Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

You were a silver feather, a surging tiger, a shooting star, a tired cosmonaut.

Two pieces, one rejected, the other printed, about kids telly and music. 

(Rejected piece, 2010) 
Inside the earth you hear music. November is the month of sacrifice. You wait next to your dead lord under the hill. You will accompany him to the afterlife. 

That was the dream I had. The music cut the cobwebs, dispersed the dust, sharp, sunken, scissoring, mandolins. Postgate was the scream I couldn’t emit, the word I woke with hot on my forehead and that’s no accident, the music he used is witchcraft, reanimation, a warning to the curious. Neither simply for kids, or too grown-up for them – the music Postgate used was about neither innocence or intellect but being reconnected with time and the earth, the flow and force of it, the shattering moments where the clock would stop and abscond, where the second-hand hovers in mid-air waiting for the reverberations to stop within you. Nostalgia is too often cheesedip, a party, a thrown arm round the collective shoulders, a safe and essentially warming review of those culinary/cultural/cinematic/musical motifs time has severed from your present. I recommend scowling on the stairs and not imbibing. Leave the party. You’re not wanted there. 

No one there can help or hold you in oh-ten: only a hex, a galdr can help you now. Find a lonely place at 8pm; get ready to be pierced with sorrow. Press 620 on your skybox for NickJrClassics. Watch Chigley, Mr Benn, The Clangers, Bagpuss & Camberwick Green. Listen to the music of Freddie Phillips, Sandra Kerr, Phillip Faulkner, Vernon Elliot, Postgate, the birds outside the village hall, the scrape of string, the quill, the Celeste, the music box, the old songs and new shapes, the unsung sung again. This is music that saw the future we’re now in and wanted none of it, music that summoned up old ghosts to walk amongst us, music that fantasised and idealised and experimented with visions of a future that was courtly, Christ-less, pre-feudal, Arcadian, impossible. 

Don’t watch with mother(fuckers) like you. Avoid adults; your irony-addictions will sap you of the ability to be moved. Give whatever children may be present blankets, bottles, dummies and let them be brain-kidnapped by the men in sheds and assorted mentalists who weaved such wonder across our teatimes. As an industry, nostalgia relies on the supposedly unproblematic desire amongst old geeks to feel like kids again, a fondness for a time of perceived non-responsibility. But it’s a fiction, a false memory, a mock-up infantilisation that’s pure dress-up, pretend, a skim across the trappings of childhood without ever surrendering to the trap again, the confinement, the monomania, all that ultimately traumatic and disturbing ferocity of feeling that is the true feel of childhood. With anyone else of your own vintage in the room, watching these programs will become an open review, a laugh, a sing-along, a chance to shore up a shared cultural heritage, a chance to deflect any admission that a toad playing a banjo can make you cry. How dare you. This music did what all truly good teachers do with kids & anyone else in earshot. It talked to you. Across the room with no agenda except the story. The wonder of the world now, and worlds gone.

Down the hill I hear explosions. They’re knocking down the twin towers of the Courtaulds factory in Coventry today, demolishing what had already been derelicted for two decades.

My dad used to work there. I had no idea what job he did and didn’t care, all I had as proof that he did something when he wasn’t home was a photo of him leaning over a drawing-board with a big set square looking focussed and busy and brochure-worthy. At 5.30 across town I’d be waiting for him to return. The ten minutes that came between 5.30 and the End Of Kids Programs was important, crucial, a way of calming the jitters but also an acknowledgment that funtime was up, grown-ups were coming home, were gonna boss the box from here on in, that sleep was coming and expected of you. An electric but also elegiac 600 seconds, whether it was Ludwig, or WilloTheWisp or the Clangers it was charged with epochal (for as a child every day was a lifetime) significance.  Startling now to think how many of those prone moments were under the control of communists, medieval pagans,  folk revivalists, troublemakers, how often Freddie Phillips had a hand in our pre-nap afternoon tumbles into sleep, how often his genius coloured our daymares, seeped into our unpiloted moonlit bed-bound journeys across our imaginations. Hearing in situ his score for the ‘54 reissue of Lotte Reiniger’s astonishing Adventures Of Prince Achmed you realise that Phillips from-the-off took music for kids’ seriously, composed his sounds in a way that fully credited kids with the intelligence and intrigue too many modern kids-composers steamroll over with singalong-obviousness and didactic edutainment. Likewise, to save this music from the neutering poison nostalgia spreads, you must avoid the hormonally mature, watch with those who never smirk, seek out the company of those who watch alone even when not alone. Kids. Prone, wide-eyed (tears WILL come) as you first experienced them, the programs Phillips, Elliot & Postgate created are less things to revisit than things that impose a revisitation upon you. No matter how solidly mortgaged-up your surroundings or secure you feel in your grown-up skin you may find yourself floating free, travelling ‘tween dimensions, reinhabiting that child-sized space you were once in, the long lurch of those latchkey lunchtimes and afternoons. And it’s in those refound lost moments, those redug holes in your memory, where stories etch into your skull and songs pluck sobs from your ribcage, that you truly experience this music’s possibilities. Because when you first heard this music you weren’t just the functioning human being you try to be now. You were a silver feather, a surging tiger, a shooting star, a tired cosmonaut, a bloodied Keneivel, an exhausted den-builder, a resting monster.

You had a future. Now your future’s come and gone, this ancient, fearless, fearful sound skewers you. The ponderous woodwind dirges of Mr Benn, the spectral medievalisms of Bagpuss, the diaphanous complexities within Trumptonshire’s everyday commute – feel free to chortle but know amidst those chuckles you are hiding something, know you are humming away the heartache, running scared of the fact that you never grew up, are still afraid, still unsure, still just as prone to the bliss and blisters this music leaves on your skin, in your veins, in your expectations. Kid/kidult/adult, you are still you, still hurt by elders, beat by peers, and you are still cut apart & engulfed by what your life might mean, still under the hill waiting to see the sky, innards as soft and perishable as ever even if you’ve buffed your hard shell to a presentably sacrificial shine by now, that shine that gets you work and feeds your belly and keeps your demise nicely ticking over. You might be all made up of lies now, but this music did not lie to you. It gently, persuasively, insisted, whispered in your suggestible ear, that ‘reality’ was not all it was cracked up to be, that points in time could be vaunted via sound, that music could be magical in an entirely practical kids-eye-level sense. And in so doing it put demands, standards inside of you impossible to shake, incapable of dilution in nostalgia’s lukewarm paddle-waters. Because nostalgia is never cosy when you’re on your own. It’s the most heartbreak you can summon up in an instant. Sink yourself, lose yourself, find yourself in it.

Grow up. And get small again. 

(Accepted piece, from Plan B Magazine 2008, that uncannily came out the week before Postgate passed on. RIP Oliver.)

Favourite pop object of the year? Easy. My most-used, most cherished piece of pop merch  of 08’ measures 3 inches by 1 by 1. Cast in white plastic in some Chinese sweatshop, it came free with a burger & fries. It plays a song, only one song mind, and only 30 seconds of it. My 10-yr old's plays McFly. Mine plays Girls Aloud. The 2-yr old steals both, scratches up cacophony & rerub with random buttonpush. Pick it up, pop it on, put it down. A concision to be guided by, and objects toddlers love finding. Kids are brutal with pop, have a pure taste for the fresh stuff that's always only just getting diluted by linkage and lineage: these pint-sized pop addicts respond only to melody and rhythm and what's memorable and what charms their soul, and cherish their McDonalds Popplayers almost as much as dad. Brilliant simplicity of purpose in getting that tune out of your head and into your jittering legs. It says use pop for what you need and it puts that control into tiny hands. But on kids television in 08, music is less willing to be governed by what kids actually want. Music on kids television, often kids first continuing exposure to sound & it's possibilities, is all about telling kids what they want and need.  And this new vocational, career-minded exploitation of music for educational purposes is in danger of becoming the only story, the utilitarian mindset instilled early on an entire generation. Kids pop, the music you hear in the living room, in the playground, in the back of cars, looks like it could soon become nothing bar a tool of social engineering. An evil of sorts. Just take a look out there.

