Monday, December 13, 2004

Book Review: Batch of Improv Books

Put four experienced improvisers in a room and you'll have five different theories on how it works. (But they'll never argue.) The two main schools are: Follow the rules! and Rules are bad! Within each school there are a multitude of factions. What rules to follow? How to follow them? How to learn them? If you are to follow no rules, how do you achieve that? How do you learn something with no rules? Or are you learning the rules but only by example the way children pick up language.

The odd thing is, if you put a "Follow the Rules" improviser on stage with a "No Rules!" improviser, you are no more or less likely to get a good scene. The outcome is not so much to do with the underlying ethos, but the interaction between the two performers. Each performer will find the theory that works best to explain the way that they perceive the underlying system. But on stage they will play and support their partners just the same.

Other people's theories are very interesting because they show you a little how they think about performing and give you a new perspective.

"Improvise: Scene from Inside and Out" is the book of the theories of Mick Napier, founder of Annoyance Theatre and Resident Director of The Second City. He belongs to the no-rules school, believing it is best not to teach rules for improv as it gives people things to think about when they should not be thinking. He does, however, offer guidelines of things to avoid but stresses to apply them without thinking about them.

The book is not very thick, but this is mostly due to Mr Napier's succint style. Not for hom the flowing prose and endless examples. He makes his point and moves on. Mr Napier's theory applies more to the teaching of children or for people well able to practice extensively, in my opinion. But his dismantalling of the importance of the rules is very interesting. It tallies with my theory (of course I have one) in that there really is only one rule, and all the rest are guidelines.

One of the most interesting chapters, and actually annoyingly short, is the one on Improvisation and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I would love to see this expanded to really explore the analogy. There is a whole book in this idea, I think. The other useful thing is a list of exercises to do on your own at home. I found I have already been doing them for years, but it was nice to feel that I wasn't mad. Or at least not alone.

The other book I have been reading on the subject is "Musical Improv Comedy" by Michael Pollock. Mr Pollock is Musical Director of The Second City, LA, so probably knows Mr Napier quite well. Mr Pollock does not come to us with a theory. He comes with a slightly thinner book and a CD full to the brim. Instead of theories, you get a practical guide on everything music improv. Despite the thinness of the book, it really does cover everything. And with the minimum of fuss and nonsense. Where the real content is on the CD. It has over [an hour and a half] of excellent examples and sample music for you to practice song styles and techniques with. In that respect it well is worth the asking price. There are about 10 examples of different musical styles which you could easily use in a show if you don't have a musician. (PS I do not advise doing musical improv without a musician. It's usually the musician that makes the singers look good.)

As a student of improv, I urge you to read a little on the subject, and go to see as much of it as possible. "Musical Improv Comedy" is great for groups who want to get into doing (more) musical improv and "Improvise: Scene from Inside and Out" is interesting for those who want to explore the world of improvised theatre in relation to modern theories of energy or who like to improvise best in the shower.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Gay Day

Early in August occurs one of the year's most fun days - The Gay Parade. This is when Amsterdam's gay community (and friends) gets together in gangs and each gang commandeers a boat, decorates it (and themselves) as flamboyantly (or as nakedly) as possible and cruises down several of the canals. The rest of the city lines the canals and watches, waves and cheers. Come late and it's hard to find a spot to see from. The sides of the canals are mobbed.

It's a fun day and there are remarkably few police to be seen despite there being so many people around. This is testament to the complete good-naturedness of the day. There's never trouble. There is frequent outbreak of same-sex kissing. And the only thing that gets thrown at you is condoms.

The party lasts on into the night. Stages erected around the city blast out dance music and kitsch classics. Bars overflow into the streets, the streets overflow into alleyways. Loud happy music is everywhere. Ironically, the grounds of churches seem to be the places the best parties are set up.

Later on there are more police to be seen, but it's not always easy to spot them. Especially the motorcycle cops who are just another group of guys in uniforms and leather trousers.

I finished the day with a beer in the middle of a street surrounded by drunken, exuberant lesbians. Amsterdam is a great city.


Coinciding with the above, but unrelated, is Parade. It's a Dutch word, so remember the rule: if it looks like an English word, it is pronounced very differently. Par-rah'-da. It's a touring mini festival, a bit like a theatre circus, that sets itself in the major cities for a few weeks at a time before moving on. You pay a little to get in and it's like a festival - with food stalls, bars and amusements. Then you can pay a little more and get into one of the mini-theatres and watch some local artiste(s) doing their thing. The only piece I saw was called Vlieg (Fly). It was about (in as much as it was about anything) a man who wakes up and finds he is possessed by a fly. He buzzes a lot, has sex with a fridge which produces an egg which he drops. Then he flies around the room on a wire. It was more entertaining and less bizarre than it sounds. Mainly because the chap doing it was very engaging.

