Month: September 2014

Cooking Up With CD’s

Here’s one I wrote a while ago for another website, but wanted to share with you good people. I guess with legal downloading and illegal torrent sites becoming more publicized, and with Thom Yorke just releasing his new album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, via a $6 BitTorrent download, the redundancy of physical copies of music (and media in general), is perhaps even more relevant.

Anyway, here it is…

In a world dominated by MP3 and digital download, the compact disc is seemingly destined to become the secondary medium for delivering music to the masses. With a similar future to that of whoever wins X-Factor this year, the fate of the humble CD stinks of obscurity, and will eventually be cast aside like those quirky C90 cassette tapes of the 1980’s. For my part, and in an attempt to embrace the digital age (with staunch fascist minimalism and sufficient digital back-up’s), I recently decided to dump my entire CD collection to the local charity shop.

You see, I moved into my new house just under a year ago, a move that forced me to not only pack all my CD’s into several boxes, but also to suffer the misery of unpacking the lot onto some very expensive shelves I had purchased for the new spare room.  This endeavor occurred a few months ago, and it turned out to be the last time I touched the sodding things!

In essence, my CD’s have become modern equivalents of those awful ornamental plates old people hang on walls, or worse still, those tiny Lilliput cottages that have real working lights and incidental bits and bobs that make you go, ‘Oooh, look, an old wellington boot is outside the backdoor, and it has a tiny spider-web on it, how cute.’

So, in a display of nihilistic reproach I decided to dump these silver discs back into the boxes, and send them off to fight it out with the other redundant shit found at the local Oxfam shop. However, whilst sorting through the hundreds of CD’s I couldn’t help myself from taking certain albums back.

A few Nirvana albums, Meat is Murder by The Smiths, The Kinks, Blur, and Talking Heads – the selection continued. These albums were not particularly special, nor had any kind of associated memories harking back to a first girlfriend, a first kiss, or the day Krispy Kreme Doughnuts opened a franchise in town. They were just albums far too precious to give away – after all, how the hell could I give away Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens?

A stupid gestalt sentiment kicked into over-drive, and with the fevered intent of a seasoned drug addict looking for his works, I ended up fishing out about fifty CD’s of no particular note that went back on the shelves… no doubt to be ignored until the next house move.

Reciting this story back to a work colleague only compounded my bafflement. His response was elegant and simple, ‘I wouldn’t get rid of any of them. You need to be able to look back through them when you’re eighty!’

Why? I mean, why bother with CD’s? We’re not talking about classic vinyl here – vinyl that was purchased back in the day when “Compact” and “Disc” were just two unlinked words with no meaning outside of their respective dictionary entries.

I’ll admit it, vinyl 33’s”, 45’s” and 78’s” has to be the biggest provocateur to the subliminal music tweeker. I know this is more sentiment but I recently rescued my father’s vinyl collection, which he had lovingly left in a dirty cardboard box, in the attic, for the best part of 30 years… unbelievable! He had an original Sgt. Peppers up there, and the Stones first album. I’m pleased to report those relics of the lost past are now housed within plastic airtight containers, safely removed from human hand.

In fact, you could say that vinyl has a different set of rules and artistic merit. The artwork is represented on a big, square piece of cardboard and usually with a glossy finish. The disc is carefully pressed on mysterious machines, (not via a £10 CD-RW optical drive), and housed within a separate paper sheath for added protection. The vinyl is heavy and usually matt black (with an occasional limited press in either white or green). You have sleeve notes, printed lyrics and maybe a few photos within a gate-folded outer cover. It seemed that within its grooves sat truth, emotion and love. A CD, by comparison, is where you now store the crap created by Simon Cowell/Victor Frankenstein. Thousands upon thousands of the same soulless shit-birds that learnt three chords on the guitar via episodes of Hannah Montana – to hell with that!

And arhhh… therein lies the rub. To cast aside silver plastic is seemingly easy and acceptable, but to dump the same collection of music on vinyl… not a chance in hell.

Is there an answer to such a display of elitist appreciation of what is nothing more than a different delivery system of the same product? Taking aside the arguments towards a better sound quality from vinyl; or the unique emotion within the physical playing of vinyl – the spinning of the table, selecting the speed, dropping the needle – maybe it’s just some kind of stupid Pavlovian response certain music junkies get from a certain version of the same damn drug.

In short, I have no interest in looking back on a shitty CD with their cracked covers and fading little booklets that always get torn as you remove them from the plastic front, but I’ll happily sell a kidney to keep my Radiohead vinyl in vacuum-sealed containers, preserving them forever with my unremitting love and loyalty. Will I ever listen to them? Probably not, I’ve got the entire collection on my iPhone, why bother with tube amps and correctly-balanced turntables.

