Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Lovely Birthday

Despite my still horrible head I had a lovely birthday yesterday. It started earlier than I'd have hoped due to cold induced insomnia resulting in my getting up at three a.m. and watching baseball on T.V. for a few hours until dawn. Tinseltroos and I got dressed up in our finest gear and wandered down to The Wolseley on Piccadilly, a large dining room with a very 1920s feel to it. We met my mum, my sister and her fiancé there for a lengthy and delicious breakfast. Well I think it was delicious but my sense of smell and taste is still broken so I had to take that on trust. After that Tinseltroos and I did a spot of shopping and then went back to her flat so I could have a quick sleep to try and catch up on what I'd missed. At seven we went out for a cocktail and then onto my favourite restaurant for dinner which was fantastic, as always, but of course a bit lacking in flavour for me. And then home. A very lovely, relaxed, day. Given how wretched I'd been feeling until then I wasn't expecting to have much fun, but I did. I'm so lucky.

I also got some lovely presents: music, books a new hand-knitted scarf and knitted toy nautilus plus some beautiful fragrences, one apprently being George Clooney's and Prince Charles' favourite, so I now smell like them (maybe).

And now I'm home where I can have a relaxing rest of the weekend before trying to get a massive night's sleep in readiness for going back to work tomorrow...

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Head Please

Can I have a new head please? This one isn't working very well; in fact for the last two days it's been malfunctioning something chronic. Tomorrow I shall begin my thirty second year and that, I fear, puts my noggin way out of its warranty period. Curses. Actually I can't remember a) having a cold this bad for years and b) having two consecutive days off work due to illness ever. I'm so bored. I hate being ill, it's just so dull. I've finished reading my book, "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!" which was excellent but beyond that I've found it impossible to concentrate on anything else.

I have been having a new type of Lemsip, "Berries and Hot Orange". Having got all excited at this shiny new product I stopped to think for a bit and realised that of course it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. I have no sense of smell or taste so it could taste of anything and I'd be none the wiser. Stupid, stupid Atrocity. My mind has clearly addled over the last three days.

I'm hoping that I'll have some sort of olfactory function by tomorrow as I'm going to my favourite restaurant for dinner with Tinseltroos and I'd hate not to be able to appreciate it. I suppose I may just have to focus on texture. Fingers crossed for my sinuses. Actually I do feel much better now than I have done since Wednesday morning and I do have my voice back. I realise many others may not see this as a good thing but I choose to see it as a sign of progress.

Happy birthday to me (in advance), and happy birthday to my wee sister whose birthday actually is today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Voters List Makes Me (Sic)

On my way into work I pass many advertising hoardings. Southwark Council, my borough, have now begun a new campaign to persuade people to register to vote. They're calling for people to join the "Voters List". This irks me on two counts. One, I'm pretty sure it should be "Voters' List" and two, the damn thing is called The Electoral Register, or Electoral Roll and has ever been thus. The reason why this annoys me is because it panders to the whims of those who would rather not learn anything nor be confronted by something which at first they may not understand. It's not "dumbing down" in the usual sense of making a subject that has some complexity much easier so no-one can possibly fail to grasp it immediately, thereby benefiting nobody at all, but it does encourage lazy people to remain lazy.

When I read and come across a word I don't understand, I go and look it up. It's not embarrassing or shameful to admit this; there are many words I do not know. Since there are purportedly over six hundred thousand words in English it's doubtful any individual knows them all so everyone, even the most erudite scholar, will at some point have to reach for his or her copy of Chambers. And yet we seem hell-bent on discouraging anyone from ever having to deal with something that they don't already know and futhermore it betrays much of the aesthetic beauty of the language by fettering it into some child-speak with little subtlety of cadence, sound or rhythm. "Electoral Register" rolls off the tongue, it has weight and elegance. "Voters List" (sic) does not.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Frequency Update

If anyone out there has a video iPod, I've made a version of my short film formatted especially for it. It's under 10mb so if you'd like to watch it, drop me a line via the e-mail on the profile page and I'll point you at a link. The regular Quicktime movie version is also uploaded for viewing on almost any computer. I've finally almost finished authoring a DVD for it and I'm planning on designing a little presentation pack I can make in very limited numbers to give to friends who've been over-tolerant of me during the film's gestation. I also need to start looking at film festivals I could enter it into. Watch this space on that front.