The best bit about the day was that we went their by boat. By far the best way to get anywhere. I am fortunate to know a few people who either own boats or have access to them. And, on a nice summer evening, there is nowhere better to be than out on a canal in an open-top boat.

Book Review: UFOs Are Coming Wednesday by Eric Sykes

Eric Sykes is a great screenwriter. The writer for many shows, as well as short and long films. Star of his own series and director of several films, notably great silent shorts such as The Plank and Rhubarb.

But for some reason, it didn't translate into books. It failed to be more than mildly amusing, it failed to be original, the characters failed to be interesting and it failed to drag me in. I gave up.

I don't often give up on books. Normally I plow on. Taking forever to get to the end, plodding through in grim determination because part of me is interested in it. I think the last time I did give up on a book was Lord of the Rings part 1 when I was quite young. It is a long and complicatedly written book that is not accessible for kids. Even kids such as myself who had lapped up The Hobbit. So I put it aside thinking I'd go back when older. 20 years later, I have seen the film of the book, and can happily say that has satisfied me in that department. The book is just too long to embark on (and that's just the 1st part). UFOs Are Coming Wednesday doesn't have that excuse, but demonstrates the new less-patient me in action.

In short: don't buy this book. Rent a copy of The Plank instead.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Geen Hand

One of the big talking points here regards the visit of a minister with several Islamic church leaders in order to help ease the divisions between Moslims and other citizens. During the visit, one Iman refused to shake hands with the minister because she was a woman. Talk about not helping yourself. In a land where shaking hands is a normal greeting, it just adds to the not-integrating argument. It's seems quite a crazy thing to do in one of the most emancipated countries in the world. But people with prejudices, even those with prejudices backed up by religious and/or cultural norms, seem odd to those of us who think there is no harm in shaking a woman's hand.

But this does not seem typical of Muslims in the Netherlands. It is the actions of an old man whose life is completely defined by his religion. For most other people it is a layer that has the society in which they live laid over the top. In fact most people's bottom layer is informed by their religion, but this is also modified by what they really believe in, which does not always correspond to the written words of their chosen religion.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Apology Accepted

For those of you (outside the US) who were surprised (and upset) at the result of the recent US election, there is It's quite amusing, but serious in its intent.

And as on the web for every action there is an equal but not always apposite reaction, there is... This isn't a spoof but a reaction and is not so amusing. But it's a great site for finding pictures of people with guns.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Twin Evils

According to the Metro (free paper on the trains and metros) yesterday, the top three searches on Dutch search engines this month are: Theo van Gogh, Terrorism and Georgina Verbaan. Theo van Gogh was the guy shot a couple of weeks ago by a religious nut. Terrorism is the current world threat since the last strongholds of Communism collapsed and giant asteroids failed to appear. Georgina Verbaan has just appeared in Playboy with her recently enlarged breasts. She claims it happened due to the pill. Certainly since their growth and their subsequent appearance in Playboy, the newspapers have been full of stories about her. If only every career had a pill that could help it. The pill will also prevent Georgina from breeding for a while, so there is a benefit for us as well.
The Metro today announces that 174 Million Chinese are unemployed. Now as a percentage, this is something like 6 or 7 percent - not so many, but it serves as a reminder that in China statistics are less interesting than real figures. For example if you have a product that only 1% of the population likes, that's still 12 million people. Not bad for being statistically unpopular.

Georgina - Theo - Typical Terrorists

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Probably the best-known of all of Sherlock Holme's adventures, it's the tale of an old legend which begins to have deadly consequences for inheritors of an estate. Not very original, and probably not even so 100 years ago, whenn it was written. But of course, there is no dark magic, only a master criminal at work. Even this has been done to death since, most notably by Messrs Hanna and Barbarra, creators of Scooby Doo.

I'm glad Sir Arthur resisted the urge to bring in a younger, (supposedly) hipper assistant unlike Messrs Hanna and Barbarra. The exciting adventures of Scraplock Holmes never made it to press.

But it's always good to check in with the world's most popular detective. he's not as clever as the myth surrounding him suggests. But maybe he is more cautious in his later stories. In some of the early ones, he can tell all sorts of things from a coupld of scratches on a piece of wood. Things modern forensics would have trouble telling you.

Sherlock also lays off the drugs for the duration of this story. Something Scooby Doo could never manage.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

8/10/04, Cabrillo and San Diego Park + Museum

If Florida is America’s Wang (According to the Homer Simpson - they prefer the “Sunshine State”, apparently) then Cabrillo is America’s Coccyx. Anatomically speaking. But in this case, there is no additional metaphor involved. Cabrillo is a nature reserve, military cemetery and celebrates the first European to set foot on Western American soil.
On a clear day, unlike what we had, you get a good view of the airbase and of the spiky downtown area.