As you can see, my head is like a bag of cats on this topic. Perhaps there is no answer, just my own proclivity towards what makes the final cut: timeless CD’s, beautiful vinyl… or entire Lilliput villages.

Paul Millard 2008

Snarky Tueday CD vs Memeory Stick

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On Fatherhood

On occasion, it’s difficult to believe that I’m someone’s Dad. It’s weird to say the word, let alone get comfortable with the concept. I’ve been doing this job for four years, and there are days when I honestly don’t think I’m suitable for the position. Maybe there was a mix-up in the Human Resources department, or perhaps the recruitment consultant was just like every other recruitment consultant I’ve ever met – staggeringly stupid and glorious in their empty-headed inability to do anything, much less offer a guy like me the role of “Father of One – 3rd class”.

I mean, how the hell can I be someone’s Father?

Anyone who has had the pleasure of my company (you lucky devils), will agree that I’m a tad prickly – not nasty prickly, or prickly in the way Josef Fritzl might come across to his children, I’m just a bit difficult.  I give dreadful advice about pretty much everything, I’m constantly distracted by whatever is going on in my head at the time (a perfect trait to have when caring for a baby!), and for the most part I’ve never really given a shit about much else.  I consider my day job to be an impediment that I’m trying to find a corrective shoe for, my wife an impediment towards my desire to marry Amanda Peet, and my ancient, money-pit of a house a serious impediment… period!

Where do I get the balls to have a kid, much less school the poor sod in the ways of life? I’m not joking here; take my general regard towards the various jobs I’ve had over the last twenty years, it’s truly horrendous and not exactly in-keeping with the kind of thing a father figure should be promoting.

Honestly, I’ve had more roles than a delivery driver for Greggs (I know the spelling is wrong, but just go with it). I’ve been known to start a promising career at 9am, go to lunch a few hours later, and that’s pretty much it. The older I get the more I regress into a prissy student who’s too stupid to hold down a job and just fucks off when the dinner bell rings… I’m like the Curious Case of the Unemployable Nothing. I’m embarrassed by it. The amount of jobs I’ve carefully expunged from my resume is hilarious – it’s like cutting and pasting into a patch-work quilt of utter bollocks.

I’m serious; my resume is so fictitious Marvel was interested in buying the rights (they eventually went with Guardians of the Galaxy as it’s more believable).

However, having a child brings alarming things into your once semi-manageable life. I don’t mean alarming as in “let’s scare Dad by putting spoons into this power socket”, but more in how they can alter your perspective, your character, your need to put circuit breakers on everything and insulation tape on their pudgy, burnt fingers!

For me, I seem to be moving away from the snarky Dr Seuss character I’ve spent a lifetime fleshing out, and more towards something akin to a weird Jewish mother-type figure, with wide eyes and thinning hair. You see, I’m now stupidly neurotic, over protective, suspicious and bat-shit crazy when it comes to my precious. In short, I’m Gollum with a Toys-R-Us store card.

Am I happy about this? I guess so. I used to spend a lot of time doing stuff I had no real reason to do – like trying to get stupid Benjamin Button references into whatever I’m writing at the time. These days I spend most of my time removing Lego figures from the soft tissue of my foot and wondering where all the damn spoons have gone.

With each new day comes a new fear. Something I can mull over, worry about until I’m on the verge of mixing myself a vodka Prozac martini, and then drive my wife insane with my unfounded dread and anxiety. She hates this aspect of my quirky, lovable nature – to the point where I frequently need to remind her that Amanda Peet would be far more understanding and sympathetic to my sociopathic tendencies. Will I ever get used to fatherhood? I really don’t know. It’s a minefield that changes on an hourly basis and is destined to end in an amputation of some kind.

I guess you’ll have to watch this space to find out which limb goes first.

Paul Millard 2014

Paul Millard Snarky Tuesday

… and for my own enjoyment, here is the future Mrs Millard!

Amanda Peet Snarky Tuesday

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“Something like this…”

In light of the amazing amount of celebrity deaths taking place each week, I thought I would jump in and give my two-bit opinion on perhaps one of the most influential, yet alarmingly neglected, comedians still with us.

Now, let’s see how many of you know who I’m talking about before I get to the next paragraph. Recording his first comedy album in 1960, it went on to top the Billboard charts and won two Grammy’s. His second album swiftly followed, winning yet another Grammy, and for an eight month period, both albums occupied the number one and number two places in the charts – I think it’s fair to say this guy started his comedy life at the top!

