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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Yesterday’s sunny Autumn day offered a fine opportunity for a hilltop stroll…

The onslaught of Arctic winds (in all seriousness – straight from the NNW) froze my fingertips and made photographing a little challenging, but the images I came away with really capture the fluidity and drama of the light (and the weather) at this time of year…

Mmmm, desolation…

From desolate to picture-postcard in 5 minutes…

I have a couple of panoramas from the top of the Caterthun I’m going to try and stitch together.

And it was the last day of Autumn indeed – today, snow arrived on the wind…

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We like our lore in Scotland, traditionally at least, and this be peak faerie season. Lock up your babies!

The Enchanted Forest event at Pitlochry plays on this, and of course tourists it up, but you can’t deny the fun in creeping through an artfully lit forest staffed by druids and unicorns, on a calm, cold, moonlit night in the days surrounding Halloween (or Samhain, to give it its Celtic name). A good and proper way to celebrate the passing of this ancient festival (rant about commercialised, americanised ‘trick-or-treat’/harlot-y costume abomination soon to follow…)

The tree-based light installations surround a small loch, making for stunning reflections on a still night. Turn these images sideways, however, and the faces of the Faerie Folk come out! –

By all accounts, if walking out at night during this high season of supernatural activity, it is best practice to wear your clothes outside-in and back-to-front. Centuries-old established method of faery-mischief repellence…

 

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Elliott Smith.

For those who don’t know: American musician, addict, depressive who ultimately came to stab himself (or be stabbed by someone) in the chest on 21st October 2003, aged 34.

My obsession with Smith has lasted nigh on two years and shows no sign of abating. In general these days I’m quite bored with guitar-based music, but  I just don’t tire of Smith’s fluttering, dynamic chords and layers of melancholy vocals. More than that, he is my favourite thing: a storyteller.

It would be impossible to pick a favourite track, always getting to know different songs better, or fall out a little with others (or have them become too painful to listen to any more when they become associated with a time). Pitseleh is definitely a favourite though. It shows all of Smith’s best qualities: rolling, compelling guitar work accompanied with piano, harmonised vocals, and sad, cutting, ambiguous lyrics… Elliott, you were truly the most exquisitely depressed human being…

Back at the start of September we went down to the Borders for a friend’s birthday celebration, by all accounts expecting a hippy campfire weekend out in the woods. This version of events continued accordingly until around 10pm, when we decided to make a diversion to a charity rave in a nearby field. We thought the field in question was only a few hundred metres down the road from the woodland community where we’d set up camp. The car was already running on fumes, as was I – Laura, still sober, offered to drive to the new venue. She had no insurance and hadn’t driven in some two years, but we were on quiet country roads, what could go so wrong? I placed my driving licence in that nameless hollow in front of the gear stick: “it’s a really old picture, they’ll never be able to tell it’s not you!”

The rave location turned out not to be just down the road at all, and we ended up rolling around the countryside surrounding Galashiels – thankfully mostly downhill – on a lengthy search, fraught with potential fuel-death. After having the chance to stop in town and fuel up (me in my intoxicated state; no doubt that’s illegal as well), we spotted a small, painted sign lit by fairy-lights in a gateway: “Party→”

Sometime after 9am next morning Laura drove us back to our tents, confident she was fine to take charge of the vehicle despite no sleep. None of the rest of us were in a position to disagree. None of the other five of us full-grown tall people, that is, that were to squash into the small Seat… A car that had begun the trip spotless was showing the signs of having been with us every step of that epic full-moon weekend, filled with empty booze containers, grass, and mud up to the ceiling…

As if all that hadn’t been illegal enough, I discovered this week when I went to renew my driving licence that the current one had expired sometime back in August… Not to mention the fact that I’d lost the accompanying paper part somewhere in South America, and hadn’t lived at the displayed address for over four years… The new one arrived already, no questions asked. Sometimes, luck is on my side!

Now that I’ve abandoned ship, (see Goodbye, hello!) I’m realising just how much communication now actually depends on being connected to facebook. Mild frustration has arisen at having to rely on people to pass me information by mouth, and at being excluded from certain founts of information, especially as I prepare to emigrate to South Korea (see posts in coming weeks).

And when I take photos of friends I think, ‘but who’s ever going to see these now??’

And after four years of compounding my life into a daily soundbite, my brain is only just starting to disengage from status-composition.

