March, 2004


Zatoichi is directed by and stars Beat Takeshi Kitano. Well, he’s Beat Takeshi the actor Takeshi Kitano the writer/director.
Most of Takeshi’s work makes it through to the west one way or another, but this is probably one his better pieces that I’ve seen. The story is set in 19th century Japan with Takeshi playing The Masseur, a blind man who’s cane doubles as a razor sharp sword which he’s not afraid of using. Meanwhile there are two “Geisha girls” seeking revenge for the death of their family. This all involves plenty of fights and lots of CGI blood. The latter seems very strange, and near enough none of the blood you see on screen is “real”, but computer graphics. In that respect it’s like the blood you get in a zombie computer game – lot’s of it when you shoot a bad guy, but it immediately disappears.
Philip French, in the Observer, said that it’s as good as, and probably better than Crouching Tiger or Kill Bill. I don’t think I’d agree. The “ballet” in both of those films surpasses anything you see here, and the story’s not that amazing. In actual fact, the best thing in the film is the music (seemingly unavailable in the west, although a Japanese soundtrack is available). In particular there are sequences which involve percussion performed by extras in-vision, and a great tap dance sequence with which the movie ends. In fact, I paid a trip to HMV on my way home to see if I could pick up a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers DVD – none were available in the Trocadero branch. Looks like I’m going to have to hunt out this box set.
Oh and it was only when I looked him up on IMDB that I realised that this really is the same man behind Challenge TV’s Takeshi’s Castle!

Filming in Piccadilly Circus

Much interest this evening in some filming taking place in Piccadilly Circus. As a public place, it’s very hard to close off (that’s certainly the case elsewhere according to Film London). Anyway, precisely nothing was happening, and I was hurrying on to actually see a film (see next entry).

Waterstones and David Icke

Waterstones has a new promotion in store at the moment, in which their staff have chosen their 150 favourite books which are displayed prominently in store, and press adverts highlight individual books accompanied by specific recommendations by staff members from around the country. (A brief aside here – I’m really not convinced that this is a completely unbiased list. I’d guess that some titles couldn’t be included for various reasons, particularly as there’s a 3 for 2 offer on the titles included).
All well and good, and it was pleasing to see Alan Moore and Dave Green’s Watchmen as one of the books on the list. But I was horrified in the Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road branch to see a title by David Icke. In particular it was Tales From The Time Loop. Now I’ve got no problem with David Icke’s nonsense being available (I am slightly concerned by all the four and five star reviews it gets on Amazon, but I suspect that this is par for the course with these kind of titles, as those “true believers” rush to give it good reviews), indeed I’d be terrified if it wasn’t, but being included on the Waterstones list? I can only assume that this was an error by the local store. Either that, or there’s a member of staff at that branch who’s particularly keen on his alien conspiracy balderdash.
I may just pay the massive Piccadilly branch to double check.

Alex Cox Diary Stopping Again

I’m disappointed to read that Alex Cox is stopping his diary again. He wrote it for the Beeb’s film website for a while, but you get the feeling that it got a little too political for them. It’s a shame, because he’s an interesting guy who isn’t in the film industry for quite the same reasons that many are. He was also incredibly honest, and rightly or wrongly, said what he thought about people.
Hopefully, at some stage he’ll restart the diary, but in the meantime, I’ll miss it.

The Singing Detective

I spent a large chunk of the weekend watching The Singing Detective for the first time since it was originally broadcast in 1986. Here’s an admission – I’ve still got the Radio Times from that week with a rather cool cover featuring the artwork from the series (think 1940s paperback pulp paperbacks).
The series has been available for years on video, but has just been released on DVD following the release of a Hollywood remake of the film which I think was released last year, but pretty much sank without a trace (talk about remaking the impossible. It’d be like remaking Citizen Kane or something).
Watching the DVDs, you realised that you were going back to a time where the writer had total control over a production. There’s no way that this story would get six hours these days. Four hours maybe. Actually it didn’t get six hours in 1986, it got more. The episodes run for random lengths of time, determined in the main by how much time it felt necessary to tell the story.
Should I attempt to summarise the story for any reader unfamiliar with it or who has hazy memories? Probably not. But Michael Gambon plays Philip Marlow (no “e”) a pulp fiction author who’s lying in bed in hospital with an especially acute case of psoriasis. He dreams alternately of his wartime childhood, and a story about a postwar “Singing Detective” of the title. This being written by Dennis Potter, there are musical interludes using old songs, as Marlow’s imagination runs away with itself. Everyone and everything is linked.
The series caused quite an outcry at the time with Gambon’s character being treated in hospital by a young Joanne Whalley who rubbed cream onto his skin-flaked body while he tried not to “embarrass” himself. And then there were Patrick Malahide’s heaving buttocks in the Forest of Dean. Extras on the DVD include excerpts from Points of View with Barry Took doing his best to defend the series from accusations of filth and obscenities.
As well as profiles and interviews with Potter, the DVD features a commentary through every episode from director Jon Amiel and series producer Kenneth Trodd. With the series approaching seven hours in total, this is quite a labour of love, although I must admit that I’ve only sampled it in a few places. I think I’d have to be studying it qutie seriously to work through the whole thing.
Overall, a landmark TV series from a writer that we’ll never see the likes of again, given a freer reign than anyone on television today. (OK Stephen Poliakoff doesn’t do too badly, and I daresay that Paul Abbott could get away with murder if he really wanted to).