I'll stop going on about it now until there's some proper news (if indeed there ever is any) but I feel a bit like a new parent at the moment and it's all very exciting, I haven't made a short film of my own in years and this has been a very rejuvenating creative experience. Long ago, when the blog was in its infancy, I wrote that I aimed to make a short film. I got the timing wrong and the film I've actually finished is different to the one I thought I was going to make back then but hey, I did actually do one in the end. The film I thought I was going to make still has its storyboards on my wall. I might turn my attention back to that next. Hmmm.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Everyone a Rembrandt

Everyone a Rembrandt, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Today I've been painting humourous (I hope) smut. The premise is that Tinseltroos and Sisoftroos are having a Hallowe'en party. The theme of the party is a Victorian Carnivale/sideshow and in order to transform their flat into such a location we needed to make some props. Many other items have been created and it's been huge fun spending evenings with glue, tape, card, modeling clay and paints and we've made some fabulously tasteless stuff.

My final task, apart from my costume which will remain secret until the day, was to paint the advertising poster for The Bearded Lady. I decided that prepending the word "erotic" to almost anything makes it better so she's become an "Erotic Bearded Lady" and I couldn't resist the opportunity to pastiche (very badly) the wonderful Alberto Vargas. If you can hear a low humming sound, that's him spinning in his grave.

At my age I really should know better.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


fequency, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

After 6 months my short film, "Frequency", is finally finished. I've just watched it about 8 times in a row on the big screen in the house and the relief is amazing. I'm so happy I'm done. I think I'm pretty pleased with the finished result, though when you've been working on your own project for so long by yourself it's hard to maintain any proper judgement.

If you'd like to see the film, drop me a line via email and I'll send you a link to a low-res version that I'll upload to my server space tonight.

It's late now and I'm tired but smiling.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vintage Hamlet Cigar Ad

We were talking about this today at work, and lo and behold, there it is on youTube. Still funny. Great hair too.

Things that make you go Mmmmm (Part 3)

A few more of life's smaller pleasures that create more delight than the sum of their parts:

  • That first taste of beer
  • Listening to rain hammer against the window when you're toasty in bed
  • Mechanical Typewriters
  • A Porterhouse Steak
  • Fancy dress
  • Watching the seasons change
  • New socks
  • Misty mornings
  • Old fashioned sweets like cola cubes or aniseed balls
  • Gloves
  • Scrunching your toes in thick carpet or a rug
  • Beautiful sounding car or motor-bike engines
  • Comics
  • Old books, especially the smell and feel of them

That'll do for now. I'm off to go and sniff an old book...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Overheard on Wardour Street This Lunchtime

Some sort of exec (probably from an ad agency) prattling loudly into his cell-phone:

"Well, no, I thought the way we'd do it would be to get a real barber-shop quartet into a studio and record it and then just get the midgets to lip-sync the last line."

Only in Soho...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Further Baking Experimentation

I have a recipe for ginger cake that I've been making for many years. One of my work colleagues, Tabi, told me of a recipe she's baked in which chunks of cooking apple are added to the mixture. This set me thinking and after toying with a few possibilities I have ended up making a cinnamon and pear cake. Here's what I did:

  • Take 9oz golden syrup, 6oz light muscavado sugar, 3oz dark brown muscavado sugar, 6oz unsalted butter and 5 small pears, peeled, cored and chopped into small cubes. Put these in a saucepan and heat until all the butter has melted. Allow to cool a little.
  • Take 12oz self raising flour and add 3 heaped teaspoons of ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of mixed spice. Mix well.
  • Beat 1 egg and an extra yolk and then add 3/8 pint of milk.
  • Beat in the melted sugar, butter and fruit mixture into the flour.
  • Mix in the milk and egg.
  • Pour into a lined cake tin.
  • Bake at 160oC for about 30 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean when poked into the centre of the mixture.
  • Once the cake's cooled a little, sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
It seems pretty good; quite a subtle, but pleasant, fruit flavour and very moist. I will make it again I think, and it does seem very autumnal which suits the weather here at the moment.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Lost Girls

I've been meaning to write something about Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's "Lost Girls" for a little while now. It's been about a month since I finished reading it but I wanted to wait until I'd been to a talk they gave yesterday hosted by Stewart Lee, who has already interviewed Moore before on the BBC Radio 4 programme, "Chain Reaction". The notion, narratively, behind "Lost Girls" is that Alice, from the adventures in Wonderland, now an aging woman, Wendy from "Peter Pan", now a middle-aged woman and Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz", now a young woman meet up in an hotel in Austria on the eve of the First World War. Their relationship and stories are sexual in nature and the book is described by Moore and Gebbie as unashamedly pornographic. Many of the stories concern reminiscences of their differing sexual awakenings, taking elements from the original stories and transposing them to a more "realistic" sexual context, much as many do the opposite and fantasise their sexual past.