At the heart of San Diego is Balbao park. It’s America's largest urban cultural park. Or so it ways on the web site. It has dozens of museums, historical buildings, friendship gardens, zoos, IMAX cinema, theatres and an organ pavillion.

In the Museum of San Diego History there was a special exhibit celebrating San Diego in the movies. San Diego has a long history of being in the movies because it’s close to LA and has landscape and beaches and an airbase perfect for war films. Pretty much every major beach landing seems to have been recreated for the cinema on San Diego’s beaches. It was the home of the Top Gun academy at the time of the movie that made Tom Cruise what he is today (whatever that is). The exhibit also pointed out that hotel Del Coronado was used as the backdrop in Con Faldas Yo La Loco, better known as Some Like It Hot (see elsewhere) and the buildings in San Diego Park were used as the exteriors of Xanadu, the home of Citizen Kane. But most famous of all, it seems is the location for the whole of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes series.

I say “attack of the killer tomatoes,” you say “attack of the killer tomatoes.”

A Typical Organ pavillion

Typical San Diego Street Scene

14/10/04, Los Angeles

The drive up to LA from, er, SD, takes a couple of hours. The road is wide and full of cars. Americans follow the Chinese road policy of, ‘once you are in a lane, stick to it, no matter what your speed. If you have to overtake, pick whichever side is clearest.’ Where Americans stray from the Chinese way is that the (hard) shoulder is not to be driven in, even in times of congestion.

In LA, there is 1 car for every 1.4 people. On the roads approaching it, it is more like 1.1. Nearly every car has just one occupant. You can see this by the fact that we were one of the few cars in the car-pooling lane. We had two people in ours.
It used to be that the car-pooling lane was for cars with 3 or more people, but it was under used. So they lowered the number to 2. Still it was underused. Now there is an electronic toll system, which means people who are alone in their car, can use the car-pool lane, but pay a fee every time they do. It’s still under used.
Well, maybe an oil crisis will sort that one out.

LA is a big sprawling mass. It has districts the size of towns. We started off at the famous Santa Monica Pier. Like piers everywhere, it’s heyday was many summers ago, and it is now faded and a little seedy. Some things, are universal.

We drove around the more prestigious areas, where the houses are big and hidden behind big walls. Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Et Cetera. It’s where the stars and their lawyers live.

In the shops you can buy maps showing the houses of the famous. Stalking is too easy here - not to mention the sheer number of stalkable people. There are even tours which take you to see the places of the rich and famous. Just the outside, of course. It’s all a little disturbing. But, armed with one of these maps and a subscription to a movie magazine - so that you know which films are being shot abroad and with which stars - it is easy to pick the best houses to squat.

Obviously we saw a few of the must-see items, including Mann’s Chinese Theater - the premiere premiere movie theatre. We also saw a few of the star paving-slabs, which feature the names of movie people both famous and sometimes obscure or forgotten. There isn’t a panel that chooses people, rather it’s done by petition. The road is long and you only have to see a few to get the gist. I didn’t see it except in the newspaper, but apparently on the Christopher Reeve one someone had left some flowers, which I think is just an accident waiting to happen.

Dinner was in a Cuban restaurant with awesome Mojitos. I have a feeling enjoying Cuban cocktails constitutes moral turpitude, so I better not say any more about it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Hij Komt.

This Sunday the streets were clogged with children and their guardians. They were lining the streets to greet a gang of unconvincing black men and their leader, a man in a dress. These guys are from Spain, and if children have not been good, they go back to Spain with them in a bag. This is Sinterklaas, the Spanish priest who was repackaged and sold to the world at large as Santa Claus. The blacked-up white guys represent Piet, full name Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), his ‘helper.’

Anyone who comes from anywhere else in the world is always either perturbed or shocked at the Piet character. Or rather the fact that to represent him, otherwise liberal-minded men smear boot polish on their faces and dance around crazily. But it is all done in naïve innocence rather than with any malice. But still, there is offence to be taken and I know of at least one international school which tries to steer the practice in less murky waters by having Bonte Piet (Coloured Piet) where all of the faces are painted in all the different colours). But whatever colour he is, he is the one the kids prefer. Sinterklaas is the dignified cleric, whereas Piet is the one who doles out the sweets.

That's quite enough pictures like that. Strange country.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Netherlands: Theo van Gogh

Things are a little crazy here right now. Not Côte d’Ivoire crazy (civil war) but America crazy (frightened, irrational public). The trigger for this (if you will excuse the expression) is the shooting (and stabbing) of columnist, documentary filmmaker and champion smoker, Theo van Gogh. It was a horrible and shocking murder on the streets where he lived.

The fall-out has almost been as shocking as the murder - including bombs and arson in Islamic schools, presumed to be the work of racist groups. The arrested suspect was a Moroccan member of a fundamentalist Islamic group and it has heightened the tensions surrounding the growing Islamic population here. Muslims were a common target of Theo.