Vernon Elliot 

 I'm talking about the 20 channels of constant noise broadcasting right now for kids from Boomerang all the way up to CITV and no, I'm not bitching about Uncle Walt's High School Musical or Hannah Montana  (or Nick's unquestionably ace Naked Brothers Band): these kindling/gold cashcow combo-juggernauts have been with us since time immemorial, and every teenager needs hatefigures. Harmless, here, & eventually gone after scarring you with a few undeniable moments. Not the problem. I'm thinking about the way music is now pitched at pre-tweens, the way, - horribly - that kids tv music has become knowingly educational, improving, productive. Time was when the few sparse moments of toddler-aimed telly we got wouldn't dare squander precious moments on anything so vulgar as lifeskills, awareness, brain-boosting, readying your tots for the corporate climb of adulthood. It may have given us those things incidentally, subliminally, accidentally – but it's intent was never to improve, only to enchant. Right now, in what's thrown at kids, in toys in magazines & in  television what's getting reflected is our mistrust, our paranoia, our fear that our kids will get 'left behind' or left out, our desperation to fine-tune every single aspect of their fate: we won't leave them in the care of men in sheds anymore, the Oliver Postgate's & Eric Thompsons who only needed five minutes of a latchkey-kids life to twist that life inside out outside in of an afternoon. Watching Camberwick Green or Bagpuss (as retransmitted by Nick Jr after 8pm) now, the supplanting of fantasy for fear in the last 30 years of kids telly is clear. Where current kids-shows grab the infant hand and pressure-push them into being part of a goal-achieving/problem-solving 'team' (as pioneered by  'interactive' shows like the hellacious Dora The Explorer) something like the Clangers is honest and harsh enough to allow the kid to be alone, only just understanding,  getting pulled by the sheer strange attraction of those lone pipes and Sun-Ra  shimmers  out into outer space. The opening titles and dewy dulcimer folk of Camberwick Green's opening and closing title-sequences are deathless bewitchment that still transfix any child caught in their cobwebs (the music box & credit-spool sequences in particular): this isn't music that condescends to children, rather it politely insists that children hear beauty uncut by protective concerns, as ravishing, suggestive and shatteringly poignant as music gets, something that doesn't offer swift congratulation or reasoning, something the kids head has to wrap itself around, figure out, wonder how anything can be so crystalline, so complex, so suggestive of a joy and sadness that's entirely unchildish. 

This is music that widened the world, disturbed the expectations about music for a generation as much as the radiophonic noises wibbling from all television at that time. In contrast, watch O8's biggest kids-hits, Little Einsteins, Lazytown, Higglytown Heroes, Superwhy and throughout music is used as some kind of grisly didactic device – implanting orthodoxies, emphasising your place in the mass, jollying prototype economic-units into bold new futures as captains of industry. Little Einsteins makes kids repeat by-rote hurrahs for Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, and other canonical cultural undeniables -  but misses out something crucial: that Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven aren't just things that make you 'smart', they're a glimpse of the infinite, they pull you into other ways of being, are poetically transcendent and not just prosaically beneficial. And just as kids toys are advertised for their ability to 'give your kids that competetive edge' so that terror of timewasting, that panicced paranoia of doing anything with kids that isn't self-evidently 'profitable' is choking the imaginative reach out of kids programming. We don't trust ourselves to diverge from the curriculum, we don't trust our kids enough to allow their imaginations to make sense of things. There's never a moments silence in kids entertainment anymore, a minor chord that doesn't get resolved, a circle of sound rather than a linear narrative. In the forward thrust of kidpop 08, there is no room for levitation. 

  Oh, there's still gold scattered. Pocoyo. Just watch it. Backyardigans' mini-operas, Boogie Beebies bhangra-fixation, Space Pirates’ batshit mix of cheese & chants & cool covers,  the fantastic 'Horrible Histories, Spongebob's always-engrossing dives into torch-songs and powerballads. Yo Gabba Gabba's use of BizMark, Smoosh, Low & The Shins should make it squarely hit the hipster gag-reflex: it works beautifully because it lets real kids bust their own spontaneous moves to the music (none of Hi-Five or Fun Song Factory's shouty marshalling – the kids on such studio-bound singalong shows look downright terrorized), and the  bands all seem to have raised their game rather than condescended to jingle-laziness - occassionally you get real moments of magic. Watching my 2 year-old's static, shocked stare when confronted with the volcanic reality of Cornelius shredding out  a Sesame-Street-style counting song, a wide-eyed stare that lasts half a minute, cogs whirring, before the body starts to make sense of it all in it's own little one-girl moshpit, I'm reminded that the best moments of kids tv music aren't those that improve you, tell you to eat your greens or learn your abc's or find the best of both worlds. The best moments undoubtedly stretch the mind but that's not their motivation, it's just a side-effect of the aesthetic explosion, the gentle derailment of reality that truly great kids tv music always seems to achieve so beautifully, and always with scant effort bar it's own hypnosis into it's own world, it's own reality. Commercial television obviously has no reason to pursue such unprofitable lines, but if the BBC don't find themselves a new Postgate or Peter Firmin soon consider our kids imaginations derelicted by television, abandoned to an ice-age of product-placement and home-tutoring. A better world maybe, a more productive one. But a world in which kids imaginations will never be lost in sound again, never reach beyond the confinements of what’s good for ‘em. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth forcing someone else to do it."

Directed by Steve Roberts
Starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, Denise Coffey

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll jab your eyes with fingers still trembling from the trauma of being made a child again. Like the first time you saw Thief Of Baghdad or Wizard Of Oz or Bride Of Frankenstein. You’ll jab your eyes just to check you’ve just seen what you think you’ve seen. You think you’ve seen Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, the movie adaptation of chief Bonzo Dog Viv Stanshall’s masterpiece solo 1978 album about a fading, inebriate English lord, his home, his family and his brother’s ghost. Pretty soon you’ll think about the film and put it in its place. A weird little corner of cross-reference but a place nonetheless. Parts remind you of Ealing. The acid-drop mot justes of dialogue, the sepia tint, the cruelty that makes its landscapes so alive, the olde English rural idylls and bucolic backwaters that seem to fester with ancient restlessness and rancour – pure Kind Hearts And Coronets. Parts look like a Chris Marker movie. Some Buñuel, mebbe. A healthy dose of Vigo anarchy. A touch of Python at their blackest. Strange echoes of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling. But you’re still nowhere near and you know it. So you watch it again.

And this is what’s crucial – Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, originally released in 1980, and now proudly with us again after an almost subterranean existence for the last 25 years (video copies have been selling for around £35 on eBay), isn’t a film to talk about, quote (although so rich in killer oneliners is it that this whole review could’ve simply been assembled from your faves), ‘recommend’ as such. To recommend it is to condemn it to a shelf life, a dusty inert existence as a cult classic – whereas Sir Henry is a film to be experienced as closely and seriously and often as possible, a work of art that should sink under the skin and into the bones and do its good work like vitamins and Trout Mask Replica. It’s a film that only makes sense as it is happening – as maddeningly skewed and disturbing and dementedly able to derail itself, back through time and inward through the mind – as British life itself.

Directed by Steve Roberts (who later went on to make the Max HeadroomTV series), Sir Henry is an attempt to shore up the long-running ‘Rawlinson’ motif that recurs throughout Stanshall’s work. Stanshall, who first floated the Rawlinson concept on the very first Bonzo Dog track ever (on 1967’s ‘Intro/Outro’ he introduces “the Rawlinsons on trombone”), fully explored his imaginary Rawlinson family-cavalcade of upper-class grotesques through a series of stunning Peel Sessions in the early Seventies, collating and refining the material into the Sir Henry album in 1978, and further chopping and elaborating his ideas into the final script of the film.

The film inevitably leaves plenty out of the Rawlinson saga that you can find on the sessions or LP (or indeed the book that succeeded the movie) – as such, Stanshall hated it. In comparison to the Rawlinson LP, it’s a more obviously eccentric, less measured take on English insanity and the insanity of being English. But there are heroics in the movie that can’t be denied – in the clarity, the cheapness, the unearthly look of the piece and in two words. Trevor Howard. The best movie drunk ever, not just because he clearly is drunk, but because no one before or since has captured the insufferable conviction, high sanctimony and black doom of your day-to-day piss-artist quite so appallingly and invisibly. It’s no accident that while Stanshall was writing much of ‘Rawlinson’ he himself was drunk, depressed and living in a perpetually waterlogged houseboat pitched between Shepperton and Chertsey on the Thames. And of course the true hero is Viv’s words, or rather our words, for queerly Sir Henry makes you proud to be British, and to speak this wonderful language, in a way entirely free of sentimentality or hokum or patriotism. The national curriculum is bereft without it.