Moore and Gebbie's point seems to be that much that is contained within these original stories is dark and somewhat removed from the nominal innocence of childhood with which they are often associated. Beyond that, in many parts of the stories, it is easy to read sexual overtones without having to reinterpret very much. Stylistically the book relies on pastiche, either overtly such as the passages which directly reference Collette or Oscar Wilde and more subtly within the rest of the narrative. As Moore observed last night, the whole piece is a "massive contrivance" of style, narrative, character and detail.

As with all Moore stories much of the joy is in the detail. The way details are layered and woven throughout all his great work deepens the reader's experience as elements from one part of the story are referenced or alluded to later. Panels from one sequence may be echoed later and details within the frame or specific compositional techniques will often be reused to add emphasis. I am going to re-read "Lost Girls" once I've finished "Bone" and I expect to get much more from it on the second reading. Such is Moore's diligence in plotting and constructing his stories that new ideas, themes and concepts are revealed with almost every re-reading.

As with Moore's resurrection and reinvigouration of the super-hero genre in "Watchmen", "Lost Girls" is a deliberate attempt to make what Moore and Gebbie described as a "benign" pornography designed to appeal to both sexes regardless of orientation by delving deeper into the notion of sexual fantasy than the gynecological obsession of mainstream homogenous porn which contains nothing more than the hyper-real physical act itself, regardless of context, personality or imagination.

There is also a darker side explored. There are two acts of non-consensual sex described in the book, and these, it was explained, were deliberately written not to be in any way erotic. That these are interspersed within the rest of the book's panoply of sexual abandon and joy is shocking, but ultimately very revealing about out own imaginations and how we must distinguish fantasy, reality and the ways that the one may feed the other. That one person's desire can so dramatically affect the life of another is something that pornography never normally addresses, but as the whole lives of the heroines are explored their sexual histories profoundly inform who they become as women when we initially meet them. This was the aspect that affected me most. We are used to stories where an injury, or exposure to a horrific event such as war moulds, shapes and in some cases destroys lives, but the notion of sex having such an influence, which in reality it obviously does, is something that certainly mainstream porn and very little fiction of any kind deals with.

Visually and sensorially, the whole volume is sumptuous. The artwork is exquisite, not only in its delicious attention to detail, but also to the depth of the colour and the care with which the book has been bound. It feels like a special object, something that should be treasured. Books are often concerned with the content only; the book itself is merely a medium for transporting the content to the eyes of the reader. But in "Lost Girls" the sensuality suffuses the fabric of the tome itself. It feels special to hold and to read it. Melinda Gebbie's drawings, mostly achieved with layers of pencil crayon weave a spell of great power derived from her dynamic composition and her devastating choice of colours. The visual styles of the period in which the stories take place are lovingly and painstakingly reproduced to provide an enveloping visual context in which the narrative can unfold. Last night Gebbie emphasised how much of the awfulness of mainstream porn was in it's complete lack of attention on the environment in which the action unfolds. The majority of sleazy, sordid rooms in which much porn is filmed would not "make me feel like a goddess" she said. All three heroines of Lost Girls and their lovers could not help but feel divine, such is the beauty that surrounds them. As with Moore's densely woven narrative, so Gebbie adds intricate detail to every panel. These self-referential and externally referential layers of detail overwhelm the reader on first inspection. It would probably be possible to write a whole essay on each frame, such is the care with which it is composed, the style with which it is drawn, the choice of colours and the actual objects, scenarios and people that are so lovingly rendered within.

