Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not Fade Away

Something that really bugs me - songs that fade out.

I don't know when this started, but I'm guessing it's with radio and recorded media. Because it's pretty difficult to perform a fade out live on stage. I'm always moved to laughter when I see some pop act on TV performing live (read: miming). The dance moves are rehearsed, the lip-synching how come nobody ever noticed that, come the end of the track, the poor singer has to stand there mouthing to a microphone while their voice gets lower and lower?

This is presumably WHY I don't like the fade out - because it doesn't make any attempt to sound like a real, live performance.

When music tracks are mixed down, there's usually some effort to imply that the singer and musicians are really doing what they're doing; more specifically that they sang the song in one go. You try to make it sound like the track isn't pieced together from various takes. Let the listener hear the singer take breath, not come in again so quickly that they couldn't physically have done it.

But come the end of the song...ah, sod it. We've versed, chorused and middle-eighted ourselves out. To hell with a solid conclusion, we'll just ramble on until people stop listening. Fade out.

And yet you see these performers live - really live, or at least in live concert footage - and someone, somewhere has realised the problem. Suddenly the track has a solid conclusion. Because it's the only way the band, the singer, the dancers can work.

So how come nobody mentions this when recording the track?

I guess some of it has to do with radio - it gives DJs something to waffle over, makes things less abrupt. Plus there may be an off-air piracy issue - a solid ending makes it easier to tape the track cleanly. No DJ waffle.

Only...well, is anyone recording off air any more? Isn't digital piracy really where it's at these days when it comes to illegal music recordings?

I was going to say that you don't get this anywhere else. Books and movies don't just keep going until the steam runs out. But sometimes, if we're being honest, they kinda do.

How many times have the codas for movies gone on too long? Everything from Return of the King to Schlinder's List. The story ends, and yet here we still are, reinforcing the themes, making sure all the characters are neatly tidied away.

Isn't this just a fade out of a different hue?

Not quite, actually.

I had a film lecturer once who hated the final scene of The Commitments. Jimmy does his voiceover, tidies all the characters away in a nicely cut and shot coda that lets you know just what became of everyone. He hated it. Why not finish outside the nightclub? Wilson Pickett's limo shows up - he came after all, but too, too late! - and drives off. Jimmy and his merry band missed out on greatness by minutes.

Me, I like the coda. You can have too many, sure, can bang on too long. But without it, it's brutal, harsh.

So maybe THAT'S why the music fades out. Because anything else seems harsh. And, indeed, some of the live tracks you hear with the newly-added full-stop DO feel brutally cut off.

The trick - in films, in books, and in music - is to find a coda that gees you up, that reinforces your love of what's gone before without affecting it. I adore 'new location' movie codas - Blade completes his mission, then cut to Moscow and he's off on a new one. The sword comes out and - hard cut. End of film.

I love films that end like this. Back to the Future did it, and that's one of the best movie screenplays ever. (Name one other time a sci-fi-action-comedy got an Oscar nomination!) I love it when people get to the end and close lids, car boots, doors. (Hey, now we're talking - The Godfather. Best. Ending. Ever. And I can't tell you how many TV shows since I've seen that have nicked the door-closing-on-a-formerly-trusted-friend tag.)

Still, why shouldn't the Star Wars guys be given medals and applause at the end of Episode IV? It mirrors the audience's feeling. It works.

So, like a coda, and love a solid The End moment...but hate a fade away.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wonderfully Average

I saw Inside Man this weekend at the flicks. A decently crafted heist thriller with good performances, solid scripting and deft direction.

So why do I feel like I'm slagging it off?

Reading the reviews, it's amazing to note how much faint praise is being directed towards the film, and how damning that praise feels. Check out that first line again - decent, good, solid, deft. All of which reads, it seems to me, as 'not bad'.

But is that what I meant? I enjoyed the movie - I reacted well to it, thought well of it afterwards. I took something away from the experience. Since when has massive competence been a bad thing? Or, rather, a 'not bad' thing.

Not bad is neutral. 'I have nothing negative to say about it'. Only I have POSITIVE things to say, surely? Decent, solid, deft... these are compliments, aren't they?

I feel like championing this film now just because nobody else is. That the ho-hum reaction deserves a bit of a kick. You SHOULD go and see good movies. It's a hell of a lot better for you than, I dunno, Scary Movie 4 or something.

(Not to denigrate solid comedy, but I suspect SM4 ain't solid comedy - not if films 1 to 3 are anything to go by. The writer, Craig Mazin, whose blog I admire greatly, reasonably points out that reviewers generally compare those flicks to genuinely great comedies - Airplane, say. But for me the Scary Movies have yet to be up to...well, what shall we say, the 'not bad' standard.)

I remember having this same vibe when I first saw Arlington Road, which is an amazingly well-made thriller and I tried to make everyone I knew go see it. But even as I try to think of ways to describe it now, I'm leaning back towards good, solid words...

Because, I suppose, critics - by which I mean anyone who's passed the 'it's awesome' teenage phase - should be measured in their response. Call a film magnificent and, well, everyone's going to think you're be talking about the next Godfather or Citizen Kane or Fight Club.