Theo was often provocative, even sometimes just downright racist and insulting, but his murder is shocking in a country where people really do believe in freedom of speech. The Dutch attitude is let everyone speak and people will make their own minds up and ignore anything that’s stupid.

Exactly like Pim Fortuyn before him, upon his death, Theo van Gogh has changed from being someone who was charismatic yet provocative to sometimes uncomfortable levels, to being an heroic martyr. And far from being silenced, there is now nothing but talk of him and his work. His films - in particular Submission, about the lack of voice for traditional Muslim women - are being shown again. Similarly, Pim Fortuyn’s party won more seats in the election just after his murder than it probably would have had he lived.

After over a week, things have calmed down, but there are still tensions. And it has been a week where the ugly sides of life have been seen. Of people turned evil by an inability to reconcile the values around them with that of their over-consuming devotion to their own system of belief and of people turned evil through anger and pre-formed hatred.

More comedy soon. Please.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Brass Monkeys

This morning the climate suddenly turned a corner and became as bitterly cold as a day can get without being a day somewhere in central Canada. It was so cold, my planned trip to ikea was called off in favour of a nice evening in hugging the radiator. No one in my family has ever been a polar explorer, as you can probably guess.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

The heroine of this book, Fanny Price, does nothing. Basically she just sits and hopes her cousin falls in love with her. Stuff happens in the book, don’t get me wrong, but Fanny is not proactive, not active, and not even reactive, except on an emotional level. It’s a very psychological book - Austen’s most Virginia Woolfish work.

And even when stuff does finally happen in the book - illness, elopement, adultery - Fanny is miles away and receives all the information in letters. But in the end, the heroine who does nothing wins through, marries the family member of her choice and sees off all those not pure of heart. Sounds terrible the way I described it, but it’s a damn good read if you like Austen’s gentle, satirical style.

This is not to be confused with Austen Park by Jane Mansfield in which the heavily endowed heroine is much more active and more prone to bikini-wearing. She too gets the man she wants. And his brother.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Great Movies In German

Part 185 of a continuing series of unexpected films watched (or part watched) in German:

South Park Der Film

"Fick dich und halts maul Onkel Ficker"

Christopher Reeve

The last time I was in the US was some nine years ago. I was approaching a town called Charlottesville in Virginia when the radio news announced that Christopher Reeve had been involved in a horse-related accident in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia. It was quite disconcerting. I always somehow felt somehow responsible. Slowly, over the years, I put those thoughts from my mind.

Not long into my arrival back into the US for the first time since then, the TV announces that Christopher Reeve has died. Now tell me I am not to blame! The first thing I resolved to do when I get back is have my blood tested for high levels of Kryptonite.

12/10/04, San Diego and Tijuana

Running through some of the poorer areas of San Diego is a train line. It’s called a trolley and is more like a metro train or a tram than a train. One line goes all the way down to the border with Mexico. It is this line we took. Partly for the experience and partly because the border to Mexico is not the place to park your car. And driving over there isn’t the thing to do, either.

But as it happens Tijuana is so much on then border, that you can calk over there into the centre of town. The walkway over the border is a horrible ugly concrete affair in the style of 1960s shopping centres. It takes you zig-zaggingly up and over the border and then down again in the same style. No photography is allowed in the walkway, which is a pity as it is an area of outstanding national ugliness.

Tijuana has two sides. There is the sleazy tourist-trap area where every shop sells souvenirs from classy sculptures by local artists (rare) to tacky sombrero ash trays (very common). There are so many of these shops all selling pretty much the same thing, that after a while it becomes impossible to know what to by.
The other side of town is the sleazy part where drink and prostitutes are cheap. It’s a popular Batchelor party destination for Californian men, the same way Amsterdam is for British men.

We only went to the tourist part of town. Walked past and into the shops selling various grades of objects emblazoned with Tijuana. Sometimes people tried to entice us in with everything from lies (“Everything today one Dollar”) to humour (“Please come in and let me rip you off”). Maybe as much as a fistful of dollars changed hands to get a few little gifts and to have lunch serenaded by a junior mariachi band, but that was it. There really isn’t so much to see in Tijuana itself. It’s a place to go to say I’ve been to Mexico and to buy the sombrero ashtrays to back it up. You don’t go there to get a taste of Mexican life - this is a border town, it ain’t typical.

Getting back was quite straight forward. There was a worry about my status. But my password was already stamped; it’s not uncommon for tourists to pop into Mexico for the day, or even a few hours as in our case.

That evening we dined at Ruby’s Diner. It’s an old-style diner set in the 50’s or 60’s (I’m a bit vague because they are). It’s the kind of place you don’t get cutlery because everything comes in a bun. But it’s better quality than stuff that usually comes in a bun. Ruby was represented by a 20ft waitress suspended over the bar. The so-called ‘Skirt of Damocles.’

