, and the film seems to share in this.

Returning from war, each interviewee remarks how no-one at home would talk about it, they didn’t know how, nor could they comprehend what was actually happening. Now, thanks to this documentary, the gap is closed a little more and we can glimpse what it was like for these men.

homelessness

Our tenancy was almost up and so my housemate and I began to look for new accommodation to include another person. We had a good thing going but we could make it better, maybe. My requirements would be a big enough space to stow a child a couple times of week, but other than that – loosey goosey baby, loosey goosey.

That said, as the time pressed closer and we still hadn’t found anything, I start to panic. Usually quite a happy-go-lucky optimist, I became emotionally wobbly at one point, which made me realise that I was afraid of something.

Begin a one week countdown until I’m homeless. I need something, a plan at least. I reach out to people for advice and temporary solutions. My new potential housemate says that he could put me up for as long as needed, and could even take on the boy. A beautifully kind gesture, but I still felt uneasy and anxious.

An unusually robotic personality, driven by logic in the same ways as Dr. Spock and Data, he asks why I am so stressed, what is it specifically that is bothering me so much, considering there is now a fix.

I pause for a moment and then begin to verbalise feelings and thoughts that I didn’t know I had, straight from my subconscious: that if I were to be staying at someones house, with all my belongings in tow or in storage, and I didn’t have a date for when I’d have my shit together, I would feel embarrassed. And then to have to bring a child to this home of someone else, I’d be mortified. I would feel like a failure to those around me, but more importantly, a failure to my son.

He looks at me, nods his head and says ‘Yeah, fair enough’ and walks off.

I know he doesn’t mean anything by this – his aim wasn’t to console me, merely to understand, and now he does, leaving me to sit and stew with this confession. Now I am able to acknowledge and better deal with the problems ahead, realising where my anxieties lie, all thanks to my autistic guru and new housemate.

barber

It would take two people complimenting me on my unshaved face to embrace the fact that I would now be actively trying to grow a beard. Granted these people were also young men with stubble of their own, itchy-backed and seeking reciprocity, and technically my employees so they could just be taking the piss, but this was the excuse I needed.

Self-conscious of the empty space that eats into the growth on my cheeks but mostly the one patch under my chin (bothering me enough to write about it at length), I had been told that to fill in these fleshy voids of masculinity I would simply need to go feral and not shave at all. More piss taking perhaps, but in for a penny in for a pound.

Not very flattering images above, but please remember the words of Orson Welles who said that: “part of the reason for the ugliness of adults, in a child’s eyes, is that the child is usually looking upward, and few faces are at their best when seen from below.” And remember too the words of my 3 Mobile Upgrade Consultant who, when speaking of my Samsung J3 (2016) said “The front camera is 5 megapixels, which means it’s a bad camera”. But enough vanity, and onto this beard that I so keenly need to preen.

I let it grow wild and wiry, poking out in all directions from my face, which is hairy enough as it is. When it gets a bit much I trim away at my neck but leave my cheeks and chin. For some reason it doesn’t look normal. Alas, I am in need of a haircut and so I head to my barbers, whom I now trust deeply. The Turkish chaps here know how to deal with dark hair, trimming below the neck of my t-shirt where others would not, throwing fire at my ears like a fucking exorcism. It feels legit.

When the guy sees my attempt at a beard, he asks what I want done with it. I want to grow it. He gives an avuncular nod and equips himself with a small set of clippers. He hacks away and creates a neckline across my throat, traces it with his finger and says that this is where I need to shave, that it will allow the hair to get some volume and make it less lop-sided on my face. He says all of this in a slightly hushed tone, as though he doesn’t want to embarrass me, which I fully appreciate but it does make the words sting a little. I clearly don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.

Onto my sideburns, he trims them down to the corner of my jaw and then in another bout of barberly advice leans in and says that I need to keep this part from growing too much, that it won’t gather, it’ll crawl out and “look like pubes”. I feel like a teenager, with this surrogate barber giving advice that will stop me from getting bullied at school.

I leave the barbers enlightened, and keep up the practice – trimming a neckline and keeping the pubes from the corners of my face. In a matter of weeks the patch has vanished. I plan to keep it going until my entire face is covered. Teen Wolf Ahoy.

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Skate Kitchen (2018)

Written for RAF News Sept 2018

Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is a bit of a loner used to watching others from the outside, from the safe distance of Instagram, and much to the chagrin of her mother: she’s a skateboarder. It’s not long before Camille sneaks out from the protective care of her overbearing mother in Long Island to the spot Downtown where the crew that she follows are getting clips.

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Skate Kitchen is the name of the real all-female group of skateboarders at the core of this film, not only can they skate, they skate well (or: shred). Delving deep into this subculture of NYC youths, there are a few layers of nomenclature to decipher but all of which introduces you to this world in a real and realised manner.

Recognised from her own posts online, Camille is quickly taken in and introduced to the gang complete with mouthy tom-boy and mute filmer – they’re a close bunch, not lacking confidence, and with a look that is pure 90s chic. The film is focussed on Camille’s journey of self-discovery drifting from her restrictive household to the embrace of this supercool possie of stylish hipsters. There is some boy trouble thrown in along the way in the shape of Jayden Smith’s Devon, but it doesn’t have the same organic flow.