The English language has more words than any other, so how come I still don't have the right vocab for this? Why don't we have a few more gently positive descriptions, uncontaminated by the faint-praise virus? Not every writer is Sorkin or Whedon...but there's nothing wrong with being David Fury, is there? In being the guy who writes the 'not bad' episodes. The stuff that's solid, entertaining, thought-provoking.

Not every film or TV show or piece of pop music has to be era-defining, does it? It can't be, and it would be exhausting to experience. I love solid, decent stuff. And solid decent stuff makes the extraordinary possible.

So - celebrate the Wonderfully Average. Let's agree that these are things worth experiencing. Forgettable sitcoms that made you laugh, music you danced to just that once, movies whose titles you can never quite remember. Not the bad things. The not-bad ones.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Question of Length

So, King Kong on DVD. The big monkey movie.

I enjoyed it a lot. And I love the production diaries. I don't think there's any proof that online video diaries actually help promote a movie - Narnia didn't have em and it outgrossed Kong by miles. But they're a joyful celebration of a production. Shame they can't actually TELL you anything, can't comment on the key elements of the film, because they're keeping it all secret for the release.

Also, and you'd expect this frustration from me, there's almost no word on pre-production. No discussion, in particular, of the writing process. Which is a shame, because some really interesting decisions were made there.

I'm always baffled by the complaints about Kong's length. "How did a 90 minute movie get remade at 3 hours without loads of extra plot points?" Well, for a start, the characters are given some heft this time around. Jack, Carl ands Ann all have developed backstories. In the original, Jack's the first mate. And that's all he is. Square-jawed and heroic because...well, because he is.

The new Jack, though? He's the writer. He's artistically frustrated, screwed-over, but lacks the courage of his convictions. Which gives him an arc. At the start of the movie, he won't jump from the ship despite claiming to love theatre. By the end, he'll do anything for the one thing he REALLY loves - Ann. Plus, do you really thing the Jack at the end of the picture would stand for some wanky actor changing his dialogue for something 'funnier'? hell no.

So to all those who critque the hour-long wait for Skull island I say this - bog off. Me, I'm happily anticipating the 4-hour cut of the film on DVD. Not just more monsters, but more character stuff.

Still, I do kinda hope the re-issue fixes that bloody awful compositing. CGI that impressive deserves better bluescreen work. You can see the cut-out lines. You can see the actors not accurately interacting with their environment. It's crazy. Good directing helps, but there's a technical team somewhere who had too much to do in too little time, and the work suffered.


An interesting extra thought on the extended edition, by the way. You know that trailer scene of them filming on the coast, Ann screams in character, Kong roars back from within the island?

Didn't make it into the flick...but a very similar scene did. The gang are attacked by the natives, Ann screams...and Kong roars back.

Was this part of the much-mentioned pick-up shoots? I'm gonna guess yes. The scene was dropped, but Jackson moved the moment. (Interesting, also, to note that the film's trailers were not on the DVD. So you can't see this clip, or compare the original shots of Kong to those in the final film.)

My question is this - will the extended edition be a full-on recut? Will moments like this mean it HAS to be? Surely we can't have that same riff in twice?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


My first post, my first whinge.

Had an email from a friend I'm trying to turn onto Buffy. Because it's a great show, and because it will improve her life to have seen it. She's a lover of Firefly/Serenity, so this should be a breeze, right?

Not so much.

Part of the problem seems to be preconception. She thinks she knows the show, cos she's caught a few eps now and again. How do you convey that so much of what she's worried about doesn't matter? "Don't people notice all the killing?" Well, kinda, but..." Why don't they leave the town? "Well, it's built on a Hellmouth..."

Then there's the vague knowledge. Willow's crush on Xander? "But Willow's a lesbian, isn't she?" Buffy and her mother... "Hang on, though, I thought Buffy had a sister."

So I kicked her off with series two. It's got the best arc (though more weak single-eps than series three), is less outwardly silly-seeming than series one, and it doesn't take too much to follow. (Come series five, damn, there's some explaining to do! Otherwise I'd have kicked off with Hush, The Body and Once More With Felling and to hell with it.)

I get the email. 'Saw episode one. Seemed to be lacking the Whedon magic. And the humour was kinda of lame."

You may cough and splutter now.

Okay, the emotional oomph of Buffy's return and anguish over being killed...not gonna work when you missed that season. But the sharpness of the cruelty, making Angel jealous, using Xander to do it, Willow with foam on her nose! And Snyder can smell trouble, "It's like a sixth sense." Giles: "Actually, that would be one of the five."



I breathe deep and wait for more eps to go by. Then I realise that in amongst gems like Halloween and School Hard are things like - ulp - Reptile Boy and Some Assembly Required. Plenty of funny and cool in there...but not a little nonsense, too.

So, much like Red in The Shawshank Redemption, I hope.

I hope.


Additional - April 17th.

So it turns out she watched the fifth episode first by mistake - a DVD selection error that meant her first exposure to this amazing piece of television was...Reptile Boy. One of the worst episodes of Buffy ever! No wonder it went down like a ton of demons.

Things are picking up now, apparently. I'll have them sobbing at The Body in no time.