Frank Vincent – an appreciation.

From as far back as I can remember … I always thought highly of Frank Vincent.

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He just dominated scenes, even if his appearances in films were fleeting. He was the archetypal ‘heavy’ because he looked the part so well, but he had a gravelly charisma that was so natural it elevated him above his character actor peers. His violent interactions with Joe Pesci are his legacy:

In Raging Bull (1980) Joe Pesci repeatedly slams a car window into his noggin.

In Goodfellas (1990) Joe Pesci doesn’t take kindly to being asked to go home for his shine box.

In Casino (1995) Frank Vincent belatedly enacts revenge by burying Joe Pesci alive in a cornfield.

Such were the charming cinematic highlights of my youth.

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It was in the final two seasons of The Sopranos, though, that Frank Vincent’s acting chops were finally rewarded with a meatier role. His antagonist Phil Leotardo was the most complex in the show, a tragic combination of envy, hubris, and self-loathing. He should have got an Emmy for his performance.

Salud, Frank.

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/14/frank-vincent-obituary

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Bantz on the Orient Express.

As long as Europe has a pulse there will be the Orient Express. It’s the essential connect to the not entirely apocryphal ‘glory days’ of continental travel. My bucket list includes doing the Orient in a Farage pinstripe, though this travelogue without a ghastly murder on the train. There’s something about the combination of stunning landscapes and sordid intrigue that ensures Agatha Christie’s classic is still being revisited some 80 years after the book’s first edition (1934).

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Anyway, an excellent piece of writing here in The Telegraph ahead of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s November release:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/rail-journeys/orient-express-mystery-and-history/

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Bus CCTV – the accepted Panopticon.

It’s the year 2017 and I don’t look out of the window when I’m on a bus. This is because I’m too busy staring at everyone (and myself) on the bus through its CCTV feedback screen.

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Me on the No. 3 bus to Gorgie (Edinburgh) this afternoon.

I am specifically talking here about the Lothian Buses device, Edinburgh’s own slice of PG-13 voyeurism. Officially, I have no active interest in the other people joining me in the ramshackle vessel’s journey, but the screen is just … there. I even play a game: I sit at the back and pick my nose when the camera isn’t on me, and attempt to unearth something green and solid before I’ve been framed. If the contraption were on the Orient Express I’d be doing this instead of gazing through the glass and marvelling at the changing landscape.

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David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.

I’d like to see the crime statistics for bus assaults, and measure them against the introduction of cameras with their feedback display. I maintain my hunch that there is no doubt a correlation between knowing you’re being watched and committing a crime. A lot of scum frequent buses – these cameras are our psychological protection against the most cautious riff-raff.

I once again come back to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which appears to be my obsession of late.

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The Presidio Modelo prison in Cuba, closed in 1967.

So many of our external endeavours – by this I mean our post-house interactions – are oriented within a Big Brother framing device. The only difference between Orwell’s all-seeing eye and our ‘real-life’ one is that we’re complicit in the game, inspecting ourselves in the frame and often inhabiting our own watered-down (or up) voyeur’s gaze. The amount of times I’ve acted the paparazzi in the presence of a midget, for example, is frankly beastly.

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/exposed/exposed-voyeurism-surveillance-and-camera-exhibition-guide-4

Your generic shop for equipment: https://www.videosurveillance.com/buses.asp

 

 

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Budapest Metro is an underground sketch comedy from hell.

In late January and early February 2011 I spent eight days in Budapest. I hated the city and almost everything about it – it was just replete with scum who would literally do anything for a dollar. On every other street corner you had a hustler or a beggar or an alleged drug dealer peddling Daz washing powder as if it were cocaine fit for Hunter S. Thompson in his prime. The highlight was a Tesco and a ‘cinema hostel’ I stuck around at for the banter, i.e., alcohol and movies. I still meet up with (now) close pals I made on that trip, and we are all in agreement that the metro was, as Alex DeLarge would put it, a real horror show.