Skating the streets, getting into scraps and getting stoned at each others houses, the skate crew’s interactions are funny and awkward with a naturalism that brings ordinary conversations to life. It’s this same realism that makes the more obvious dramatic scenes feel artificial, distracting from what is so interesting about this film.

Written and directed by women, there is a distinct female voice that shines as the group talk about sexual harassment and how tampons don’t actually cause the loss of limbs. Unapologetically standing up to others, the attitude of the girls reflects the film, or as one of the group so fittingly puts it: “It’s, like, feminism”.

A slightly overlong coming of age story that has been told many times before but from a perspective that has seldom.

strip

After another night of exceptional food and Jazz, we find ourselves in the horribly overpopulated strip of tacky bars on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. The group want to head back but I declare that I want to find a dive bar: somewhere out the way, equally disgusting but intimate. A cosy kind of hideous. Unsurprisingly most prefer the alternative of sleep.

My offer is taken up by one but I soon realise that he has his own agenda and one stubby can later, in a quiet bar not nearly dingy enough, we head straight on to a different kind of establishment. This was my first visit to a strip club and I hadn’t anticipated it so after the entrance fee I’m left with a 20 in my wallet. Now this may be my first rodeo but I know I need smaller bills and so I buy us a couple of beers, leaving me with two dollars to play with. Best make em last.

I’m given a little walk-through tutorial, shadowing my friend as he takes me to a chair around one of the raised stages, a black marble island pierced by a golden pole. He throws a dollar out in front of us, I follow suit placing half of my total purse beside it. The woman on stage isn’t so much dancing as working around the spectators and fucking the air in front of them. She is topless, wearing heels and a thong. I’m not so much as turned on as uncomfortable but trying to project otherwise; casual and familiar.

As she arrives at our two dollar ‘pile’ she leans in and asks where we’re from. England. I didn’t know conversation was part of the deal and so I decide to take the lead and return the question. The Czech Republic. Master conversationist in my element, I hold her gaze and shout loud enough as to be heard above the music “…My favourite author’s Czech, have you read any Kafka?” She doesn’t reply, just drifts off into the crowd. Perhaps she’s more of a Čapek kinda girl.

One of the dancers walks up beside us, silently climbs up on the stage and then just keeps climbing. She gets to the top of the pole, about 10 feet off of the ground, and holds for a second before letting herself fall. She lands with her legs split apart, her thick plastic heels smash against the ground with a reverberating crack. If she didn’t have your attention before, she has it now. I’m not so much as turned on as appreciating her athletic ability and showmanship. Now this is I can get behind. I place the last of my cash out in front of me and when she happens upon it, she picks it up, folds a crease lengthways along the bill and drops it back down. She leaves a dramatic pause before dropping over ol George and picking him up betwixt her cheeks.

Now that I’m tapped out, my advising cohort takes the lead once more. Between stages there is a large red carpeted staircase leading up to the balcony – shielded from view and manned by security. The second level. My friend talks to a petite blond, gives her some cash and she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs and through security. She sits me in a walled off vestibule, sets my drink down and introduces herself. Lolita. “I love that novel, have you read any Nabakov?” I’m really getting the hang of this.

Then I get my private dance, I smile politely and awkwardly. Not so much turned on as fulfilling my part of the deal as an audience member. I want to be respectful and encouraging despite my discomfort and so I end up nodding congratulations at each of her moves like a parent asked by their kid to watch as it jumps into the pool in varying ways. My faux-enthusiasm is wearing thin but I don’t think she could give a fuck – not really striking me as the shy and sensitive type as she hits her tits against my face. When we’re done she hands my beer back to me and makes a point of thanking me, for being so polite.

As I walk down the red-carpeted stairs, back into the riff-raff of level 1, the ground dwellers, I think about what Lolita meant. Perhaps there was a sadness beneath her words, that others are abusive or inconsiderate, but her tone just makes me think: I was doing it wrong. Next time I’ll come prepared, or better yet I won’t come at all.

Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A (2018)

Written for RAF News August 2018

More commonly know by stage name M.I.A, Mathangi Arulpragasam, or Maya, is a Sri Lankan-born London-raised hip-hop artist and provocateur. This documentary made by long term friend Stephen Loveridge tracks her uncompromising attitude by way of her music, through to some of the more notorious controversies surrounding her career.

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With Loveridge now distancing himself from the project, and Maya being openly critical about it, it’s fitting that the theme holding it together is her refusal to do as she’s told and not care if she is liked. The film is almost chaptered by moments of disagreeableness such as putting a middle-finger up during her half-time performance at the Superbowl, or talking about the genocide in Sri Lanka whilst at the podium of an awards ceremony.

Growing up in a war-torn part of Sri Lanka, Maya was politically minded from a young age with her activist father Arul Pragasm being one of the founders of the Tamil Resistance Movement. In more recent years the area of Jaffna has experienced massacres that have devastated the local population, and this is something that Maya has tried to point out in interviews and live appearances just as in her music.

Thanks to Maya’s shrewd forward-thinking, perhaps with a project like this in mind, almost every moment discussed in the documentary contains footage filmed by or featuring herself. By that same token though it becomes difficult to escape her voice as a guiding force. This can at times come across as contrived or self-aggrandising, unhelpfully lending to the accusations of being ‘Radical Chic’. Regardless of intention, Maya takes a bold stance and tries desperately to bring media attention to serious issues – using the spotlight even if she is basking in it herself.