To appear useful, I went along to mein hostesses acting workshop in the evening. As it happened they were short of one actor and I helped by reading his role. Fortunately the role was of a tough, American, action-film hero, so it was a clear case of type-casting.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

USA: Politics (14/10/04)

It’s election time (for those of you who have been on Mars) and America seems never to have been so divided since the North and South got it on over America’s involuntary immigrants.
On the left side (in the purple corner) - that’s America’s left, the world’s centre - they’re all for working with the outside world to fight the almost-impossible-to-fight (in conventional terms) threat of terrorism.
On the right side (in the black, viscous corner) there are lots of people running around shouting their heads off about imminent attacks and national security. Important issues, but best dealt with without the arm-waving and with a modicum of logic. Many of these people seem to believe they are living on borrowed time. Many seem to think that any amount of thought on the nature of and dealing with terrorism is tantamount to treason.

America is still scared. The terrorists are therefore still winning. If America wipes out all active terrorists, all people considering it as a career or even have the potential to become one because of current or future circumstances… they will still be scared, and these dead terrorists will still be winning.
It’s a shame that the most powerful country in the world is scared by a group of people that even with associated groups probably only numbers in the low thousands. But then the country is still a little bit scared of Cuba.

On one TV show, a woman who looks like an actress plugs her book on “how to talk to a liberal.” Her book must say, ‘hysterically and making as little sense as possible’ as that was how she talked to the show’s other guest, a calm, soft-spoken liberal.

The trouble with liberals as allowed on American TV is they are liberals. They are all soft-spoken wimps and have to contend with people who believe the best way to get an idea across is by shouting. In the UK, these shouters would be pitted against firebrand socialists, who can return fire usually with as little thought, but I think all such lefties in the US are still blackballed. The other option would be to pit two intelligent thinking men against each other and you’d think the candidacy debates would be like that, but it didn’t seem to be.

According to the blonde girl with the book, bombs will go off the day after John Kerry is elected because he is a liberal. She could be right, but as these things take a little bit of planning, why would they choose that day and on that condition to set a bomb off? It would make more sense during the election as this would probably make it go George Bush’s way as he does very well out of the climate of fear he has help nurture. Plus, I’m convinced al Qaeda and allies are rooting for Bush as he has done so much to heighten the fear of them and to recruit new members to the cause by his antics in Iraq. A Middle-East that is already embittered against the US for its meddling in the region (overt and covert) doesn’t need more examples of its… well its hypocrisy. More later. For now, back to the comedy.
PS Since I wrote this, but before I had a chance to publish it, some of my assertions have been backed up by a released video from one Osama Bin Laden - the man generally regarded as the world’s Terrorist in Chief. Why can’t nice people ever agree with me?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Film Review: Napoleon Dynamite

This is an odd film. A series of episodes and slices of quirky life, in which a plot is discovered quite late, but is really not so consequential to the piece. It was nice to see a film where all of the main characters were such utter odd-ball weirdos. It was amusing and interesting, but it didn’t grab me nearly as much as I would have liked it to. There are some good moments and some nice lines: “I caught you a delicious bass,” is delivered as a kind of nerdy chat-up line. I’m going to try it next time I get a chance. It’s a pity I went to Coronado beach before I saw the film, otherwise I could have used such a line and landed me some one just like Marilyn Monroe. Or at least like Joe E Brown. Conclusion: this is a film you may or may nor like. It depends on your taste. I have heard of people loving it. I thought it was diverting and sufficiently different to recommend it, although it was a little unsatisfying.

11/10/04, San Diego: Coronado

Over on the island floating in the middle of San Diego bay, is a region called Coronado. It’s a basically a beach resort most famous for the Hotel Del Coronado, a sprawling wooden building on the beach front. It’s a grand old hotel decorated in a grand old style. Layers of dark oak on thick, plush carpets.
It is a place famous for temporarily housing some of the country’s litarary grates (is how I believe they spell it): Mark Twain, Henry James, etc. Many Presidents have stayed there. But the hotel is most famous as the one in the film Some Like It Hot. That makes it instantly recognisable.
I hung around on the beach for a while and tripped up three girls, apologising in the strangest English accent I could muster. The first two hit me, but the third took my telephone number and told me to expect a call. It was her lawyer.

After the fun of the beach, an excursion was made into San Diego downtown. San Diego is one of those sprawling cities. The centre, or downtown, features a few tall buildings and the old town. The rest of the city is relatively low suburbs.

There’s not so much to see downtown. An old town in the US isn’t really old, just not new. We spent some time in a hardware store that contained the biggest collection of doorbells and hinges I have ever seen. Every style you could ever think of was there. Doorbells that looked like doorknockers are big. Especially doorbells that looked like doorknockers that looked like animals: butterflies, frogs and beetles are common.