306453_10150797955890691_1579151984_nI’d never until that trip seen such shamelessly corrupt ‘authority figures’ as I did their ticket inspectors. They’d swagger around in packs – they reminded me of the Toon Patrol weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – the ugliest, shortest, most unshaven specimens you’ll ever witness wearing a uniform. If it were the early 1940s they’d be volunteering for a stint in a death camp. Weirdly, so many of them were the spitting image of Georgy Zhukov. I took about 25 metro journeys during my time on the Danube, and on each occasion was privy to these mutants harassing half the train. I had the impression most of them were mentally compromised individuals on work experience. If you’re expecting commuters to be deferential, though, at least try and look like you’ve not just crawled out of bed.

 

Anyway, there is a film about them called Kontroll (2003), and it essentially sums up these plonkers, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. I saw it the other day and it impresses. Budapest Metro is apparently the oldest electrified subway network on the continent … which is just great. I’d have the staff replaced by robots.

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The movie is good, though, and better than the real thing (a common occurrence).

Further reading/viewing:

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/11/10/kontroll-issues-budapests-public-transport-ticket-inspectors/

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kontroll-2005

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Edinburgh from the skies.

The sheer technical brilliance of this snap, and the conditions of its making, shouts out pure romance. What a time to be alive. Today we get crappy iPhone images from the window of a Ryanair flight to Lanzarote.

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Alfred G Buckham’s Aerial View of Edinburgh (1920) keeps cropping up in material I’m reading about aerial reconnaissance in the First World War, not as a documentation of that period, but as an example of what some pilots did following the conflict. In this new age of flight, they simply took to the skies and put to good use the skills they honed on the Western Front. It’s what I’d like to imagine Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) would have done had he survived the making of his legend – art superseding war.

Buckham, the first head of aerial reconnaissance for the Royal Navy, captured most of his shots standing up in his plane. He left us with this enduring quote on aerial photographic technique: ‘If one’s right leg is tied to the seat with a scarf or a piece of rope, it is possible to work in perfect security.’

The guy had balls.

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Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing.

Munich.

The airport is a micro city, something you’d design back in the day on The Sims when you’d be sat in your jammies before the PC thinking yourself a Svengali creator. The airport design is pants, though, and the online maps a shambles, too. Why have low-resolution JPEGs all over the web airport guides? Even the official site is lacking in detail and shoddily put together. For someone as obsessed with airport preparation (I like to escape them upon arrival and not waltz/shuffle around like a penguin on Valium) as I am, a detailed exit plan is desired. Anyway, I tell myself it’s just an airport.

Straubing, Regensburg, and the Autobahn.

Upon arrival I think of Richard Wagner and mad King Ludwig in that period when Bavaria, under the Hohenzollern yoke, somehow in a rapidly modernising new Germany managed to bridge a link to a romantic past of myth and folklore. I think of Visconti’s Ludwig (1973) especially, this a half-baked banality of a movie.

I have a vision these days of a latter-day Julie Andrews doing her hills-are-alive thing, but only this time it’s now tainted with the image of a dreadlocked lady in a trackie clutching an alcopop in one hand and a boombox in the other. The Sound of Music (1965) scene was of course shot a fair bit away at Obersalzberg, but one can be forgiven for thinking this encapsulated all of Bavaria before time caught up with it.

I was expecting ‘Old Bavaria’ here – tradition, peace and quiet, a conservative(ish) enclave. It was this to an extent but such things are now fantasy. It’s this globalisation virus again – granted, the same virus which enabled me to stroll off a cheap easyJet flight for the price of two bottles of Jack Daniel’s. Every city feels the same for me, and I even reckon Venice will be anonymous by the end of the decade. Nevertheless, the bantz was top quality and taxi drivers aside (they refused to stop on countless occasions) I thought it a cracking wee adventure.

Booze?

Oh aye, the ethanol intake was high. This I figure is the reason mosquitos were nibbling me to smithereens in my sleep – I was a free drinking session.

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George Orwell on constitutional monarchy.