The Seville Communion

Some years ago, I bought this book because an Islington Waterstones manager (or someone similar) mentioned that it was selling really well in a column in The Guardian or Independent. I obviously decided that this was a really cool and trendy book to be reading, went out and got a copy, and then thought better of reading it.
Now I’d hate you to think that I’d be so shallow as to have to read whatever’s cool in Islington. This is obviously not the case, since a closer examination of the book suggests that I bought it in 1998 or 1999. Not exactly top of the pile then. For some reason, I turned to it last week.
It’s a thriller set amongst bankers and clergy in Seville, with the investigating “officer” being a representative of the Pope, and all the politics that includes. It’s not a bad book at all – quite intelligent really. There are the comic characters, and although our “hero” is not necessarily the most likeable guy, he does mellow a bit. And typically, there’s a femme fatale for him to get involved with.
Arturo Perez-Reverte seems to be a pretty popular author across Europe, and of course his books would never make the best-sellers in the UK since he appears in translation, and the only books that sell in translation here are classics. I might give some of his other books a read at some point (hopefully it won’t be another five years), since there are quite a few available, and people say awfully nice things about them on Amazon.

YHA Adventure Shops

So what’s the story with YHA Adventure Shops? Their main London branch used to be in Southampton Row in Covent Garden, but they moved out some time ago (and I think Ellis Brigham moved in from across the road). Instead, they took a three floor shop on Wardour Street which is pretty odd.
For those who don’t know, Wardour Street is the meeja centre of London, and tends to be full of production companies, media stock outlets, and tape duplication facilities. Otherwise, it’s full of sandwich shops and places like Mezzo. What I’m trying to say is that it’s an unlikely place to situate a major retail outlet.
It’s certainly true that it’s about 100m from Oxford Street, but as far as shoppers go, Wardour Street is off the beaten track. Specialist shops can survive if they’re a destination themselves, but outward bound type shops probably do better in groups – Southampton Row in Covent Garden for example.
Anyway, they’ve been there a couple of years, and it was certainly handy from work, but this lunchtime I noticed that they were in advanced stages of shutting down. And it seems that it’s the whole chain, and not just this shop. Vast amounts of Karrimor gear was being sold off, and I couldn’t help but buy a pair of three season boots for around fifty quid (50% off).
I note too that their website seems to be down. Has the entire company gone belly-up? The retail group seems to be separate from the YHA itself, which I’m sure is secure. Indeed in recent times, it seems to have essentially become a Karrimor outlet.
Maybe I should Google all this before pontificating… I now learn that Karrimor went bust, and did indeed own the YHA Adventure Shop retail outlets. Mike Ashley owns something called Sports Soccer which I’m unfamiliar with, as well as Dunlop Slazenger, Donnay and Lillywhites.

Dasani Recalled

It goes from bad to worse for Dasani – the newly launched Coca Cola water, which was quickly “revealed” to be purified tap water. It seems that bromate levels are too high, and as a result 500,000 bottles are being recalled. You can see the UK launch of Dasani going down in the marketing text books in a chapter about brand launch disasters.

Stuck In A Rut

It’s not often that I pay Janet Street-Porter all that much attention, but in today’s Independent (no direct link since at time of writing I couldn’t get onto the site, and in any case, the article is bound to be for subscibers/payees only) she makes an excellent case for responding to the government’s consultation on the use of mechanically powered vehicles on Rights of Way.
This really boils down to people using four-wheel drive vehicles and motorbikes on certain categories of paths and roads around the country. And it’s pretty self-evident that some of these vehicles can cause vast ruts in the ground, destroying paths, and turning others into muddy quagmires.
Here follows my response to the consultation sent via email:
William Propert-Lewis
Countryside (Recreation and Landscape) Division 5
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
ZOne 1/01
2 The Square
Temple Quay
18 March 2004
Dear Mr Propert-Lewis,
I am responding to this consulation in a personal capacity. I regularly use footpaths, bridleways, and byways as either on foot or as a cyclist, adhering to current restrictions and laws.
I’m deeply concerned about the obvious deterioration that one can see over routes where 4×4, and other motorised vehicles, are currently able to pass. So I take particular interest in this consulation.
Proposal 3 – I would agree with the proposal completely.
Proposal 4 – Simply because horse and carts may have been able to use a byway previously, a motorised vehicle should not have the right now. I’d be in favour of implementing the proposal forthwith, with minimal time for applications for byways open to all traffic to be made.
Proposal 6 – My only issue with this is that legislation should ensure that simply because a property owner has rights of access to his building, he should not be able misuse this access and be make recreational use of a right of way afforded him.
In summary, I’d like to see legislation limiting the damage being done to our countryside by inconsiderate motorists. Many thousands of us enjoy the peace, quiet and nature that our countryside offers us, be it on foot, bicylce or horseback. Responsible usage of this valuable resource is essential, if our green and pleasant land isn’t to be turned into a noisy muddy bog.
Yours sincerely,
Adam Bowie