After this educational experience we took ourselves to another American centre of lerning, the Cinematoscope. Here we watched a talkie (in kolor) entitled Napoleon Dynamite.

Film Review: The Bourne Supremacy

This is a sequel. That doesn’t mean it is a bad film. Being a sequel doesn’t always mean that. It just means that sometimes what often happens, you are made to feel cheated about something from the first. Usually this is the romantic interest. Usual story: In film 1, as well as defeating bad guys and saving world / school / Christmas (delete as applicable), said hero falls in love with someone. The end, after said planet / institution / season have been saved, the hero pops off sunsetwards with said love interest. Now comes the sequel. Hero needs a reason to act despite being felicitously happy with said woman / man / porpoise. Thus the usual answer is to kill her / him / it off. Thus giving the man reason to act and, frequently, the chance to fall in love all over again.

I haven’t seen any of the original versions of this film, but was given a summary by a friend which in the end wasn’t necessary, as the film gave its own quick-cut summary. The basic story is man with memory loss tries to find out and then come to terms with what he did. He used to kill people for a dirty branch of the CIA. He was very good at it, and is still the master of any situation. He won’t call anyone unless he can see them. It would make him an irritating friend, but a great guy to have in a crisis. And being trained by the CIA and authored by Robert Ludlum, his life is just one big crisis followed by another.

The film is shot in wobble-cam which helps make everything more exciting because it’s like you’re there being wobbled around or running with him. The car chases are spectacular and really show that cars are so much tougher in films than in real life. I was particularly impressed at the resilience of Russian taxis. Forget Volvos, these are the new ‘tanks on wheels’, able to stand anything you can throw at them.

The Bourne Supremacy is an exiting piece of film not stupid but not so believable. Likely to spawn several sequels: Bourne Again, Bourne: Free and of course the prequel: Bourne Yesterday. You chuckle derisively, but can you prove it will not happen?

10/10/04, San Diego: Animal Park and Comedy Store

San Diego has a zoo. It also has an animal park, and I believe a safari park. All of them are well respected, and our selected excursion was to the Animal Park. The park has the luxury of space and many animals wander around in something like their natural habitat. They are fed, bred and enjoy the California year-round sunshine.

The area is big enough that the train service that runs around the perimeter takes an hour to complete a circuit. Admittedly the train travels at the same speed as a hippo strolls, but it’s still a nice-sized area filled with wild things. If you want to spend a bit more money, you can drive through the enclosure in a truck. This gives you great photos, especially as all of the giraffes crowd round the truck as it also brings food. Giraffes are also vain.

The highlights of the trip were a very impressive bird show, which showed the smartness of parrots and the stupidity of emus; a room where lorikeets land on you to eat nectar, occasionally ejecting it in much the same form with little or no ceremony or regard to clothing - I remained unscathed and at one point had one on each shoulder; and not least the chance to hold a big python.

Later on, back in San Diego itself, the animals on show were of the human variety. The death-defying antics of the stand-up comedian. Except that it was one of those nights where death was not defied, and in fact for the first half of the show, which featured myself, the species looked like becoming extinct. I was expecting at any moment for someone from the animal park to drive in on a big jeep, scoop me up in a net and take me back to the endangered species enclosure where I would become part of a breeding programme.

Things picked up in the second half and those of us who went early just looked like Neanderthals - the species that didn’t make it.

My main problem was that each comic had exactly 3 minutes. Three minutes is no time at all. And going on second I had had no chance to see how it’s dealt with. The people who came on later, didn’t fumble around saying their name or saying anything about themselves, but rather leapt straight in with the material. Once again, I am very wise after the fact. But then my secret sixth sense always was hindsight.

But not many people saw this event, and I merely tell people that I performed at the original Comedy Store. Wow, they go, how did it went? Well, I say, the first three minutes weren’t so good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

9/10/04, San Diego

When in LA, do as the LA-LAs do. Because she wanted to do it, my hostess convinced me I wanted to do a Sitcom Audition Workshop. It was very informative on how to approach getting cast in a Sitcom. A lot of time was spent on the most likely role we’d be offered - that of the one-liner. Typical one-liner dialogue lines are: “Can I get you guys drinks?”, “Please step out of the car,” and “Duck, Magnum, duck!”
The most surprising thing was the sheer number of TV shows that get taken up each year by the US networks to make pilots for. Most do not make it to be a series. Many are never even seen. But reading the tag lines, you can see that even the lamest idea can get you a pilot. But obviously tag-lines tell you nothing. Things like “3 friends who all share a boat,” “The X-Files but set in the Inland Revenue Service,” and “schoolgirl by day, detective by night” (this is now a series, and yes her schoolwork does suffer through lack of sleep).