Two hugely successful sitcoms later, more albums, and a handful of movies, his career has been an irresistible force for the last 60 years. Now in his eighties, and only appearing in the occasional episode of The Big Bang Theory (for which he bagged an Emmy), he is still relevant, still hilarious, and still one of my all time favourite funny people.

Any ideas? Ok, I’ll tell you. I’m talking about the great Bob Newhart.

It’s a name that might cause a few of us ‘limeys’ to scratch our heads in utter ignorance and start trawling IMDB for a reference point. You see, Newhart is an all-American comedian and not particularly well known outside of their borders – which is a total tragedy as his work has pretty much shaped the way modern situation comedy is built.

First off, you need to listen to those first three albums he cut. The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! and Behind The Button-Down Mind. Whilst a few of the bits are a little dated and entrenched in their time (late 1950’s, early 1960’s), it’s clearly evident that Newhart was bringing something different to the mix. With a style on stage that felt conversational and stammered in the set-up; the delivery of each piece (usually started by a brief explanation, and embarked upon with his famous phrase “something like this…”), was nothing short of flawless and utterly mesmerising.

With such immediate success from the vinyl, and after a few years working the nightclub circuit, Bob looked towards television. The Bob Newhart Show was recorded in the seventies, and sealed his image as the amicable everyman with the deadpan delivery and apologetic tone. The show is, on occasion, very much an animal of its time and can be a little inaccessible for a modern audience, however, it remains warm, light-hearted and truly provided the template for so many after it – The Cosby Show, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier, and more recently, Two and A Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and ironically, The Big Bang Theory.

With that said, for me the real strides in his TV career were made during Bob’s second sitcom, Newhart. His earlier guise of a psychologist in Chicago was replaced and for the new show came a new Bob, that of an author who owns and operates a Vermont hotel.

With a perfect stage to play on, new challenges to overcome each week and a string of secondary and tertiary players that filled the gaps between memorable and inconsequential; the show ran for eight seasons, was hugely popular and caught the attention of a very young Paul Millard.

Only airing in the UK sporadically during the mid-1980’s, and not via any substantial series run you would expect by today’s standards, it found me in the twilight zone of being too young to remember everything, but certainly old enough for the wry humour to seep into my subconscious and linger. It was also around this time I was discovering those other American greats, Abbot and Costello, The Marx Brothers, Mel Brookes and Sid Caesar. For the record, and to ensure my British heritage is firmly established, this American invasion was built upon the foundations that Tony Hancock, Will Hay, Peter Sellers and the Ealing Comedies had already laid – all of which was gently influencing my own later attempts at comedic styling.

Newhart was wonderful in its simplicity. It didn’t act highbrow or folksy, overly staged or under performed. The material was consistent, mild mannered, easily reached and always funny. Its comfortable viewing and accessible cast delivered a sitcom you can wander into, and out of, without any feeling of unfamiliarity. Seinfeld and Friends owe a great deal to this method, and for my money became the leviathans of comedy they are, from the vantage point of Newhart’s shoulders.

I could go on, and in all fairness my wife will probably be subjected to back-to-back seasons of Newhart after this post hits the website – I can only assure her that it will be time well spent. For me, Bob Newhart is a gentle giant of comedy whose influence can be seen most evenings… all you need to do is switch on any sitcom post 1972 and sit back!

On a more sombre note, we have all recently been stung by the mortality of some comedy greats – Robin Williams, Joan Rivers and James Garner in particular. In the face of so many funny voices leaving us, I can’t help but feel the need to cherish those that are still here.

To this end I say thank you, Bob… for everything.

Paul Millard 2014

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No Signal For You!

I’ve recently changed jobs. Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, “So, in addition to the astounding quality of dross produced on this website, he also does a proper job?!?!” I do… well, I used too. Many years ago back when I was working in and around London I did several proper jobs, and I was quite good at a few of them, these days I’m interned on the south coast of England, and now dwell within the quagmire offices of whatever company is hiring – prior to their filing for bankruptcy.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I escaped the last place I was sentenced too – a truly awful shithole in which slimy, obnoxious, dim-witted sales agents fleeced old people out of their money, by falsely promising to provide cruise holidays the company could never hope to deliver as advertised/lied about. It was the most dreck-filled sleaze pit I have ever had the misfortune to sit within… think shitty high street McDonald’s, but with a photocopier.