Sir Henry emerges not as the diseased ramblings of a posh nutter, or zany, or absurd, or remotely ‘surreal’ at all. Sir Henry At Rawlinson End insists, quite clearly and correctly, that British life is madness, is to be driven out of your wits by the weight of history and the ghostly powers of what words we use and where and why we use them. Sir Henry knows that nothing is more platitudinous in suggestion and wonder than pub chat digressions, house parties, arguments with your nearest and dearest and the local foes who swim across your transom every goddamn day of your life. And like that life, Sir Henry should be taken on and in and lived with as best you can. I can’t recommend it highly enough so I won’t even start. It’s out there if you want it. And in here (tap skull and chest) whether you want it or not, Englander pig dog. A talking picture. And what could be more wonderful than that?

(from Plan B Magazine, 2006)

Monday, 26 March 2012

"It's all about one simple fact: the upper classes will always fuck you over,"

12:20 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , 1 comment

This Gun's For Hire
(from Uncut Magazine, 1997)

From right-wing London thug to blood-spattered undercover LA cop, Tim Roth has been there and done that. Here, he talks to Neil Kulkarni about his new film, Liar.

"I really like your magazine." Are you gonna read this piece? "Nahh, I stopped reading things about me a few years ago. Not because people were lying about me, or even because I get particularly precious about revealing too much. It's just that I'm not interested in the slightest. The press, what people I don't know think about my stuff, it's all so very far away from my own relationship with my work and what I do. Oh yeah, and I used to cry at very bad reviews. Plus, I am very boring. You can write what the fuck you like. Seriously, make the whole thing up and you can piss off down the pub as soon as you like. Honest."

Tim Roth is sitting opposite me getting cocaine blown up his ass by a transvestite through a diamante pipe as he fucks a penguin and a troupe of acrobatic dwarves piss on his face.

"See? A damn sight more interesting than anything I'm actually going to do. Go for it. Just don't mention me smoking. My son might read it."

No worries. That's a lovely basque you've got on.

"Isn't it?"

Fucking liar. It's a teddy. Sheesh.

Actually, he's not boring. Rather, Tim Roth is disarmingly downbeat and unassuming, in the way that most good actors are. Time and time again during an hour with Roth in a little hotel room off Tottenham Court Road, he seems so bemused and disinterested with the interview process that your mind wanders off and focuses in on the face. That nose, those eyes, the goatee -- the oddly sexy face that's convinced you of so many things every time you've seen it since 1978. Tim Roth is the Mark E. Smith of cinema; his career is defiantly, definitely one in which the dictates of integrity have weighed far heavier than anything else, a filmography which seems to show a willfully perverse insistence on only doing films he believes in and can learn from. There's no baiting to be done here, but no wave to coast either; his constant insistence that his public persona lasts as long as the camera rolls is both admirable and makes for a bugger of an interview. Yeah, he's a lovely fella.

From his early appearance in Leigh's Meantime and Alan Clarke's masterful Made in Britain, through Frears' The Hit and Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover and onto Hollywood -- Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Gridlock'd, Rob Roy and Four Rooms -- Roth has absorbed us in a curiously unaffectionate way.

Here's a brilliant character actor who has resolutely refused to grow bigger than his roles, who spurned Reservoir Dogs' potential major-player springboard for the determinedly low-key Bodies, Rest and Motion, and who retreated from the worldwide explosion of Pulp Fiction with the bleak downbeat realism of the massively underrated Little Odessa. His continued commitment to independent film work, including his newest work, Liar, and his dedication to always test his own talent in non-typecast roles reveals a restless, quixotic urge. Where most British actors move to Hollywood with the express intention of being a star, for Roth it was an attempt to rediscover the reason he got into acting in the first place -- a spirit he found lacking in his UK contemporaries.

"In 1990, I felt completely alone in terms of cinema acting in Britain," he admits. "I would never audition. I'd say, 'Either you want me or you don't.' I was very ambitious and, to a certain degree, quite ruthless with myself. I knew that the kind of acting I wanted to do, the kind of acting that all the actors I'd ever related to did -- DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Brando -- wasn't going to be encouraged in this country at all. I saw Gary Oldman making it, so even though I knew it would be impossible for me to stay in LA's little private club or even make a Hollywood movie, I just thought, 'Sod this,' and went. As it turned out, I spawned it and stayed!"

What exactly did you feel was missing in the UK?

"Struggle, honesty, a challenge. Any attempt to talk about life in a non-prissy, non-period, non-Oxbridge way. One thing I really regret about coming to the US is the fact I never got to work with Ken Loach. That's it, though. Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Alan Clarke are, I think, three of the best film-makers on the planet. I think one of the greatest shames in the US is that Public Broadcasting has never had a look in. In the UK, briefly, for about 20 years, public TV gave us some of the greatest popular works of art this century. It just felt to me, in 1990, we were so deep into a despicable Tory government with no end in sight, with the BBC already being destroyed, with the whole concept of honest, truthful films being trashed in favour of a load of period flouncy bullshit, that I had to go before I gave up. England just felt defeated and decaying, and I wanted out. Basically, I have no regrets about leaving -- I just regret being forced to leave."

Surely you miss the potency that British film can possess, though? In a small country, a film crosses over into life in ways that can't happen across a continent. I remember after Made in Britain was shown on telly for the first time, kids coming into school with crew cuts ripping off your lines and wearing daft hats. I remember when every kid in my year had seen Scum on video, and kids'd walk around with a sock full of stones murmuring, "I'm daddy here now." That centrality to life, that immediate connection with its audience must be something you miss.

"Sure, but what I miss is film's ability to do that any more even in England. Trainspotting had to use drugs, glamour and a good soundtrack to do that. That's it, it's all about soundtracks now. I remember in 1984 coming out of a tube station and being chased down an alley by 12 genuine, red-faced skins, and absolutely bricking it. And, when they caught up with me, they wanted my fucking autograph and a photo of me hugging their mum! That felt weird, that felt good even, but fundamentally the UK wasn't permitting those sort of films to be made anymore, apart from with Ken Loach. And I couldn't wait around for him to cast me, I needed to keep working to stay interested."

Were you encountering prejudice from your own profession?

"Yeah, I always have. I never felt at home with any kind of luvvie crowd, and everything in my life up 'til then had taught me that class exclusions persist everywhere, no matter how rarefied and veiled they are. In fact, that's one of the major themes of Liar, and one of the things that appealed to me."

Liar, directed by twin brothers Joshua and Jonas Pate, and set in Charleston, Carolina, is a carefully crafted crime story, told in flashback from an interrogation room where sleazy socialite murder-suspect Roth is given a lie-detector test by blue-collar detectives Michael Rooker and Chris Penn. Cutting back and forth between the events leading up to the night of the crime and the tense claustrophobia of the cop-shop, the film twists to a conclusion as dark as it is cruel, a pitilessly bleak denouement Roth found particularly fascinating to play out.

"It's all about one simple fact: the upper classes will always fuck you over," he says. "Wayland, the character I play, is a Charleston blueblood, a totally different kind of American character for me. He's rich, arrogant, alcoholic, misogynous, utterly immature. He's just a bastard, a fucked-up piece of moneyed-up shit who changes every second and fucks you off for the entirety of the piece."

"Some of the scenes where I get to be so obnoxious," he chuckles, "I enjoyed them so much. I was totally getting off on it while still reassuring myself that politically it was an honest film. Cos it is. They're fuckers, and they'll always fuck you over. That's the way of the world."

Was it difficult to play someone so different from yourself?

"Well, it wasn't so much Method as basing it on certain people I've seen, and an actual use of the imagination to put yourself in that position. The elaborateness of the plot allowed that. Because what he does in the film is so horrible, is so set up to almost prove the evil status of his class, I played him like a monster, like anyone's nightmare of the most morally bereft, repellent upper-class c*** you could think of."

You've acted in, and sometimes hustled the finance for, a lot of independent movies. What appeals to you about them?

"The script is always the first thing to appeal to me, independent or not. It's just that independent movies are the only place where decent scripts like that are even allowed to get beyond the planning stage. In many respects, Liar is a horrible movie with a horrible ending. And it's that cruelty which appeals to me. When every single film you go and see seems to be almost an advert for a certain lifestyle, or perpetuating some revolting false notion that bad things only happen to bad people -- and even that a person can just be 'bad' -- it appeals to me to work with things that have a more honest moral complexity. Films for fucking grown-ups, basically."

Liar is very wordy for a crime story. There are goddamn soliloquies all over the place.

