Monday, 29 October 2007

Book Review: Great Lists I Have Written by Seldom Hatchery

Great Lists I Have Written by Seldom Hatchery is one man’s love letter to lists, and the writing thereof. In this remarkable memoir, Hatchery, a professor of ergonomics and aesthetics at Coventry University, looks back over more than sixty years of lists that he has written.

The first thing that grabs one while reading this book is that in Prof. Hatchery’s hands, the lists have the ability to move us in many ways. They amuse, sadden, anger and warn us, all at the same time. Take one of Seldom’s earliest lists, written in 1951, entitled ‘Things I will do before I’m forty’:

1 Grow a beard
2 Write a book about ghosts
3 Buy a really nice desk
4 Shoot Mrs. Kilkenny
5 Read War & Peace

We are not informed as to whether Prof. Hatchery carried out the items on this list. However, we are given some poignant insight into the state of mind of a young man full of ambition, full of hope, and possibly full of anger towards a mysterious married woman.

While many of the lists are enjoyable reading in their own right, all are brought to life and given wings by Hatchery’s wonderful prose accompanying them. We learn the context of the lists; we learn of their place in time, we learn of their relevance to their own era.

This contextualisation of the lists is displayed incredibly well in the case of some of Hatchery’s most mundane minutiae. For instance, compare these two shopping lists, the first from 1965 and the second from 1997:

An egg
Corn Flakes
Bin bags

Two large rump steaks
Harvey’s Bristol Cream
Tabasco sauce
Stuff Magazine

Professor Hatchery deconstructs these two lists and uses them as a metaphor for his own life at the time. While once he was a man who purchased lard and dripping, now he was a man with a research grant who could afford corn, oysters and extravagant sauces. But yet throughout, at the middle of each list, persevering through time and holding up the lists like a spine or column are the eggs. The change from one egg to ‘some’ eggs (plural) shows, for Hatchery, a display of growth, of aging. In many ways he is the same, but at the same time, he is ‘more’.

Every list that Professor Hatchery has ever written is here, from the interesting (‘Venice Itinerary, 1972’) to the dull (‘Things I need to do this week, February 10 1980’) and from the exhilarating (‘My favourite break-up records, 1965’) to the embarrassing (‘A list of all my colleagues with attractiveness ratings, 1992’). They constitute a good read on their own, but with the author’s commentary to go with them, this book is an essential read.

‘Great Lists I have Written’ by Seldom Hatchery (pp 930) is published by Elemental Quaker Books and is priced £34.99.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

I Review a Review of the Review of a Review I Wrote last month

Terence Spack, in the new magazine The American Review of Imaginary Things, has published a review of the review I wrote in September, in which I called David Trebuchet's review of Dippy Twilight's album Loving to Love the Love "another wonderful addition to Trebuchet's ouvre".

Spack's pedestrian meanderings into the world of reviewing have always been somewhat painful to read, even when one is not mentioned by name in them. For example, Spack's review from last year in which he referred to Anthony Betterbuy-Glottalstop's book 'Gender Divisions: Why Men Like Lists and Women Like Flower-Arranging and Kittens' was a terrible mish-mash of overlong sentences, wrought paragraphs and mixed metaphors. It is no surprise, therefore, that his comments about my own review are both wrong, badly-written and, I'm sad to say, a bit stinky. Like a pooey bottom. Like Spack's pooey bottom, which, I'm told, is full of poo.

Take this example: "[The Imaginary Reviewer] writes like someone who has never used a thesaurus; his prose is staid and his analogies are less apt than a grenade in a orphanage." What rubbish! My prose is fine, thank you! And a grenade could be apt in an ophanage. Did Spack ever stop and think whether the orphanage could be full of terrorists? Orphans can be terrorists too! And as for using a thesaurus, why on Earth would I need a dinosaur? Spack is obviously trying to be funny, and it isn't working.

That's not to say that Spack's review of my review of Trebuchet's review doesn't have its merits. He does mention that I have a 'nice way of using parentheses' and, in what has become his trademark, Spack has written his review in the form of an acrostic in which the first letters of all the words spell out a recipe for fried rice.

I can't recommend this review enough. Not for reading, though, but for burning! It's rubbish! Don't read it, and certainly don't read the magazine, either. Mine is much better.

The Imaginary Review apologises. He was drunk.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Photography Retrospective - Gunchen Maladroit: A Life in Frame

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Gunchen Maladroit's contribution to photography. Well, it's not impossible, so to speak, but rather ill-advised. The last person to play down Maladroit's artistic worth (Daily Schneisser art critic Justav Fliminim) was executed by German authorities using a giant pestle and mortar; his body turned to paste that was later fed to his children in baps. Such is Maladroit's sway over the art world.

