Monday 28th November


With less than a month until Xmas –four weeks yesterday to be exact- it may be time for me pretending it isn’t happening and submit to the inevitable and make my first forays into channelling my inner festive self. That may take some time though as usually it isn’t until about the week before that I get into the swing of the season. It seems everyone I speak to mentions how they are stripping things back this year due to the recession and this is a relief as it was always the need for unnecessary extravagance-alongside forced false jollity- that sat most uncomfortably with me. The need to spend vast amounts of cash on people you make little or no effort on the rest of the year as a means of assuaging guilt always felt insincere and cold. Times of crisis do have a habit of making people realise what is really important and after a turbulent year –riots in several British cities, the tsunami in Japan- it may be a good time to take stock of what we do possess, even if it feels inadequate rather, than obsessing over that which we don’t. The news this weekend that Welsh football manager Gary Speed committed suicide drives home the point that someone who seems on the surface to have everything going for them is still unable to find consolation and happiness in his achievements and is still plagued by deep unhappiness that resulted in him taking his own life. As yet details have yet to emerge as to what forced him to believe this was the only course of action for him to take so speculating on the reasons behind it are fruitless.

Someone else who, during her lifetime, appeared to have everything going for her and was still unable to find happiness was Marilyn Monroe the subject of the newly released Simon Curtis film My Week with Marilyn. Set in England in 1956 during what was ostensibly her honeymoon with third husband Arthur Miller it documents that already her marriage was in crisis. Consumed by alcohol and propped up with pills-long before Michael Jackson Hollywood doctors had a lot to answer for- her insecurities only intensified until they totally took over. It is a familiar story and Curtis coaxes an astounding performance out of Michelle Williams as Monroe that is surely deserving of an Oscar nomination. The film as a whole somehow seems to have set its sight on some of the prizes scored by The Kings Speech but unlike that film which told a tale that many were unaware of Monroe’s story has been told many times through films, documentaries and numerous biographies. The best of the latter category is still probably Anthony Summers’ Goddess which affords its subject matter great insight and never teeters on obsequiousness or paints her as a victim. The latter is a common error in many biographies about Marilyn as it is impossible to get to her position in Hollywood without having a steely core. I always feel when people moan how hard it is to be famous that it is so much easier not to be and at some point it was a choice they made. Olivier points this out in My Week with Marilyn when frustrated by the sympathy she seems to engender that he spits out how she knew exactly what she was doing. A full review is here.

As a counterpoint to this the film they were working on The Prince and the Showgirl was on the television this weekend and it is one of the few Monroe films I have never seen from beginning to end. After about forty minutes I realised why this was as it really is quite an insipid effort from these two great stars and therefore proves that great tension does not always beget great art. Another film that I endeavoured to watch at the weekend and found myself lasting a mere twenty minutes before I switched it off was Prince’s Purple Rain. I remember attending the premiere when it first came out and thinking then it was awful but time has been very unkind as it was truly diabolical, Best stick to playing the music as this still has a potency.

Caught catches of the X-Crement Factor over the weekend and it really is well and truly played out. The judges and contestants seem to know it is flagging and it really is limping along to what promises to be a not so grand finale. I did discover this week that apparently The Red Hot Chilli Peppers are considered an alternative act in X- Factor world. This was news to me as I did not realise that playing world tours in stadiums and selling millions of records globally could be considered alternative so it just goes to show how mistaken I was. Misha B thinks she is a star already-the thing that calls itself a Tulisa told her she could shift millions of albums and sell out arenas. Optimistic or what? – and has started referring to herself in the third person although she may have been housing a third person in those (over) stretched leggings of hers. Surely Marcus the neutered Little Richard is not a serious contender to win this shambles. If so then pop music is in an even worse state than I imagined. Every week he turns out a bland and forgettable version of the same uninspiring slop that is only fit for light entertainment at best but if the cultural behemoth that is Olly Murs can make it as a pop star then anything is possible. He even dragged the Muppets on stage with him to afford him a little credibility, which must surely go down as a desperate act by someone who is aware he has little or no talent. I do love how the judges go on about being versatile whilst saying the same thing week in, week out with no sense of irony. Also the constant claims that it is not simply karaoke when the same songs seem to be on rotation series after series also seems to contradict that statement.

A much better bet for weekend viewing is the Danish crime drama the Killing 2 which is showing all the strengths and intrigue that the first series had. This time around there has even been a slight –very subtle-intrusion of humour as well as a mild flirtation between Sarah Lund and her sidekick the aptly named Strange. This is an exquisitely handles drama that although entertaining is also thought provoking constantly demanding the audience review and re-assess the information they have at their disposal. It certainly kicks the shit out of any of the other slop clogging up the weekend TV schedules. Mind you December is the party season so perhaps TV schedules are not so important. Mind you if it snows like it has the last two years it may be our only companion so best follow The Killing even more studiously.

This weekend saw photographer Gavin Evans’ opening Silenced at The Institute in Roseneath Street in Marchmont showing his stunning portraits of,among others, Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde and Bjork as his subjects. Definitely worth checking out whilst enjoying one of the many coffees or fine teas he has on offer. More events at this venue next weekend with details to follow.This week the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is re-opening after a multi million,three years in the making refurbishment so that is definitely on my agenda alongside a film about the emergence of Black Power in the late sixties and early seventies The Black Power Mixtape as well as the Axolotl Xmas show on Friday night.

The new Black Keys album out next week is surely a contender for rock album of the year-EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake are the others- so as a taster before the albums release here is their latest single Lonely Boy and its great  accompanying video.

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