"Well, like I said, I got involved because of the script. It's unusual to find long scenes in which the characters have actual speeches. The writing appealed to me cos I've always liked stories with deception and ground-shifts. Wayland is a manipulator purely because of his wealth; he gets information and uses it, he turns the tables on the cops and confronts them, they turn the tables on him and confront him. The audience never knows who's in control, the audience never really likes anyone in the movie. They're all wretched in their own way. That's what I love about the film."

I'd say here we get to the heart of what Roth offers cinema, and perhaps the explanation for his maverick career curve. What Roth gives to film is what he misses from film; the attitudes and desire of popular Seventies cinema, pre-Star Wars. Then, it had the room and the muscle to experiment, address serious subjects in serious ways, make stars out of ugly, old, physically unique men and women. It was an incredibly fertile time when cinema could make great films cheaply and, free of the star and studio systems, create great art out of popular entertainment. When I suggest he'd have been happier back then, he nods enthusiastically.

"The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Godfather, Badlands, Last Tango in Paris, Mean Streets, The Conversation, Chinatown, Ulzana's Raid. . .God, I could go on forever. I think they were some of the greatest films ever made. Star Wars fucked it all up and fundamentally condemned the Eighties to blockbuster nothingness and the murder of intelligence, passion and progress in film. Only since sex, lies and videotape and Reservoir Dogs has some of that territory been won back. That's why I'm not really interested in big studio films and continue to do independents, because there's where that questing spirit of great Seventies cinema is still going on."

Do you believe in being a star?

"For myself, it'll never happen. I think stars got replaced by great acting which then got replaced by stars who can't act or be stars. Of course, I yearn for the time of Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, John Wayne; people absolutely larger than life but still possessed with enough presence and unspoken depth which completely convinced you. They were stars. Today's 'stars' can't act, are starting to look the same -- ie, thick as fuck -- and only get called stars according to how much bullshit surrounds them and how many zeros they can command at the end of their pay-cheques."

We talk of the great stock players of the early Seventies: Robert Shaw, Borgnine, Ryan, Strother Martin, James Coburn, Harry Dean Stanton, David Proval, Slim Pickens, Warren Oates, and the bright-eyed enthusiasm Roth talks with shows his ambition, his defiant stance, and perhaps, the lineage he would wish to belong to. He missed out on a golden age and he wants it back: in independent cinema, maybe he's found it.

"Look at Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand, Minnie Driver, John Cusack, Dan Hedaya, John Turturro. Look at Larenz Tate, Ashley Judd, Sam Jackson. All these people do their best work in indie cinema, and they're the best actors out there. That's why I do so much independent work. Because I just want to keep working regardless of fame and completely regardful of the experience of movie-making, get to the end of my life and think, that was a good run. It's just a shame that we're forced underground if we want to maintain that control. But I'm happy here. There's nothing more satisfying than being part of a great movie."

Straight off, we should say that Liar is not a great movie, laboured as it is with TV movie direction and an irksome clever-clever plot that never quite gets past its own construction into anything like intrigue. What it does have is great performances. Michael Rooker (the titular star of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is a beautifully tense body of anxiety and repression, Chris Penn is perfecting the kind of dumb brute roles once marked out by Ned Beatty or Edward G. Robinson. And Roth is, for his part, the slimiest urbane thug you'll see all year, a fantastic horror-hero amalgam of every single brand of upper-class nastiness known to man. It's the roles, rather than the movies, that Roth seems to have an eye for; the fact that he even cares about what pays his mortgage marks him out as a genuinely free acting spirit perhaps yet to do his finest work. His best performances so far have been in films that are as wound-up and faintly hostile as he is (Dogs, Little Odessa and particularly Made in Britain). That cramped thirst, that fuck-off seriousness, that willingness to be pulled, that idea of acting as art, marks him out as one in a million.

"I'm directing The War Zone," he winds up with by way of a coda and summation, "based on the novel by Alexander Stewart at the moment, and I'm learning all the time. Fundamentally, I'm terrified, because you don't just show up, get it done in six weeks and fuck off. This is a year of my life, you get questions about every two seconds and you have to have answers for every single one of them. I'm absolutely fucking terrified of going into work, and I think this might completely destroy me."

But you're learning all the time.

"Oh yeah, loving every minute. Fear keeps you moving. Especially fear of fame."

Spot on. Let's hope Roth stays out on a limb for some time yet. A cinema punk. A national treasure.

"That was great," he says, lighting up. "I love interviews."

A little liar.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

"When did entertainment get so fucking unentertaining?"

07:53 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , 1 comment
[What a total charmer ROB ZOMBIE was. Showed me round some great Hollywood cemetries ('look, here's the grave for Mel Blanc - yeah I know, can't believe it doesn't say 'That's All Folks!'') and had fun with him in full zombie-make-up running around the Sunset Strip wax museum scaring kids until we were ejected by humourless security guards. Hung out with him and Ozzy in Alburquerqee and on to San Antonio later for Metal Hammer but that piece is long-lost.]

"First you gotta realise everything is fucked. Then you start building . . ." 

(©1998, I'm guessing roundabout Halloween,  MELODY MAKER) 

"'Tis the season for evil and devilment to rear their ugly heads! Yank Metaller ROB ZOMBIE kicks off the horror show ..."

Watch MTV in the US right now and amid the lamentable coveyor belt of mediocre divas, pre-pube ganstas and three trillion rock bands called FLANNEL, there's just about the most damn entertaining three minutes you'll see all year.

Featuring a dreadlock-laden Jesus lookalike haring around in a customized hearse, a fishnetted supervixen lambada-ing with Satan, a giant vampire robot breakdancing in a cemetery and enough Z-grade exploitation flick strangeness to satisfy every schlock-jockey on earth, it's ex-WHITE ZOMBIE frontman ROB ZOMBIE's self-directed video for his new single, a homage to Grandpa Munster's spooked up jalopy "Dragula". And it's the daftest, cleverest, most instantly thrilling rock'n'roll moment of '98.

"Blame television," explains Rob Zombie, thankfully not wearing his scary contacts as he turns on the charm in his Hollywood office. When I was growing up, I'd get up in the middle of the night just to watch farm reports. That's how addicted to television I was. And all the tv shows seemed to have a pop slant to them back then. The Banana Splits kicked ass. The Patridge Family rocked liked fuck, The Monkees ruled, and even The Munsters had a really cool episode where Herman became a fucked up rock-star and deserted the family for a load of teenage groupies.

"For me, rock'n'roll was just another cool thing to add on to TV, comic books and snuff movies. By the time I'd grown up on this endless diet of visceral junk, both fictional and factual, rock music had to be just as theatrical and extreme, had to compete with the luridness with all that stuff that had desensitised me so much. When your mom takes you to see A CLOCKWORK ORANGE at age seven, you get a warped view of life."

The roots of Rob's spanking solo album, "Hellbilly Deluxe," (subtitled 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International"), aren't hard to dig out. In between monster truck'n'tractor meets, all-day wrestling shebangs and larking around in cemeteries (Rob's hometown in Massachusetts was once afforded"The Worst Place to Live in America" by Life magazine- "There was a "'We're Number One' party in the town hall," Zombie proudly tells me), the young Rob Straker* killed time by helping his folks out at the local carnival.

"It was just work for us, but the images have stuck in the music. I'm obsessed with all that strange, perfect, fucked-up Americana that 's disappearing so fast now. That's what the sleeves (spot-on sideshow geek posters and lethally accurate B-movie flyers) and the live shows are all about. Bringing showbiz back to the sick freaks who perfected it, not the hippies and nerds who run shit now."

You talking about rock or movies? "Both. Everything's so fucking crappy now isn't it?" he suddenly realizes. "When did entertainment get so fucking unentertaining? I remember loving the movies, getting excited by TV specials, seeing and hearing something new every fucking day that you just had to tell everyone about. Now, it's like why bother seeing anything when you know it's just going to be a crock of crap anyway?"

"You can't get excited cos you just know how shit everything's gonna be. Blockbusters have ruined films (as Rob learned during his involvement and subsequent stormy break with the making of the "Crow 3"), too much money has ruined the music business and no one can take a popular risk any more. There's just a chronic constant underestimation of the audience and the destruction of good old-fashioned middle-of-the-road entertainment like I do."

Say whut?