Lost Girls has been attacked by those who see any act of artistic sexual expression as sinful or wrong. It has been attacked by Great Ormond Street hospital, who currently own the copyright on Peter Pan though this has now been resolved according to Top Shelf's publisher. The upshot is that the book will not be published in the UK until 2008 when the copyright lapses. My copy was obtained directly from Top Shelf comics in the U.S. If you're in the UK I strongly suggest that you do the same. How a book of such beauty, power and imagination can be attacked as merely prurient is beyond me. It suggests that much of the sexual repression endemic in such socially conservative countries such as the UK and US is much more a reflection on our sense of self-loathing and denial of sexuality as a part of being human than it does on this majestic book. It has taken Gebbie and Moore 17 years to write, they are now engaged to be married, both admitting it would be impossible to write such a work with someone who was merely a collaborator. Their relationship influenced the book and vice-versa said Moore and that we have this monument to sexual imagination, exploration and sheer joy is truly something to treasure.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I have a name for my film and it is "Frequency". By tomorrow morning, assuming the company render-cows do their thing through the night I should have a completed render, ready to composite. I even have a title seqence done now. Here's the breakdown and the typography:

Monday, October 09, 2006

Kittens Versus Robots

My pal, Narjar has made a short, utterly charming lo-fi pop video starring The Tall American's kittens and some toy robots. It's delightful.

The Royal Opera House

Audience, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Last night I was fortunate enough to be taken to The Royal Opera House, in Covent Garden to see a screening of Lon Chaney Sr's performance as Erik, "The Phantom of the Opera" in the eponymous film of 1925. I'd seen parts of the film during my film studies days as there were many elements that made it notable, the two-strip colour process, the costumes, the make-up and so on. It's a visually magical film; the complete artifice of the sets with no location shooting at all has an other-worldly quality which draws the viewer in and the theatricality of the silent star's performances becomes part of this heightened reality.

The reason the film was shown at the ROH, as well as it being the perfect location for the film of course, was that Carl Davis has written a new score for it which was performed by the ROH orchestra and conducted by Davis himself during the screening. The sound in the auditorium is fantastic (a refreshing change from the Royal Albert Hall, which stinks acoustically) and apparently though our seats were very cheap, they among the best for sound quality.

I'd never been to the ROH before and I've always wanted to. It's one of London's architectural treasures. It's also the opera house in "The Fifth Element", which is a film I love depite knowing that I shouldn't. That added a certain extra something to the experience for me. All in all a very magical night.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Baby Sitting the Render Cows

I've been in work for much of the weekend, but this time of my own volition. Having been mortally offended by my home render-machine's ability to destroy my data and finding the idea of another 4 month wait to render it again I decided to do what any sensible person who works for a visual effects studio would do: ask if I could render it on the company render-farm. This I did and was greeted with rather more enthusiasm than I was expecting. One of the directors of the company said that to be honest he was a little disappointed more people didn't work on their own projects as when he was fresh out of college it was what everyone did. He thought for a moment before adding that since there was a recession on at the time there wasn't any actual work to do so doing your own project made sense since there was sod all else.

I've been here for much of the weekend now and with luck I might actually get the whole thing rendered by tomorrow morning. It's a bit of a bind to render because of the software I've been forced into using it's rather unstable, so I'm mostly sat here baby-sitting the computers to make sure they do the calculations correctly but so far, so good. There's a couple of other work chums in today, one of whom is also working on his short film. About a month ago it was looking like I'd be the first to finish, but since my little disaster he's charged ahead and was able to show me a pretty final version today. It looks amazing too, a very fine piece of work. We're discussing renting one of the local cinemas for half an hour or so to show them off when they're both finally complete.

I'm really looking forward to getting this one done as I want to get cracking with the next project and I don't like having one hanging like a sword of Damocles whilst I tinker with the next. Well fingers crossed, with another night's rendering this one will be in the bag and then all I have to do is dub the music, convert it to the various formats (DVD, HD, iPod etc.) and decide what I want to do with it. I should probably get together a list of all the various short film festivals and the like as it might be fun to enter it into them. In order to do that I need a name for the project though, and as of this moment I've not been able to come up with one I like. Answers on a postcard...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Contradiction in Terms

It's recipe time again and it's another veggie one. I'm starting to play games with myself on the veggie recipe front, seeing how far I can push it. I love French cuisine, indeed if I were to only have one cookery book it would have to be Elizabeth David's "French Provincial Cooking". The difficulty is that the French are not noted for being very vegetarian friendly and this presents a problem when cooking for Tinseltroos. One of my favourite French dishes is cassoulet, with it's unctuous mixture of sausage, duck confit and bacon it's one of the greats. For my veggie "cassoulet" this is what I did:

Peel and cube two parsnips and a butternut squash. Spread them over a baking sheet, sprinkling them with chopped rosemary and olive oil. Put them into an oven at about 170oC for half an hour or so.