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As a lifelong ‘Republican’, I’ve always looked upon the so-called ‘Royal Family’ with scorn – how dare such unelected lizards enjoy a ridiculously vaunted position of prestige and privilege. I thought some more and figured the current inhabitants of this role shouldn’t really even be there, for they are the descendents of noble houses who’ve supplanted others from the Plantagenets up (see basic British history). Something else vexes me terribly – the flag-waving masses who quite simply have nothing else to do but congregate in gargantuan packs and kowtow to said lizards waving on a balcony. It’s quite pathetic, really. You live on a council estate. Why are you cheering someone who has a servant prepare the toothbrush? This may explain a lot of election results (the working classes voting against their own interests).

However, George Orwell completely blew my mind yesterday. I’d never before even considered what he put forth here, and his level of socio-political thought – written in 1944 just before Operation Overlord – shouldn’t be of any surprise considering his oeuvre. What he’s saying in totality is that people need syntax, a continuity of tradition (immovable objects) linking change. The British Monarchy exists as a living Mount Rushmore, an indexical *constant*. Perhaps I’m swayed easily, but Orwell seemed to make perfect sense.

‘The function of the King in promoting stability and acting as a sort of keystone in a non-democratic society is, of course, obvious. But he also has, or can have, the function of acting as an escape-valve for dangerous emotions. A French journalist said to me once that the monarchy was one of the things that have saved Britain from Fascism. What he meant was that modern people can’t, apparently, get along without drums, flags and loyalty parades, and that it is better that they should tie their leader-worship onto some figure who has no real power. In a dictatorship the power and the glory belong to the same person. In England the real power belongs to unprepossessing men in bowler hats: the creature who rides in a gilded coach behind soldiers in steel breast-plates is really a waxwork. It is at any rate possible that while this division of function exists a Hitler or a Stalin cannot come to power. On the whole the European countries which have most successfully avoided Fascism have been constitutional monarchies. The conditions seemingly are that the Royal Family shall be long-established and taken for granted, shall understand its own position and shall not produce strong characters with political ambitions. These have been fulfilled in Britain, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, but not in, say, Spain or Rumania [sic]. If you point these facts out to the average left-winger he gets very angry, but only because he has not examined the nature of his own feelings towards Stalin. I do not defend the institution of monarchy in an absolute sense, but I think that in an age like our own it may have an inoculating effect, and certainly it does far less harm than the existence of our so-called aristocracy. I have often advocated that a Labour government, i.e. one that meant business, would abolish titles while retaining the Royal Family.’ — George Orwell, Spring 1944 Partisan Review.

article-2657820-1EC1616700000578-507_964x517They are ghastly beings, but they do perhaps serve a noble purpose.

Further reading:

https://www.indy100.com/article/george-orwell-explains-why-leftwingers-should-actually-be-grateful-for-the-monarchy–WyYcUGaDbZ

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Gordon Gekko had the best phone ever.

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When someone says the 1980s to me this is the visual I conjure: corporate raider Gordon Gekko just chilling on his wee private beach, making plans at dawn to change the world with Bud Fox. Those were the days when the mobile phone could be utilised as a weapon. I need this in my life.

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Patrick Batemans are among us.

I was on an Edinburgh bus the other day (it’s a twice-daily slice of masochistic trauma) and overheard two geeky types talking about their mobile phones for 30 fucking minutes in the most detailed and scripted way imaginable, emphasising every nook and cranny of their devices. Two thoughts popped into my noggin: 1. These semi-hipsters really adore their smartphones. 2. This sounds like something Straight Outta American Psycho (book and film).

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Bateman talks with such gusto about his suits, haircuts, business cards, and other trivialities of the material world in a way which seems completely manufactured, as if he’s reading verbatim from a magazine spread. And it really is how many people converse these days. It’s a mass regurgitation of accepted gospel strewn over the pages of lifestyle mags or celebrity endorsements through visual media. In recent conversation I’ve seen a person’s eyes flicker to their top-left to recall key lines of a Guardian newspaper review of a hit movie. They essentially parroted the critique word for word.

It’s why Bret Easton Ellis’s magnum opus satire continues to be relevent. It’s not the murders that captivate decades on, but the novel’s spot-on depiction of how much of our everyday language is fed to us on a consumer basis. And how we use it without even realising.

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Here’s a Pat Bateman belter:

‘“Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.” The table stares at me uncomfortably, even Stash, but I’m on a roll.’
― Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho.

There’s a lot of poetry in that.

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