"I do! Trouble is, it's like you only have two choices now. You can either be sappy saccharine anodyne morally unimpeachable tax paying simpering idiot and be popular or you have to go to the other extreme, alienate the entire planet apart from your household pets and really self-consciously set out to shock. I don't see why you can't be popular and extreme, over-the-edge, but still there to entertain all the ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls. My stuff is animated by a love for this shit, others are just ripping the piss. In the tradition of PT Barnum and William Castle, I'm just a good American showman, here to entertain the folks some." His face doesn't crack, but his eyes twinkle like Willy Wonka's . Fuck, this man is onto something.

A self-confessed workaholic, Rob has so many things on the go (his own "scary surf" punk label, ZOMBIE-A-GO-GO whose current signings are The Ghastly Ones and The Bomboras, bringing out his first self-illustrated comic book, continuing to direct movies and videos when he can, as well as touring the UK soon), it seems daft to ask him if the mighty White Zombie will ever return. But I do, cos "Thunderkiss 65" still shreds me and you both. White Zombie are over forever and that's my final word. Its not as if the world mourned our passing, we ain't the fucking Beach Boys, and who the fuck who want to hear a dozen people who don't know each other play songs they can't remember any more? I'm sick of compromise: with my new band and with the new album, I've just been indulged totally and I love it. I like being able to pursue my own course and triumph or fuck up on my own terms."

And what a triumph it is. White Zombie were all about turning Rob's obsession with B-movie horror, superheroes, hot-rods and big, dumb metal into a complete worldview (winning fans and pals like Howard Stern, Alice Cooper and Beavis & Butthead in the process). With "Hellbilly Deluxe", you get the new testament, with eye-poppin', ear-perforatin', slabs of mondo-bizarro metal informed by a lifetime's obsession with trash and its demented worship. Image if John Waters had been into Kiss, and you're getting close to just how good "Hellbilly Deluxe" is.

"Bands should always have fun!" Rob booms with adolescent glee. "If you don't enjoy it, why bother? It's no coincidence that it's precisely those bands who whinge the most about being rock stars who look like the most dressed-down stumblebum boring fucking bozos on stage. Wear far too much make-up and behead a few farm animals and creative angst just doesn't last. I can strongly recommend it."

As Rob pops in his white Linda Blair contacts for the photo shoot in a suitably scary Hollywood cemetery and before his pussycat sweetness completes the transformation into demonic horror, I ask him if he considers himself a model citizen. No, but you have to stand up against the tide of encroaching blandness. Not enough bands are actually doing anything any more, y'know?" So what are you doing beyond the cool sounds and visuals?

But's that's all there is! Don't you see? Nobody's making the effort showbiz requires any more. Making people sit up and go strange awhile. There's just this engulfing deterioration in everything. Dumbness that knows it's dumb. All the moneygoes into tired shit cos the people in charge are ponytailed clueless old scum. That in turn tells people if they wanna get anywhere , they can't make waves, can't believe or trust in their own imagination

"Fuck all that 'We know how things work' shit. All that people care about is if something sounds cool, looks cool, fucks yer head up. Everyone thinks everything 's already been done, so Hollywood and the music biz are just turning into karoke: remaking and remodellling and restoring. Fuck that. Fuck remakes of 'Psycho' and 'Carnival of Souls' and 'Carrie'. First you gotta realise everything is fucked. Then you start building."

Spot on, Rob Zombie's alternative universe is the grooviest, coolest, ghouliest place on planet pop right now. Come on in. The flames are lovely

Monday, 19 March 2012

"Perfect. As only the superficial can be." Screaming Trees & Soundgarden live reviews, 1996.

Two reviews from the grunge years, or as I remember them, the blatherdy-shitfaced years.  I recall arguments with bouncers and many many hotel cocktails before both of these. What a fkn amazing band Screaming Trees were - this post is here cos 'Nearly Lost You' popped up on an old mix CD in the car the other day and blew my day apart.

(From Melody Maker 16th November 1996 - headlined 'Aye There's The Shrub' which is atrocious but kinda likeable)
Newcastle Riverside (UK)

For a gig you might've expected to be a pissed-up, beery slop, all bum-notes and chaos, it's all in the subtleties of feel. This is the only way you can explain why Screaming Trees will never be a household name writ large across a million T-shirts.

They have made the best rock album of the year - no question - and the confines of this place should be too small for their global anthems-in-waiting. You can see no earthly reason why they aren't the biggest rock band on the planet; you realise how Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder or even James Hetfield would kill to write anything that's played tonight. It feels impertinent to be 10 feet from the stage; you feel you ought to be two miles back and craning your neck over a sea of hands out there. This is like standing next to God at a urinal, bumping into Krishna down the launderette. And you have to find a reason, Why here, why now? And the answer's deep snobbishness doesn't matter.

Screaming Trees are just too good to be huge, to be spread thin. This music, these songs, are too hard fought for to have the immediate simplicity MTV and its raw teen audience require. I'm not saying the huge audience the Trees should have are simply too stupid to grasp them; I think they're just too young to fully identify with Mark Lanegan's mordant bitterness, his almost mystical resignation.

Everything is in place tonight for Just Another Rock Show, but the Trees, perversely (naturally) have to take things beyond the simple stimulus-response of riff and power and into something approaching magic and mathematics. "Shadow Of The Season", which kicks off tonight, is just too dark, too pulverisingly propelled to have ever been their "Teen Spirit", no matter how much you might want it to be. "Nearly Lost You" soon follows, a constant skipped groove of explosions and fades, while "Halo Of Ashes" rises horribly/wonderfully out of itself, shedding its rhythmic weight to cruise a wave of pure, stunningly executed feedback for a good minute, leaving the moshpit static, shocked in awe. "Dollar Bill" wrings tears from our drunken lungs; "All I Know" has Gary Conner writhing like a child in his own genius; "Butterfly" reminding too many of us of '92 and nights lost in sweet oblivion. "Make My Mind" launches itself, so blazing with heart-tugging hooks you're left gasping at Lanegan's steely nonchalance in its whirlpool, "The Secret Kind" and "Winter Song" take you to the point of emotional exhaustion before "Gospel Plow" finishes you off, speechless and hopeless now, just scattered around like a leaf, mouth lolling in abject surrender.

Hell, maybe it's just bad luck, airplay, image, the usual. Me, I'm filing Screaming Trees next to those bands beamed in from Venus whose sheer greatness seemed to actually stop them at the door to the success they deserved; Rex, Thin White Rope, Shudder To Think, Shiva Burlesque. Tonight was an intimate, heart-stopping lurve-thang and I'd like to keep it that way. When they get Xmas Number One, feel free to scoff at my repellent elitism. This is a beautiful, beautiful thing. This is unforgettable.
Neil Kulkarni 

(Melody Maker, September 28, 1996, headlined 'Give Us A Chris!' - jesus that's just bad)

Perfect. As only the superficial can be.

I have absolutely no desire to know what Chris Cornell is on about. He's a miserable fucker, a bad poet with a nasty beard. His lyrics are all along the go-nowhere, do-nothing, kill-everything, hate-everyone line that Americans seem to find so much truth in (well, living in the most successful police state in the world must get you down). I suspect him of being an idiot, a narrow-minded killjoy or, failing that, a disingenuous mountebank. Whatever, I don't care about Soundgarden being 'real' or 'significant'; what's glorious about them is just how enormously enjoyable they are as a Two-Dimensional Experience, as The Rock Band perfected, pristine, state-of-the-art and beamed into your home.

Soundgarden take the whole lexicon of big, chundering, blazing, heavy rock, brutally excising all the frills and flatulence to create a seamless run of stacked-up riffs and postures that you just have to drown in. And for me, the thrill is entirely soulless, it's a pure buzz, a sonic hit to rival The Prodigy or Slayer, all flash and chrome and diesel.

Me and my mate don't know the new LP, so when they kick off with "Let Me Drown" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" we simultaneously look at each other wide-eyed and grinning in one of those sad but magic moments that only happen at gigs. And criminy, they fuckin' ROCK. The sound is fearsome, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in sheer juggernaut weight. In fact, the muddiness and the messiness are sublime in reducing Soundgarden to their brute best - a hulking, glowering bodyslam of sound, heavy on the lo-end, splattered and soiled with a trillion riffs.

"Rusty Cage" soon follows and we're grinding everything but our teeth, the song still saved by that face-out; it's just the greatest piece of see-sawing, hands-on-hips headbutt boogie (taste that word, stick yer tongue in it and and lap it up, it should taste GAMEY) you've ever heard, churned funkily through tonight, unfortunately not with the back'n'forth Quo lunges it so clearly deserves. In the pit we stare up at the balcony at their mute inertia and laugh.