After eventually rediscovering my soul, I quit the place in question and now work within yet another office, located in a very nice hamlet town just outside of Guildford (I’m slowly inching away from the seaside wankers, and back to my beloved metropolis). However, this recent change of paymaster has brought up a very alarming side to my being, one that I was totally oblivious too.

You see, in the English countryside we have a great many things – cricket greens, cobbled streets, fudge shops, incest and charitable devil worshipping. The houses are older than the Lost Ark (and just as difficult to find), and the people are warm, gentle of face and just a little bit fascist.

However, during my two weeks among the tweeded gentry, I noticed the one thing they don’t seem to have… a decent cell phone reception.

What the hell is wrong with this place? How can I stand literally anywhere within a three mile radius of my office, an office that is located amongst some of the country’s most expensive real estate, and not get a sodding phone signal? At first I thought my new employer was utilising some MI5, phone cancelling, spy-shit technology to stop its workers from looking at Plenty of Fish and Grindr. In fact, no one cares about sexual deviancy in the countryside, and my lack of being able to “phone home”, was the result of my network provider’s ass awful coverage. Bastard!

Now whilst that may be annoying, and seriously affecting my scores on Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, what I find more alarming is my newly discovered attachment to my phone. Seriously, when did I start to care about my phone? Have I really become that person – the kind of clone who cannot be without their app-filled guardian for one second longer than it takes for yet another insignificant selfie to appear on Instagram?

I hate to say it, but the answer is yes. I need my phone. I need to be plugged into the Twitter-verse at all times, I need instant news from my various RSS feeds, I need the half-arsed opinions from the countless blogs I subscribe too, I need to see my email, my SMS service, my WhatsApp, my Snapchat. I need the ability to listen to a podcast whilst taking a shit, or watching YouTube videos about people I’ve never met… whilst taking a shit. I need to be linked-in, facebookered, instagramified and all other things I’m probably subscribed too but don’t fully understand.

I never knew how dependant I was until some bastard mobile phone operator skimped on its mast technology and left a town full of city laywers and smugs of Prii (if you’re not sure, that’s the collective noun for more than one Prius), in digital darkness. In short, I say goodbye to my phone signal as I park up, and I don’t see it again until I’m ten minutes into my commute home.

It’s been two weeks now and I feel utterly out of the loop. My stupid twitter comments are no longer consistent or relevant to whatever celebrity died that morning, I can’t keep track of my hate mail from this website, and my wife is unable to drop me little texts to remind me that I’ve forgotten to get our kid out of the bath… again.

It’s got to a stage where I’m thinking of dropping a line to social media pimp Mark Zuckerberg. I heard on several news feeds, a series of tweets, and his MySpace page that he is planning to fly drones across Africa – in an effort to provide broadband connection and Facebook adverts to those people who don’t have access to clean drinking water. How about leaving that shit to Bill and Melinda Gates, and send a few of your drone things over to parts of Surrey and Sussex?

I can’t be alone in thinking that some first world problems demand a billionaire’s third world solution?

Paul Millard 2014

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The Best Film… Ever!

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“Martha’s Vineyard has everything. Clear skies. Gentle surf. People flock to its Atlantic beaches every summer to splash in the waves. But there was apprehension in the air at the weekend after multiple warnings that one or possibly two great white sharks were cruising the waters close to its beaches.” (Leonard Doyle, The Independent).

I don’t know about you but the prospect of some deathly pale unfortunate, splashing about in their bright yellow Speedo’s, is quite a grim visage in itself without adding the image of said unfortunate being taken apart by a 14-foot Great White. That being said, and by way of a muse, it was this report that drove me to put virtual pen to paper and give my sickeningly biased, and love-soaked opinion, on what has been my favourite film for as long as I can remember… Jaws.

Never has a film affected me more, and on so many varying levels.  I can’t quite remember when I first saw this movie, who I was with, or any of the subsequent nightmares.  I know I was young and I know it scared the hell out of me.  I would hazard a guess that over the past thirty years I’ve watched it more times than I could honestly consider healthy… I remember one particular summer when I watched the thing once a week!

Regardless of my own prevailing nightmares, a relentless fear of water, and a continued fascination with sharks, Jaws was a seminal movie for many others and has directly shaped the way modern cinema offerings are produced, marketed and ultimately released.

Made in 1975, it was the first movie to be dubbed a summer blockbuster, the first film to be released nationally or ‘wide released’, the first to be distributed and marketed simultaneously (a practice that still continues today), and the first to cross the $100 million dollar profit mark. While we’re on a stat trip I’ll have it noted that Jaws eventually grossed approximately $470 million worldwide – that equates to almost $2.5 billion in adjusted 2014 dollars. That’s higher than Titanic, The Avengers, and sits just below the biggest grossing film of all time, Avatar – and all without the need for stupid 3d gimmicks to increase the ticket price.