8/10/04, San Diego

What I had forgotten about US TV is how the shows are so broken up by ads that you don’t feel like you are watching a show with interruptions, but that you are watching 30 minutes of rubbish interrupted by a through-line you’re interested in.

Shows are broken up into 5 minute chunks, and the ads come so frequently they really start to irritate you. There are some adverts so irritating, and so frequent, that you want to go right out to the supermarket and smash up the shelf. Unfortunately, the manufacturers will soon realise they have an image problem and issue a new set of happier, bouncier and more frequent adverts.

America leads the way in advertising. Very few openings are unexplored. The backs of public benches are common places to see the face of some real estate agent grinning at you in a way that doesn’t make you want him to know where you live, let along have a copy of your keys. The latest thing seems to be advertising on the separators used to keep your stuff apart from the guy in front’s at the supermarket queue. Again, mostly taken up by real estate agents. There really is too many of them in California.
It’s hard to know where to advertise next. I don’t know if it’s been done yet, but I’m thinking of tattoos above the chests of prostitutes. Perfect place to advertise flowers, chocolates and other gifts for the errant husband.

John Peel

I was quite saddened to learn of the death yesterday of John Peel. DJ, humorous raconteur, and DJ. Probably one of only a handful of well-known radio DJs with anything like integrity. He was the champion of great, undiscovered music, playing bands most other DJs would not understand because it wasn't on the playlist. I rarely comment on celebrity death, but this one shook me a little, as he was 65 and thus still only a kid.

Tribute: 2pm (UK time) today everyone to play Teenage Kicks, by The Undertones.

Monday, October 25, 2004

7/10/04, Dave and Busters

What is Dave and Busters? For those of you who do not know, and I didn't, it is a restaraunt-come-amusement arcade. A huge video arcade with a bar and American restaraunt. The latter being something that has things on the menu in the style of the Easy Rock Café or Planet Tinseltown. Big portions and waiters just that bit too eager to please. I assume it's a chain, as everything is in the US.

But it's gimmick - you always need a gimmick - is the video games. Old classics and new ones networked together so you can Kayak race against your friends, or be blown out of the water by some kid young enough to have been your fault. Some games give prizes points, and these are redeemable against a selection of tacky gifts. I went for the shot glasses as being the least stupid in my prize range.

Ah. It's not every day I let the little kid in me out for a run. Oh, actually, it is.

6/10/04, more

The rusty desert goes on for miles. Four hours in a plane over mostly barely populated nothingness, makes you realise how big this country is. And how, in the words of Apu, dangerously underpopulated it is.
The problem is, new arrivales don't want to come and live in the desert, or the farmland, they nearly always go to the densely populated metropoli, which crowd around the edges.

Between rocky ranges, a blue river is courted by green rectangles of cultivation. But immediately after there is miles and miles of Martian bleakness.

Slowly, things begin to get more verdant. Colonies start to appear. Strange perpendicular lines appear in the flat varicose-veined desert floor. Roads. But for what was not clear.

6/10/04, Further

After the clouds had ceased to be all encompassing and became isolated drips that cast sinister, stain-like, shadows over huge swaythes of land, came a new pattern.
It was again a patchwork, but this time many of the squares contained circles. Circles that fitted exactly into the squares. In some of them, a radius gave it a clock-like appearance, but ultimately suggested some huge agricultural device that sacrificed the four corners for some level of automation. Sometimes, four squares were put together and contained a much larger circle. Sometimes, strips replaced the traditional squares. This was farming's cutting edge and took place in the middle of nowhere. I was roughly half way through my flight.

It wasn't long before agricultural progress was obscured by a herd of fluffy frogs.

A long time after that - half a Spiderman movie later - the clouds thinned enough to see red, red, rocky desert and pointy, crumpled mountains. These gave way to grey fern-leaf-like valleys within green, slimey mountainbs. It all looked like a rockpool on the beach.

When the sky had fully cleared, there was more red, rocky desert, with those fascinating fern-leave formations where water had once been, and other occasional ridges and fissures. Roads were few and relatively straight. Houses: none.
Deep gorges showed where once great rivers had flowed, and mountains crumpled upwards in that style indicative of plate movement. You know the way old mash potato goes when pushed by sliding another plate on top of a full one.
Mountains brought with them what appeared to be forestation. Part of which was smoking. It was is such a remote, high area, that I wondered if anyone actually knew about it. And what they could do if they did. I guess they could drop a couple of divers on it, that sometimes works

6/10/04, some time later

Very soon, nature’s own censor – clouds – turned the view pure white. There are two major sorts of clouds as seen from a plane. One is thin, white smoke and resembles some sorts of semi-thick pudding. The other is a sort of living clay that lies somewhere between a mash-potato mountain range and holographic snow. Sometimes clouds look like a choppy sea, sometimes Alaska, sometimes a masonry explosion, sometimes giant frogs licking ice creams.