Down here we're flipping wads to "Outshined" before Chris takes the spotlight for the so-predictable-it's-godlike solo in "Black Hole Sun". "Spoonman" rips through the sky, just the lumpiest, ugliest sound you'll ever love, the thunk-a-funk beats pummelling my intensely drunken head good 'n' painful.

"Pretty Noose" is so fucking charged, so million-volt razing, so flawlessly constructed that you expect the back curtain to drop and reveal The Young Gods on the mix; then "Blow Up The Outside World" takes what's left of your grinning soul and presses it up against its own gleaming heat until you're dust. Off, then, before being screamed back for a bizarre encore of Beefheart's "Drop Out Boogie", and then they're off again, and you're gagging for more.

I imagine Soundgarden backstage after, unplugging the circuits, plugging themselves in for the night, a team of white-suited experts monitoring their oil levels. Real metal machine music.
Neil Kulkarni

Friday, 16 March 2012

PULP "something that can sustain you" LIVE REVIEW

Funny, I went down as a punter with no intention of writing a damn word about it. Old habits n'all that, came home head too full not to, sent it to the nice folk at the Quietus for the hell of it, amazed they ran it, amazed also by the response it got. 
For no other reason than I love them, and yet again today they've helped here's 

"The indie-hero leaves the building. Thank God."

Always hated Blur, but remember this gig, and this chap, as a real charmer. This is the closest I was ever allowed to Blur actually, smart editors see. Always had to grab a quote at the end of the gig, always hated doing that but I recall Graham & Dave being sweet. Shame about their jazz-hands mate really. 

Sheffield Leadmill 

(from Melody Maker, July 19th, 2000) 
Maybe the whys and wherefores don't matter. Maybe it's pointless tryng to figure out the real reasons for people coming here. Nobody could really have been expecting a cheeky Blur cover, or a glimpse of Damon in the wings. Graham Coxon deflates any sense of happening as soon as he walks on -the rest of the night is your choice between enjoying this music in ferocious and meaning-laden context, or just enjoying it like you've stumbled upon it unawares.
If Coxon hadn't announced himself with this tour, had anonymously slipped on to a support slot next month, and just let 'The Golden D' quietly worm its way into our souls, the blissful devastation his band wreak would be up for grabs, a cool new fix. And none of you would have come to see it. The problem, if there is one, is that this band wil be tolerated as that most tiresome indulgence, the side-project, when in fact Coxon's making music some of us might infinitely prefer to anything from his bigger band.
To be fair, all of the above becomes bullshit-overthink about one second into 'That's all [i wanna do]'. You're thinking, "OK, why not just invite us round to flick through your Hüsker Dü collection ? But then the songs surges ahead and... fucking hell, what a band ! Dave Rowntree on drums, Rod Idlewild on guitars - why the fuck haven't they come up with anything this fantastic in their proper jobs ?" Coxon staggers under the howl, only taking the mic to sigh/scream/sing innexact lyrics in a tiny weeny voice.

'Jamie Thomas' and 'The Fear' are more solid feats of engineering, but something's lost when a band this fluid have to play forward. Yet the squeals from the pit imply a whole re-education could be going on. Patronising to say it, but the thought of Blur fans rocking out to Mission of Burma covers ('That's when i reach for my revolver' and 'Fame and Fortune') doesn't just warm the elistist soul, it's pretty much a brave insistence on a love affair these fans should make themselves a part of.
Coxon remains stage-centre throughout, but after a while you're not even looking at him. During 'Don't think [about always]' you actually find yourslef staring at the amps, as if you can see what glowering chaos will issue forth. And you'd never have thought that before arrivig tonight. 

Called back for an encore, you realize the transformation you've witnessed in the past half hour : from a guy in a band that you hate, to a guy with a band that has a definite future. The indie-hero leaves the building. Thank God.
Neil Kulkarni

Graham Coxon's verdict:  "It was surprisingly good when you consider that the only rehearsals we've had were last week for about three days. It's been really breakneck putting the band together and getting ready for the tour, so i'm really pleased with how it's gone. The crowd were kind of folded-arms, OK-impress-me-then, but i'm actually more nervous about the London shows. Damon's gonna be at one of them, I think. That's slightly nerve-wracking."
Dave Rowntree:  "It was good. Last night in Glasgow was mental, though. For me, it's just an opportunity to play without the whole circus that goes along with Blur. Everything in Blur is really thought-out, requires a lot of yourself and a lot of effort. This is, i wouldn't say more physical and less cerebral, i'd say it's still both, but you feel a lot more relaxed knowing that, hey, we only rehearsed for three days last week, let's go out and just do it. There's a lot less pressure on."

Monday, 12 March 2012

"Radiohead were shit tonight. It was a crap gig."

[Belief, shame, rejection. Me and RADIOHEAD thinking recently about how I would preface everything I ever wrote with 'This Is A Work Of Fiction'. Not because that's necessarily true, although sometimes I suspect I AM A WORK OF FICTION but because it'd save me the shame that every pop writer feels about what they were into, what they eulogised, the music they loved they can no longer even stand being near: to whit - Radiohead, a band who always blew me away live, a band who for the duration of 'The Bends' and 'OK Computer' I thought were awesome, a band who ever since have done their damnednest to make me loathe them and everything they stand for. As hinted at in these two pieces, the first a review of their 'Meeting People Is Easy' film from the dying days of the Maker (I had to rewrite this fucker so many times it pissed me off royally, just cos the dumb fucks above me didn't want critique only fkn reportage), the second from Bang Magazine (another squandered opportunity). The Bang piece was a fun trip with Ami Barwell and have to admit, at the Manchester Apollo they were awesome (only other band I've seen pulled the same trick at the Labatts Apollo was Pantera back in 95). But do I actually wanna listen to any Radiohead ever again? Nup.]

Melody Maker - November 14 1998 
OK Editor: Neil Kulkarni

"Meeting People Is Easy", a film by Grant Gee, charts the demented pressures and shattering schedule that accompanied Radiohead in 1997. It follows them across America, the UK, Europe, the Far East and Australia, as they tour, play on TV shows, collect awards, shoot videos, do interviews and slowly go mad in jet aircraft all over the world.

Following much the same enigmatic aesthetic as Radiohead themselves, "Meeting People..." is a cool, beguiling feast for the eyes and ears, but after an hour and a half you'll be none the wiser as to the means and motives behind their work. If anything, the band actually use the usually revealing documentary medium to bury themselves under an avalanche of conflicting chaos and wary suggestion. It's a demanding, challenging 94 minutes.

1 min: The film begins at a breakneck pace with scenes from some of the band's best performances from last year, intercut with a hilarious eaves drop on Jonny and Colin trying to record a radio-plug (something you soon discover they have to do an awful lot), and the bizarre backstage loosening-up of Thom. One of the most instantly memorable scenes happens around here: that incredible Glastonbury performance.

Thom recalls: "Everything that's happened after Glastonbury has been a let-down. The feeling when I shouted at the lighting engineer to turn the lights on the crowd so I could see at least one person, cos we couldn't see anything. There were 40,000 people up the hill, holding lighters and fires burning, and tents pitched, and I don't think I've ever felt like that in my entire life. It wasn't a human feeling, it was something else entirely."

5 mins: The real highlights here are the live performances. You rarely see an entire song (only an incredible opening "Lucky" five minutes in) and never see anything resembling yer average performance video. Songs are given weird directorial spins, cut into mid-way, arranged in hectic order, never allowed to finish. Throughout the video, themes emerge and disappear to be picked up again later. The effect is cumulative rather than didactic. You're in for the whole ride.

15 mins: Another major concern of the film is the pressure the band feel under when trying to reconcile their music with the positions they're forced into. The public's hunger for every available bit of information and the constant crush of cameras and microphones is evoked with claustrophobic close-ups. Twenty minutes in, a run of idiotic questions are spliced together ("Are you Britpop?") over a scrolling text of myriad answer cuttings.

Alongside footage from rehearsals for David Letterman's TV show, Thom's cracking up: "If they're gonna call it a concept album, if they're gonna f*** us on the technology angle, then let them. It's f***ing noise anyway. We've done our job. We add to the noise, that's all."

If some of the whingier moments drag a little, it's always buoyed up by performance. A particularly painful shot of Colin desperately attempting to stay awake through his hundredth interview of the day runs into amazing Japanese concert footage, filmed facing the crowd through a fisheye above the first row. Perhaps the most revealing live shots are during two takes of "Creep": one from that unforgettable Glastonbury performance, when Thom holds the mic out to the crowd with a look of resignation and amusement, the other where the camera starts in the midst of the crowd, then moves back steadily until it's actually outside the hall looking long-distance and with an eerie detachment at the back of heads and a dim racket.