Now for the history bit…

Peter Benchley’s novel was already flying off the shelves before producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown received the option for it. Knowing it would make a great movie, but unsure of how it could be filmed, a ridiculously young Stephen Spielberg stumbled upon the pages and foolishly signed up to direct. Shooting the movie began in Martha’s Vineyard before either final draft or the model sharks had been completed, and with this foolhardy optimism, the cast and crew began an estimated 55-day principle photography shoot – a shoot that would eventually wrap on day 159!

The months that followed saw the overall production budget spiral, the model sharks frequently malfunction, the script re-written several times (and by several different contributors), the expiration of the Screen Writers Guild contract, relationship tensions between ‘the veteran’ Robert Shaw and ‘cocky upstart’ Richard Dreyfuss, to say nothing of the growing distaste shown by the wealthy inhabitants of Matha’s Vineyard towards the cast and crew of the movie – as David Brown acknowledged, ‘… [The residents] didn’t particularly care for a movie invasion, and didn’t like to see an artificial shark parked in the sea channel where their homes faced!’

Groundbreaking cinema obviously requires you to break some ground, what those associated with Jaws failed to realise is that you also need to break parts of yourself too! A tough shoot, tougher environmental factors, and some difficult cast relationships, the making of this movie could be mulled over for many hours and indeed has via several books and a few documentaries. However, while all of these varying autopsies of the film are worth a look, and thoroughly cover the making of Jaws, I want to explore some of the reasons why this film is the classic it is, and perhaps more importantly how it continues to thrill all who see it – including myself.

‘… the screams started, and they never stopped …’ These words, offered by David Brown when asked to talk about the initial test screenings, still ring true today and is one of the film’s greatest achievements. I struggle to think of another movie, ticking the boxes that Jaws does, that could equally stand the test of time with such command and grace. It’s amazing how this film had the same effect on my nephew (aged 14) only last year, as it did with me over 28-years ago (and also aged 14 at that time) – and let’s not forget that my teenage nephew is a child of the modern comic-book movie invasion and has been fed CGI and digital movie-making from an early age.

Often cited as an action movie, other times a thriller, occasionally by some as horror, and with strong elements of comedy and well-mapped suspense, Jaws manages to cloud any kind of genre definition. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times and still don’t know what to term it. As a child I remember being completely terrified by certain parts of the movie (severed head mysteriously left in a boat anyone??). As I got older the film broke into two sections, the build-up, and the stuff on the boat. As that impressionable child, the part on the boat was always my favourite, as I started to appreciate movies for their story-telling and dialogue; the build-up became my preferred section. These days I love it all equally.

Suspense, horror, action, comedy, buddy film, guys on a mission, a family terrorised – it has all of the above. Now tell me that’s not good entertainment?

Talking of covering all bases, Jaws leaves nothing to chance, especially in its casting. The three principles (excluding the shark) worked to perfection. In-fighting aside, Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw played their parts in such a way that audience empathy is secured within seconds of meeting them. As an ensemble cast I struggle to think of any better, and they own the screen with their charm and credibility.

In fact, all characterisations are on the money and are never allowed to detract from the story. Every second of this movie is there for a reason with nothing on show that could be deemed as excess baggage or self-indulgent filler. The Mayor, the various fishermen, the families affected by the events, all is perfectly pitched and totally in sync with both the actual surroundings depicted in the movie and the audiences’ own preconceptions of life in a small town undergoing such an ordeal.

Waxing lyrical any further on individual cast members, and whilst easy to perform, is too obvious. Anyone who has seen this film knows just how good they all are, and how they enrich the story and take it beyond the simple monster movie it could have been. It’s like asking someone to make the noise of a shark coming at you… everyone does the dur-dur, dur-dur, dur-dur theme tune. Just like the string arrangement played during the Psycho shower scene, these things leave a mark on your subconscious and are never forgotten.

Even that half submerged camerawork is now an industry standard when shooting anything at sea – forcing the audience to engage with the events on screen as if right there.

For me, and what makes this film great, is that it has it all going on – all the genre stuff, great acting and direction, picture perfect locations, that relentless soundtrack and the overall primeval fear of the last great predator on Earth chasing you down.

There is an elemental terror about what is under the waterline, and Jaws exploits this again and again, through changing generations and cultures, using subtle camerawork, strong narrative and enduring performance.

Who needs a bigger boat?

Paul Millard 2014

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