Meanwhile cube an aubergine and some large mushrooms and sauté them in a fair amount of butter and more olive oil. This is my faux meat part of the dish so we want to crank up the protein, fat and umami as far as possible. Add two tins of flageolet beans. When the aubergine starts to turn golden, set aside.

In a stockpot fry 4 crushed cloves of garlic and two finely chopped onions until translucent. Add 6 chopped tomatoes and a good squirt of tomato puree. Add a good fistful of chopped flat-leaf parsley. Pour in about a third of a bottle of red wine (I recommend drinking the rest as you cook) and three quarters pint of vegetable stock. I'd favour an earthier flavoured red in this dish; jammy reds like Shiraz/Syrah would be a bit much I think. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add the roasted veg and the sautéed veg, and leave to simmer for half an hour or so. Reduce the liquid to a good sauce like consistency.

You can now set it aside if you plan to eat it later or you could go headlong onto the final stage...

In an earthenware dish pour the main stew element. On top of this pour breadcrumbs and grated Gouda cheese, plus a little more salt and pepper. Put into the oven at 170oC until the top starts to go golden brown. Serve. We had Wychwood Brewery's Hobgoblin Ale which was a winner though more red wine would be more traditional. Though I say it myself, it was pretty bloody good, and there's lots left for me tonight too.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Children of Men

On Sunday afternoon following a delicious lunch in my favourite restaurant, Tinseltroos and I went to watch "Children of Men". I had vague inkling as to the plot, but had deliberately ignored most of the press and not watched the trailers. I went into the film as fresh and open minded as possible. When I came out I was pretty convinced that I'd just watched the best film of the year and one of the best films I have ever seen. It's a little hard to write this without including spoilers but this I promise I will as I'd hate to ruin anyone else's experience of this amazing piece of cinema.

The plot concerns a very near future, 2027 when the human race has become infertile. Society collapses and whilst shreds of civilisation remain, mob rule and crushing state oppression are the norm. The film is entirely set in the UK, much in London and the rest in the countryside and the south coast. For any inhabitant of London it is an eerie sight to see your city ravaged and yet so startlingly familiar. Cuarón has been very clever with how he has realised the future. In no way is this film science fiction. There are the subtlest cues that the film is not set in the present, much if you were to look at a photo of the city from 1980 you'd recognize it but small things would have changed. In Children of Men the police have a little more armour than they do now, the suburban commuter trains have grilles on the windows (yet Southwest Trains' nasty blue fabric seats remain). It is this familiarity combined with a horrific, but highly plausible future that sets the scene for the drama that unfolds and here I'll stop mentioning the narrative because you must see this film.

The performances are extraordinarily good. Clive Owen takes on the difficult task of playing a leading man who is rather introverted by nature with aplomb, Michael Caine plays his aging hippy friend with a beautiful sense of world-weary optimism and Claire-Hope Ashitey gives a deeply moving and impassioned performance as one of the pivotal characters around whom the plot unfolds. Cuarón allows the characters to breathe without ever letting the relentless pace of the narrative slow. The gritty documentary style suits the subject matter perfectly and the lengthy hand held shots draw the viewer into the action and keep you there. It is one of the most immersive films I can remember. The film is visually stunning, superb costumes and art direction all beautifully lit and photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki.

But it's the power of the story and the depth of the performances that bring it to life and all of this is captured and directed with astonishing skill, imagination and subtlety by the fabulous Alphonso Cuarón. I cry very seldomly. I cry at works of art even more infrequently. I was sobbing uncontrollably in this film. Once it grabs you, it will not let go. I am thankful I have seen one of the great films of our time and cannot help but feel that in years to come Cuarón will be regarded as one of the all-time great directors. This is his best film to date. It is a massive achievement of film-making.

Damn and Blast

You remember that short film I've been working on? The one that's taken nearly 4 months to render? Well my computer managed to currupt all the data yesterday so I'm going to have to do it all again. Expect results in February next year.

Atrocity sighs a big sigh.