30 mins: Onstage, in rehearsal and recording, Radiohead are an absorbing, intriguing spectacle. The video falters when forced to confront the band offstage, or reflect their fractured take on the mad rush surrounding them.

In Berlin, a limp collage of meaningless images (vagueness mistaken for profundity again) sells the city and the band's performance there short. Scott Walker accompanies a particularly pointless bit of noodling: slo-mo film of Thom coming down an escalator intercut with a particularly Hendrixian bit of gippery from Jonny, half-filtered over shots of the Empire State Building with a fly crawling on the lens. It's at times like this that "Missing People..." comes closest to resembling nothing more than an extended filmic indulgence, and it's here that you question how much the film was under the band's direct control.

45 mins: Halfway through and you're just getting used to the constantly shifting rhythms of the film, when there's a sudden moment of reverie. The film often does this - shifts from the chaos of the tour into quiet little unguarded moments where the band get as close as they can to revealing themselves.

In the back of a cab to an aftershow party Thom muses: "The freakiest thing about any of this is the idea that you would be one of those important bands to somebody. I remember listening to 'Strangeways' in the bedroom of a girl in Oxford when I was young, and 'Dead Letter Office'. There's this weird way music gets imprinted on your heart. That's why playing live, meeting people and seeing people that age at the gigs is such a big deal, cos I remember it being a big deal for me. Everything else is bullshit. That connection is the only reason to keep going. The idea that you form the most crucial part of someone's life, especially in the nasty teenage bit, where everything goes completely wrong."

There's another such moment soon after, when, after some chucklesome attempts to record a few award acceptance video speeches ("That was shit, God, I hate doing these f***ing things," spits Thom), the band find themselves backstage in Japan, discussing where it all went wrong.

Thom: "I'm really worried that we've been running too long on bravado and believing we're as wonderful as everyone tells us we are. Jonny, last year we were the most hyped band; Number One in all the polls, and it's bollocks."

Jonny: "I don't see why that should change what we do."

Thom: "Of course it does, it changes everything, your mental state, it's just a complete headf***. We're so full of it. We agree to do things and then halfway through doing them we're just wrecks."

Jonny: "Isn't it really that the excitement level's gone a bit?"

Thom: "Yeah, of course. I just feel we should get out while the going's good. If you're bored of the songs, you're bored of the songs, and there's nothing you can do about it."

60 mins: It's these moments, uncut and unmediated, that form the most fascinating sections of "Missing People...". Instances of such transcendent absurdity, the frowns crack to smiles, or times when the band is caught simply doing what they do best - playing together.

We see a long cut from a band rehearsal. They sound incredible. Next, the fraught recording of a new song is painstakingly and fascinatingly detailed. The band meet their Eton-Hogg-style boss and mug gamefully with gold discs. That "No Surprises" video is analysed by two chirpy Sky News afternoon-presenters (one of whom concludes "it's music to slit your wrists to, the most miserable sound I've ever heard", in-between mouthfuls of birthday cake). And Colin charmingly consoles two tearful Japanese fans at the airport. All these moments are to treasure.

75 mins: The by-line for the film is "a film by Grant Gee mainly about Radiohead". What you realize as you approach the end is that undeniably arresting as Gee's images and editing are, the most interesting moments here are the straight-shot glimpses into Radiohead's inner workings, the moments, oddly, that are simply direct documentary.

90 mins: As you leave the band exhausted, towelling off, and digging into their rider after the last show of the world tour, the abiding message the video hopes to promulgate is an entirely conventional, albeit honourable, one. The attempt is to try and show a band under siege, from the press, from their minders, from the business of being in a band, a band who just want to play for the people. Thing is, this video can only be seen as part of the obfuscation process the band seem to resent, and, as a plea for understanding and solitude, the whole thing can't help but come across as a film perpetuating precisely that intrigue and overthink it seeks to destroy. But, if Radiohead's mission is to add to the confusion of life, then "Meeting People Is Easy" goes even further - it infinitely adds to the confusion surrounding the band themselves. See it and reel.

With the albums KID A and AMNESIAC, RADIOHEAD achieved the seemingly impossible and brought uncompromisingly experimental music to the arena-going masses. However, their latest, HAIL TO THE THIEF, is their most accessible work in years.  NEIL KULKARNI loses faith and finds redemption on tour.

Is this the place to be? What am I doing here? I’m backstage at the ambitiously titled after-show ‘party’ thrown by Radiohead following their gig at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange. Lights so low you have to squint to see the person you’re speaking to, various people of varying degrees of import all sharing that same smug expression that says ‘Hey, look where we are! See how far we’ve come!’. A few bottles of beer which the BANG wrecking crew consider beneath us. A few bottles of what looks like dead classy wine, pointlessly near stacks of paper cups. I steal photographer Ami a bottle of white. She nicks me a bottle of red. And we sit back, swigging posh plonk and watch and wonder who the fuck these people are, wondering when after-show parties became a byword for so much meet’n’greet embarrassment, such a falteringly polite soirée that feels like it’s winding down before it’s started. And inevitably all you can hear is the sound of backs being slapped: there’s incredibly nice bassist Colin Greenwood saying that ‘This tour is going brilliantly, we’re trying to change the set every night to keep ourselves interested’. 
There’s guitarist (and Colin’s bro) Jonny. There’s Thom Yorke, who you see for all of three seconds as he walks in and seems to disappear through the wall. The feeling that we should be joining hands around a table and calling for answers from the infinite is confirmed by the fact that everyone here seems to be a ghost of a person: people whose eyes you can’t find, all mouthing ectoplasmic platitudes about how great tonight was, how unbelievable the gig was, how great everyone is, and BANG are sat here getting sneered at for not wiping our lips or holding paper cups, and for holding the following heresy close to our hearts which is presumably unmistakable in our eyes. 
Radiohead were shit tonight. 
It was a crap gig. 
We’re bored. 

"For a band so critical of government they’ve made me feel like a dissatisfied voter"

Can’t say it out loud. ‘Cos there was a time when I would’ve punched myself in the face for even saying it to myself. I was a believer who couldn’t get close to these gods. Right now I’m a matter of feet away from them and I can’t tell them how close they’ve come to shattering my faith tonight. For a band so critical of government they’ve made me feel like a dissatisfied voter: plenty to say but with a gnawing sense that no one in this colossal structure would care. They’ve got one more chance to keep this sheep in the flock. I want them to care again. 

‘Cos I didn’t get that tonight. I got a full sense of all the reasons Radiohead should be playing, but nary a shred of feeling that they were here because they wanted to be. Nothing seems to animate them in Edinburgh except the idea of fulfilling obligations, showing their faces to please the punters. It’s that fatal downward look on the existential tightrope, that queasy unease you get about whether Radiohead have a reason to be any more that characterises their set in Edinburgh. You get the feeling they’re here because they’ve sold tickets. The Corn Exchange (a terrible flat-pack, abattoir-style, ambience-bereft oblong-box hall that would probably conspire to suck the vibe out of the Second Coming) is heaving with Radiohead listeners. Here to listen. 
A curiously uninvolved audience. You sense admiration but no affection, assent and agreement but no fundamental conviction or lunatic devotion. You walk in and you can’t believe you’re about to see one of the biggest bands in the world in such intimate space, so close, on the level and clear in front of you, but it’d seem you’re the only one getting truly antsed in the pants. Near-religious mania only descends on one girl, whose head hits the floor to our left with a sickening thud as her eyes roll back in her head and the glossolalia starts spilling out. We leap to action: I issue ineffectual orders with my hands on my ears, and Ami lifts the girl’s head out of the beer-slick at the bar. And you consider how odd this all is: Radiohead play to stadia in the US, are the official ‘UK Band It’s OK To Like’ according to pretty much every nu-metal band in existence (and if that hasn’t put you off in recent years, then I guess I’m the elitist twat with problems), and have come to the world with a new album, Hail To The Thief, that’s their most accessible in years. And yet, they’re playing these normal-sized venues in an apparent gesture to the fans, coming on stage promptly at 8.30 with no support, playing for upwards of an hour and a half. It’s weird not knowing what to call this. Doesn’t feel like a gig. Or a fanclub gig. More like a showcase, an invitation to come check out the stars before they disappear into the realms of places you can’t afford, places where you’ll have to strain to see the stick men in the distance for your 50-odd-quid, And nice though it all is, it seems an act of charity, a well-intentioned yet ultimately devoid-of-drama way of diffusing precisely the very sense of anticipation and tension that any band’s return should hold. 