The overwhelming feeling that remains with me, though, is one of freedom. And I cannot emphasise enough how pleasant it is to open an inbox of messages from people with interesting things to say, and who know how to compose a proper sentence. Aaah…

A photo otherwise unseen…

Since I’ll be leaving the country again soon, and indefinitely, I thought I’d best make the most of my remaining time at home and get out into the landscape, by far the best thing about my homeland. My home county of Angus is a tourism backwater, and its dismal towns either suffer for it, or are the cause of it, it’s hard to say which. But the agricultural pastures which roll between hills and woodland and right to the cliffs of the North Sea shore make it the most beautiful of the land, in my opinion, and are what shall one day bring me back.

Though I took a lot of classic shots of that landscape today, I’ve chosen slightly abstract ones which display textures:


Light through the beech leaves and on the bare dreels, post-harvest.

I like this one cause it doesn’t really fit. It’s ambiguous, homogeneous even. It could be anywhere, though it makes me think of Kansas, or Nebraska. Not that I’ve ever been to either, but I did fly over them in an aeroplane once…

One thing I’m loving about HD – seeing all the lines in actor’s faces. For something dark and tension driven like Killing Them Softly, it really adds to the effect. Of course, there’s also something wryly satisfactory in seeing the flaws in actors and actresses famed for their beauty (in this case, Brad Pitt). It’s humanising…

Killing Them Softly is all too human. A darkly comedic depiction of low-level gangland life in urban America: tense, depressing, bleak, funny but certainly not in a heart-warming way. An ill-considered heist goes, of course, awry, and we follow Pitt’s character, Jackie Cogan, as he tracks down the luckless culprits in an intense, choppy narrative, littered with noisome, faded mob figures. The backdrop is one of urban decay and deprivation; it rains a lot and the sky is always grey in that heavy, smothering, hope-draining way. It is unrecognisable as New Orleans. At least, for those of us who don’t know that city, who would associate it with Mardi Gras, jazz, and vibrant Cajun culture.

The narrative is accompanied by a commentary of the growing economic doomfulness of 2008, and the run-up to Obama’s election win, unashamedly drawing parallel between the intrigue, scape-goating and scalping of the mafia world, and the politics of economics.

The slick, quirky, pragmatic Cogan in ‘Killing Them Softly’ [image:guardian.co.uk]

All of the characters are morally flawed, none appealing. Even Cogan in his dark, sharply dressed, chain-smoking manner, is something short of charismatic. The nearest to a likeable character is Russell, the incompetent, filthy, smack-injecting Australian with a constant sheen of grimy drug-sweat slicking his face, who makes up one half of the inept heist duo.  At least he has a sense of humour. There are no heroes in this story, no glory in this gangland perdition. This film seems FAR from Hollywood.

This is the second Hollywood movie I’ve seen recently that depicts such an American urban dystopia. Killer Joe, although certainly a different style of story and film, communicated the same themes. People on the fringes – desperate, moneyless, under-educated – whom the State and the ‘American Dream’ have overlooked, but who are still consumed by the Dream – if only they can get money, then they’ll have it all: they can do anything and be anyone and be part of it all; be real Americans.

McConaughey as the fantastically creepy ‘Killer Joe’ [image:whysoblu.com]

I use the term ‘Hollywood’ as both these films are made by directors and contain actors established in that scene (can you get any more Hollywood than Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey?). I don’t know enough about the US film industry and haven’t watched nearly enough films to comment knowledgeably, but I get the feeling that this marks some shift away from traditional Hollywood fare? Films depicting economic deprivation, underclass, and hopeless violence have doubtless always existed, but were they ever let into the mainstream? There have always been films about the mob, about gang life, criminality, ‘the ghetto’ or ‘white trash’, but in Hollywood there’s ALWAYS a hero (even an anti-hero), always an element of glory, or eleventh-hour morality…

Killing Them Softly and Killer Joe are in keen juxtaposition to the overwhelming mass of contemporary Hollywood excretion, which continues to be a sickening mulch of re-makes, sequels, prequels, overblown CGI farce and unoriginal brain-rot. But, following on from HBO’s ground-breaking Bush-era drama, The Wire, I wonder if between the lines of the black comedy, the self-deprecation (not attributes associated with Hollywood or with America), and Brad’s beautiful face, there is a signal of change…

Acknowledgement of the failed Dream.