6/10/04, bit further from Chicago

As ever, the golden rules of air passenger travel apply. Especially number 14: Meals should be served just before entering regions of turbulence.

Looking down on all these farms and townlets really brings it home how many Americans don’t live in the metropolises we all assume they do because nearly all of the films are set there. The rural settings we never believe are real because they always have a comic feel. The realest-looking film I think I have ever seen was actually a TV series called, The Dukes of Hazard.

United are like KLM and BA in that they go for the more mature steward(esse)s. It’s the opposite end to those airlines such as Singapore who pour the youngest things into those uniforms. But I am no where near Singapore, so there is no reason to think of their stewardesses.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

6/10/04, between Chicago and San Diego

After the sprawling suburbs of the Chicago area - nice-looking neighbourhoods well planned around natural defects - lakes and the like - came miles and miles of patchwork. Each patch with its own house or set of house and buildings.
It reminded me of a flight I took between Shanghai and Xian (in China, in case you didn't know), except that the patches were smaller in China and the houses simpler - usually just one simple hut.
Rivers and railroads are the only things to stop the uniformity of the chequered world. But these are two of nature's most unstoppable forces. Or at least they were in the past.

This part of the world is flat. Flat and covered in plaid farmland. Occasionally there is a rash of houses to make a small town, but it is soon cured, and the healthy, flat farmland returns.

After about 10 minutes, the land ages. It gets wrinkles. Initially, it appears not to be aging, but the wrinkling effect of water, in the guise of a big, old river. But even after the river has gone, the wrinkles increase. They become lumps, bumps, ridges. The checks are lost (presumably in the post) and the wild abandon of hill country takes over.

The free-for-all lasts a short while, but soon, the checks seem to take back over, but then a battle ensues and for a long time a compromise exists. Checks appear where the hills have not claimed their turf. This was the most interesting area to look down on. An area where man has not won outright.

6/10/04, Chicago O'Hare Airport

Recently new laws in the US mean that all people who arrive in the country have to be photocopied. Just the face and two fingers, but this is enough. I believe it is so that if you die due to an accident, scientists acting on behalf of lawyers can clone you from the images and your clone can sue.
But really it's an immigration thing. America, like a lot of countries - especially those created through immigration, is paranoid that they are going to be taken over by stealth. And when it happens, they will have a complete set of finger-prints of the new masters. Those without state-held finger-prints will obviously be the new underclass.
There is also a homeland security risk. Currently the fingerprints are just stored and not used or followed up. But in the future, they will compare the finger-prints with those who have committed previous suicide attacks. These people will not be let in.
Obviously, this hi-tech photo shoot takes it's toll on waiting times, but it looks like something is being done, which is what matters.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

6/10/04, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

This is actually the first long holiday I've had in a year. The last was over a year ago: one month in Edinburgh, which was a kind of a working holiday. The lack of a journal written at the time shows just how little relaxing there was. In fact the whole month seemed to be spent handing out flyers to people who did not want them. Enough people came to see us for it not to feel like a waste of time and money, although it probably was looked at logically. But then most things do.
Even this holiday is not free from work. The girl I am staying with and I are working on a film. But this won't consume all my time. No, it's a holiday first and formost. A chance to visit the region of the US that produces films, wine and movie-star governers.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

6/10/04, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

Getting on a flight bound for the US gets more and more like getting on an El-Al flight. They don't yet seem to ask who you met in the last few days or demand proof that your laptop actually works, but it's close. Of course, it could have been I looked suspect to El-Al security bods.
As on previous trips to the country God selected as the chosen land for Mormons, I had to sign a form declaring that I would engage in no acts of moral turpitude for the duration of my stay. It'll be a wrench, but I'll give it a go.

On announcing that I was heading to California, most friends had some sort of advice for me. From the recomendatory, "Eat at Joe's Crab Shack," to the compulsory, "Enjoy yourself," even to the predatory, "Seduce American women with your British accent." The latter was from an American woman, who so-far has never been seduced by my accent.
The trouble is, my accent ain't what it was. The North Kentish (rich-man's Cockney) of my well-spent youth has long since faded (through travelling and a youthful belief it made me sound stupid) to something more like the anonymous, placeless exactness of RP. I believe there is even a Dutch tinge developing in it, as people often accuse me of being Dutch when I'm speaking English. I await the day they accuse me of that when I am speaking Dutch. The best I have been accused of is Belgian.
But this RP tongue, is exactly the sort of English, foreigners think we speak because it is the common accent amongst actors. It is the most prevalent accent of Britons in foreign films and British films before the 1960s.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A New Dawn

This here thing is for me to spout my views on this here life. The llama is its symbol because llamas look side-ways at life occasionally spitting on it. Or is that camels? Who knows.