It’s a distinct feeling of anti-climax cemented when Radiohead walk on stage. The set’s a mess, casually conceived and frantically executed, battling against an audience who’ve seemingly forgotten what going to gigs entails – erm, dance? Sing? Enjoy yourself? Nah, just gawp at the big machinery and ‘appreciate’ – in a room that diffuses the sound into mud and the atmosphere into the walls. The precise gripe that you swore wouldn’t bother you before they come on starts to nag at you, Where are the hits? Why all this shit offa Kid A and Amnesiac and the new one no one really knows? Why only one song off The Bends and two offa OK Computer? Why pull people out of their homes for two dozen squid to watch musicians? It’s all over far too slowly. The highlights (a stunning ‘Pyramid Song’, a blazing ‘Go To Sleep’) are outweighed by too many songs (a disappointing ‘Lucky’ and ‘My Iron Lung’ and a half-arsed ‘Karma Police’) where Radiohead seem determined to make the new stuff sound better by playing the old stuff with lackadaisical indifference. And you return home with nearly all the love in your blood diluted and destroyed by the sheer mediocrity of tonight’s performance, the way they tried to damned hard to leave ever synapse untouched. And when you get to your hotel room you dig out the back catalogue and turn the lights off and get reminded of why you’re here. 

"you return home with nearly all the love in your blood diluted and destroyed by the sheer mediocrity"

‘Cos sheeyit. these five guys used to make my soul reel from the accuracy. Still do, when I can be arsed to let some extra wreckage into my life. But where Radiohead used to convince you they had a reason to be (Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer are an index in how to stay in touch with the infinite complexity and contradiction of creative expression even as the confines come in all around), as they’ve got musically more interesting their motivation seems to have slipped. The total freedom that characterised Kid A and Amnesiac has evaporated the heat and pressure and humanity from Radiohead’s sound, their grasp on your life and time loosening to a distant wave from their own perfectly malformed universe. A fatal loss in terms of anyone wanting to live with their records, a gain in terms of giving their sound the range and reach they’ve agitated for their whole career (even ‘Creep’ sounded spaced and planet-sized-horny in amidst the schmindie insularity it competed with at the time). Hail To The Thief makes me give a shit again like Kid A and its follow-up didn’t. A band finally confident enough to let us hear them plug in and play, a band gratifyingly unprecious enough about their own talent to start enforcing a brutal consciousness on their songs, clip things down, focus on the clear communication of their chaos. Like all Radiohead records, it’s honest about its own confusion, and it’s a record smart enough to capture a vibe of darkening, disturbing times for the world without becoming an issue-dependent gripe list. But throughout the Edinburgh gig the words that keep coming to your lips are ‘they don’t need to do this anymore’. Probably true, financially and promotionally. But a thought that no band (a band is not the same as a group of musicians) should give you from a stage, I was genuinely upset in Edinburgh. Maybe tonight’s performance at the Manchester Apollo will save me and them. 

" . . .makes me give a shit again like Kid A and its follow-up didn’t . . ."

It’s 8pm and already the vibe’s better. You sense the audience are disciples willing to ascend to heaven or curse their false gods depending on how Radiohead throw down their gospel tonight. Every new slab of ska that comes from the PA gets a boo ’cos it holds off the ‘Head’s arrival. And then, pitch darkness, a skittering of beats and a revealing moment. Thom Yorke walking centre stage, going past his place and finding the edge in the footlights, in the centre of a whirlwind of noise raining down from bleachers to bull pit. He just stands there for a hilarious hanging minute, as confronted by us as we are by him, a chap you’d ignore in the street grinning from ear to ear at the absurdity of the adulation he can command, the way a rock god can apparently just stand like he’s at a Safeway’s checkout waiting for his onions to be lasered. And he knows it’s funny. And that’s crucial – he enjoys it on its own merits, where before you sense he’d have scowled at the misguided idolisation and retreated into the darkness of muso anonymity. Signs of a band rediscovering their funny bone and their heart. And the rest of the performance is one of the most generous, startling, loving two hours I’ve ever spent in the company of a band. Nothing short of redemption. 
Too easy and too heartless to say it’s just down to the better sound. But as soon as ‘There There’ kicks in, there’s a richness that wasn’t there before, a propulsive lunge to Colin Greenwood’s bass that can be almost too engrossing, so hurriedly do you have to rush back from his fretboard to figure out what the fuck everyone else is doing, Phil Selway’s drums funky as fuck and filled with instinctive simplicity, Ed O’Brien and Jonny strapping on and getting filthy on ‘2+2=5’ with every derailed idea intact, forceful, direct. And simply put Thom sounds like he believes in what he’s doing. I haven’t heard him so thoroughly and unapologetically detail his heart and soul since that unforgettable night at Glastonbury all those years ago. Now, at last, unashamed of his voice and letting it soar free, plummet from cosmos to close-up in a syllable: ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Myxomatosis’ sounding HUGE but always skewered by his all-too human throat, so you can’t just sit back and admire the chrome, you have to go with his slipstream, go on the same emotional journey it’s clear his straining frame and occasionally spazzed-out body is on. Totally absorbing AND total showmanship (though he possibly wouldn’t admit the Ialter). Ed’s backing vocals are a revelation – turning so many harmonies into so much Bowie-esque drama and pure-pop pizzazz. Most stunning is just how incredible the new songs sound, just what curious avenues Radiohead are opening up, what weird anti-lineages they’re tapping into. On various nu-choonage (they play seven from Hail To The Thief, and just as many from Kid A and Amnesiac) they sound like The Raincoats, ESG, Roxy Music, The Durutti Column, The Fall, Aspera and none of the above – always the uniqueness of their vision shining through, something way more than mere ‘innovation’ going on, way more than middle-class prettiness, something more like auto-surgery on their own frenzied imagination with no wastage, no pointless noodling, never a second that doesn’t need to be there. 

"like some dream mash-up of Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis, Moonshake, Laika and the whole God/lce/Techno-Animal axis"

Even when they do songs that you sense no other band would dare to put in a set (the bust-up, Weill-style funeral march of ‘We Suck Young Blood’) you sense it’s not just to be perverse, not just to fuck with the conventions of what a gig should be all about. They’re playing these songs ‘cos they love them, ‘cos they honestly think they’re the best songs they’ve got, and they want to share. 
It’s only when you suddenly snap back from your immersion in ‘The Gloaming’ and ‘ldioteque’ that you realise that what Radiohead have done is nothing less than reinvoke the post-rock project and make it sell millions – this is like some dream mash-up of Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis, Moonshake, Laika and the whole God/lce/Techno-Animal axis somehow being played in a massive theatre in Manchester and getting rapturous applause the weirder it gets. 
No mean feat, but what really secures this gig in the memory is how much damn fun they seem to be having. Yorke swaps gags with the crowd, about clapping along, about his band’s strangeness, about the possibilities of doing an Iron Maiden cover. 
There’s a great moment as they fade out on some gorgeous dubbed-out vocals, the machines slowly taking over while Thom sits stage right, looking at us and laughing and then looking at the band and nodding-alternating the two as if to say ‘Jesus Christ, ain’t this dandy?’. Unbelievably, it’s the childish sense of joy and naivety (never words you’d associate with Radiohead) that comes through, a playfulness as unexpected as it is unable to contain itself. 

So when they do dive back into the past, you don’t feel like they’re rolling up their sleeves and inwardly groaning. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ is still incredible – the audience dropping its singalong in sheer trembling tension at Yorke’s unmannered subtlety, the precarious way he holds Radiohead together, the way he can reinvigorate material you’d think would be tiresome simply by letting the songs live again, exist in that same believable space they occupied when you first heard them. ‘Just’ and ‘My Iron Lung’ could sound lumpen in amongst Radiohead’s new tricks but they play each at full-tilt, rocking like bastards, pummelling the songs into renewed life. They depart their second encore with a crowd finally taking the breath they’ve waited two hours to heave and a look of awe passing between us participants (not mere spectators, and that was half the difference tonight). The look of mutual recognition that comes with the knowledge we’ve been witness to something special. And you realise you can now look everyone in the eye, ‘cos you all know what’s real. 
Radiohead were brilliant tonight. 
It was an unforgettable gig. 
We’re in love again.

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