Now the Tate Gallery in Lincoln is hosting a retrospective of the diminutive German's work, and the Imaginary Review was the first reviewer camped out at the gallery gates on the day of opening, beating Marina Hyde of the Observer by three minutes.

The earliest stage in Maladroit's career can be summed up by the stunning photograph seen right, 1956's Oh my God! It chafes! It chafes!

As the rest of Germany was struggling to get over the Second World War and that wall that was built, Maladroit focussed on more 'at home' problems, like the inability to purchase cotton underwear. When it was first displayed in 1958, Oh My God! It Chafes! It chafes! caused a sensation in Berlin and twenty-seven people had to be castrated.

The composition of the photograph here is less importart to Maladroit than the message, so there is somewhat of a naivety about it; rules of perspective are unknown and therefore disregarded with an unknowing glance.

The next picture that we have paid a great deal to reproduce is Track 5: Insect Royalty from Maladroit's 1966 series entitled Entschuldegung! (pictured right). The work is among some of Gunchen's finest, with pathos, bathos and pathetic fallacy all jettisoned in favour of some black and white stuff. It is said that Maladroit went to some of the most beautiful places in the world using his grant money, and then refused to take photos in those locations, instead enjoying watersports and nightlife. His reason for this, he claimed, was that 'life is not beautiful, so why just I represent it that way in my photographs?' His detractors asked why he would piss away his grant money in exotic locations, but once a few of them started disappearing, dissenting voices were few and far between.

1980's I Have Lost My Cat XIX shows a low point in the photographer's life, when he lost his cat and was unable to think of any pretentious names for his pictures. Despite this, his work from this period displays a wonderful sense of ennui and sadness, to which I'm sure anyone who has lost a pet can relate. The vivid greys, the stilted light blues, all point their fingers towards a cloud of despair, but in some ways the pictures themselves have clouds that are shaped like aubergines.

Maladroit's cat was found in 1982. It had moved to Finland to be with a postman named Maurice.

Between the years of 1982 and 1990 Gunchen Maladroit began his 'black period',
when he would arrange the most beautiful still lifes and reclining nudes (evoking the most ostentatious art of the previous few centuries) but photograph these scenes with his lens cap still attached to his camera. Most of these works are rubbish, but one from 1988 stands out: the quite atypical Gamera Hollow Chestnut Maxim IV: A Man Named Len Goodman Will Come and He WIll Judge A Dancing Competition. The black lines and crosses are from the Japanese symbol for 'poetry'; the picture was taken by accident when a small Brazillian child stole Maladroit's camera and, thinking it was a gun, tried to shoot his mother with it. Maladroit was so enamoured with the photograph and the child that he adopted the boy as his own son, and passed the picture off as his own.

In 1995 Maladroit re-emerged on the photography scene with a big bag of pictures and some scabby knees. Apparently he had been trapped underneath a fallen portrait of Casper Hauser in his living room for several months, and nobody had noticed he was gone. He survived on a diet of carpet dust and gin, but luckily his camera was with him at all times. Here is one of them, Won't Somebody Please Come and Get Me Out of Here? I've Pissed Myself Eighteen Times Now and I'm Really Cold. It shows Gunchen's marvelous eye for detail and dedication to his art; despite having been trapped on the floor of his house for many weeks by this time, he still paid attention to the composition of the piece.

Gunchen Maladroit has taken some more photos especially for this exhibition, and for the accompanying coffee table book. The one that we have been able to show here, Wikipedia Can Kiss My Arse, Non-Notable Artist My Foot (2007) again displays the versatility and talent of the artist. If only we knew what it was supposed to be. If you tilt your head a bit it looks like Cameron Crowe.

So, Gunchen Maladroit: A Life in Frame contains all the pictures that you need to see on a rainy Lincoln afternoon. Plus it's free to enter, so that's a bonus. But the food in the restaurant is extremely overpriced. So this exhibition gets four stars (out of five).

All the pretty pictures will be on display until 2011, when the gallery will burn down mysteriously. The book accompanying the exhibition, Gunchen Maladroit: A Life in Frame: The Book Accompanying the Exhibition will be available in shops priced twenty quid, or three hundred quid for the special limited edition which comes with its own coffee table.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

DVD Review - Who Wants to Fuck a Goat? - The Entire First Season 8-disc Box Set

When Who Wants to Fuck a Goat? first aired on Channel Five in late October of last year, opinions were divided as the cultural validity of the program. Indeed, a show in which members of the public compete in various challenges for the grand prize of six hours' uninterrupted coitus with a goat doesn't have the hallmarks of great TV, like The Simpsons, May to December or Byker Grove. But for ten weeks, goat fucking was on everybody's lips.

The success of Who Wants to Fuck a Goat? was a surprise even to its creator, Gaviscon Bentley. 'I didn't think we'd get enough people to sign up for the show, to be honest,' he says on the DVD commentary, 'but in the end we had to beat off potential contestants with sticks. Literally. We beat them with sticks. Hard. One lost an eye.'

As the episodes of WWtFaG? unfold, we come to know and love the participants. Dave, the happy-go-lucky cab driver whose dream of fucking a goat is the one thing that keeps him alive during the long, cold, lonely nights; Sharon, who sees goat fucking as a way of getting invited to film premieres; and fan favourite Babted, the diarrhea-plagued mongrel.

'We talked long and hard over whether it was fair to have a dog as a contestant on the show,' opines Bentley in one of the interviews that come as part of the DVD extras package. 'In the end I tossed a coin and threw it at a pigeon. The pigeon died.'

What was it about WWtFaG? that electrified the nation for two and half long months? Was it the blossoming romance between Gavin and Debbie2 (Blonde Debbie)? Was it Sharon's wonderful way with words, spawning a silagetank full of colourful catchphrases? (Do you remember the days before everyone was saying 'What happens at now?' and 'Put the crayons where?'? Me neither!) But whatever made that Goat Fuckery popular, it's all here on an eight-disc goat-shaped special edition boxset.

From Dave slipping in the trail of Babted's wake during the Waiter challenge and getting his hair all pooey to the final triumphant thrusts into the lucky goat's orifices, you can relive all the moments from the show. And there are twenty-six hours of unseen footage, too, including a bit in a car when some of the contestants discuss crisps and six hours of people sleeping in a room. The DVD is jam-packed with goat-fucking extras, like a 'Pin the Goat on the Member' game and twelve hours of interviews with the makers, contestants and Twiggy, the goat himself.

Overall, this DVD gets a three-point star advantage, with heavy lilting for the extras, giving it a grand total of uneven camber.

Who Wants to Fuck a Goat? The DVD box-set is available in time for the Christmas rush, on December 23rd. To buy a copy, simply give some money to a slack-jawed infant in HMV and walk away tutting as his general apathy during the purchasing process causes you to briefly stare at the porn behind the counter.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Theatre Review: The Magic Treehouse

Hot on the heels of Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, musicals based on the works of Abba and 5ive, respectively, comes The Magic Treehouse, a musical based on the output of the prolific Britpop band, Ooberman. Written by Danny Baker and Salman Rushdie with help from Ooberman frontman Danny Popplewell, the play is certain to become a hit with the millions of Ooberman fans out there, as well as members of the general public who don't like Ooberman because they're a bit wimpy.

The Magic Treehouse follows the misadventures of Jeremy Cock-For-A-Chin, a poor boy who 'Had a cock where his chin should have been'. It's truly gripping stuff. From the opening song, 'Sugar Bum', in which he is introduced by his lover, Jenny Sugar-For-A-Bum (who later dies at the hand of a gang of ants) to the last song, 'The Beauty of Your Soul', in which Jeremy finds acceptance and friendship by the Uberman (a God figure), the story rolls around in a cacophonic bellyhurt of wonderyay. And, of course, part of this wonderyay is the music of Ooberman, who formed in 1997.

Ooberman's music has been loved by all the generations that have come since their Shorley Wall E.P. graced the shelves of independant record shops everywhere in 1999. And the title track from that song is well used in the musical, following Jenny Sugar-For-A-Bum as she goes to the seaside and is attacked by a spoon-wielding Elton John impersonator. Indeed, this part of the show was so emotional that some of the other audience members were forced to walk out at this point. I wept so much that I had to discard my notebook, as it was covered in salt.

The story itself is amazing, and I'm especially impressed at how the writers have adapted all of Ooberman's best loved songs to fit the tale. Even Beany Bean, with its refrain of "Beany beany beany beany beany bean" shows up here, and the lyrics really do come to life in the story. Indeed, I was left aghast by the life lessons that I learned during this section.

All in all, The Magic Treehouse is the best musical I've ever seen, and I've seen at least eight. Or nine if you count that one with the cats. What was that called? Oh! And I've seen the episode of Buffy when they're all singing (it's because of Dawn) so I've seen ten. And this is best. Except for the one with the cats.

The Magic Treehouse is being shown somewhere in Bromsgrove. Ooberman will be playing student-infested shitpits all year, which is a shame because Shorley Wall really was a great song. I think it was called 'Cats', by the way. Or 'Miss Saigon'.