The Amazing Buster Keaton – A Video

 

I’ve been on a real Buster Keaton kick recently. I go through these phases, usually on an annual basis, where I can’t get enough of something. British stand up, Hitchcock, the writings of Bukowski, Frank McCourt, you name it. However, the one I always return to, my ‘default’ craze, if you will, is always Buster.

There isn’t really anything new to say about the man – his early start in vaudeville, his collaborations with Fatty Arbuckle, and his terrible personal life have all been meticulously documented. The best of these writings, in my opinion, is Buster’s own – My Wonderful World of Slapstick is a work like no other. We can almost hear his incongruously gravelly voice as he dictates his memoirs. The occasional lapse in his own grammar only adds to the book’s charm.

Apart from reading about him, there are few avenues to really get involved in my fandom. Sure, the Royal Albert Hall is hosting a live accompaniment to ‘The Frozen North’ next week, but these events are few and far between in London.

To that end, I decided to make some music videos to celebrate my love of the little man. What better way to watch his work than in an editing window, with the opportunity to relish his work frame by frame? You can learn a lot about his films that way – every shot, when slowed down, or viewed backwards, is perfect. Good job, Buster.

I’ve set the clips (thrilling chases, unrequited love, one shot gags, tons of dancin’) to Parov Stelar. Electro swing and Buster go hand in hand.

Capturing the excitement a 1920s audience must have felt in the playhouse while watching ‘The Goat’, with Buster’s feline leaps through windows only a foot tall, is a challenge. With the right editing, I hope I’ve done him some justice.

 

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Making Sense of Your Own Nonsense

Sometimes I write down thoughts as they occur to me, only to forget them and discover them years later.

It often looks like this:

 

1/27 2013

I dreamt of a picture in black and white that resembled a child’s drawing more than anything else – it was crude and looked like the sort of design you might see on a brand name tote bag, masquerading as an off-the-cuff one-of-a-kind piece but actually designed by a team of graduates wearing glasses they don’t really need and woolen hats indoors. A line split the page horizontally and appeared biro-like while strange appendages, random lines and an odd weeping eye hovered indecisively above it, eyelashes spiking out of the cornea directly with no mention of an eyelid. Beneath, shaded capsule shapes submarined aimlessly, creating a ying yang balance. There was an innocence to the image that irritated me, that you would expect to find on your Facebook mini-feed, posted with fake casualness by a girl whose internship was about to take her to high places. In my dream I was suddenly struck by my own genius with such vigor that I couldn’t see straight for a moment, then hastily sketched out my own interpretation of the drawing. My version, titled “Nothing Is As It Appears” showed the world as I saw it for what it was – the eye was not weeping sightlessly, but intently ogling a naked rear end beneath the horizontal line, the capsules were sharks circling beneath a collection of lines that transpired to be seagulls. I posted it to my Timeline, knowing that in doing so I was securing my place in the World of the Interesting.

I woke up before I could receive my first Like.

 

I have no recollection of writing this. It feels like it was written by someone else. What goes through our minds when we write? The passage above looks like pretentious drivel, but I’m sure it meant something to me at the time. I suppose that could apply to all writing. But I don’t think that’s true. There are some stories that I look at and can’t believe I wrote them, they’re that darned good.

However, there is a grain of truth to the passage – this wasn’t the first dream I felt like I had created something stupendous, and that I had better wake up and write it down before it eluded me. Upon actually awakening, however, I quickly realised the joke that had seemed so funny in sleep was complete and utter bollocks in the waking world.

In our dreams we are fearless geniuses on the brink of discovery. Once we are awake, we dismiss our ideas as the ramblings of a sleep-addled lunatic. That’s a shame.

First, Gotta Take A Selfie

Somewhere along the line, somehow, something’s gone terribly wrong.

I recently celebrated my first Guy Fawkes night in several years – the first since coming back from Japan. Believe it or not, Japan isn’t big on celebrating failed acts of terrorism (but they do have some pretty stupid festivals of their own).

When I saw the bonfire posters up around town, I nearly wet myself with excitement. Candyfloss! Fireworks! Funfairs! A massive fire! I’m not one to miss out on forking out £8 to stand in my local park. I hadn’t missed a single year prior to leaving the country, and I wasn’t about to start now once I was back. I coerced my mother into coming with me, just for the sake of nostalgia.

It was glorious. The mud was ankle deep, just as I remembered, and the air was redolent with the aroma of sizzling onions. The funfair was in full swing, and the rides looked terrifying. Not in a ‘wow, look at the speed on that’ kind of way – just a general air of creaking foreboding. Just like in my younger days, there were masses of children running around, crying.

Alas, there was no bonfire this year. I have fond memories of a boy from our school throwing his sister’s Barbie into that fire – just as in life, her hair was the first to go.

Time for the fireworks! My mother and I jostled politely to get near the front, to stand before the nonexistent bonfire.

An Irish MC worked the crowd. “But before we begin, give it up for the Deputy Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham-”

The crowd booed dutifully. The poor woman, who had probably helped organise the night’s proceeding for these ingrates, did her best to convey her delight to be there.

And then we were off! The music was a fantastic mix of 80s pop hits and classical. The fireworks were just as I remembered.

But wait! What the fuck was this? As the rockets fizzed, a sea of hands shot into the air. Attached to the hands were little windows, through which the fireworks crackled in pixilated euphoria.

Absolutely everyone around me had their phones out. Their beady little eyes were intent on their screens. The only people observing the fireworks unaided were the kids, but their parents were fixated on their Samsungs, trying to get that perfect shot.

Shots like this one.

Shots like this one.

Some were filming the entire display. What, so they could post the video to social media? Look at this firework display, guys. I was there!

Call me whatever you will, but the last time I went to a fireworks display, people actually looked at the fireworks firsthand, and not through little glass objects, like 21st century monocles.

What world are we living in, I mused, as ‘Thriller’ blared into the surrounding treetops. What world is this, where we take pictures of food instead of eating it, where we tell our friends to take our picture over and over until we look our true selves? What world is this where we have to charge our cigarettes and our books on our laptops?

I turned to my right. My mum was taking a picture of the sky.

Oh, for God’s sake.

What We Don’t See

Her red dress means she's angry.

Her red dress means she’s angry.

I thought it was only in Tokyo that the sheer volume of commuters packs you in until you are unable to breathe. In London, it’ll be different.

I’m wrong. The crowd shifts around me, like an ever-shuffling sea. I feel my feet slightly lift off the floor. The mob unwittingly carries me from Ravenscourt Park to Hammersmith, where they stream out, pausing to exhale. The next deep breath will be expelled before entering the doors of offices, schools, hospitals, shops.

Seats flash their primary colours for only an instant before being smothered by Primark, Gap, the occasional Levis. It’s a dog eat dog world.

I stand directly before a ridiculously handsome man. There is a hint of the Mediterranean around his brow, nose, and jawline. His hair curls around his ears. The woman seated next to him seems immune to his beauty, and taps away at Apple’s latest.

To my right, the doors scream open. A voice – “Could you be more careful? I’m heavily pregnant and trying to get off!” Necks crane at the promise of an altercation. The handsome man doesn’t look up from his novel.

Blood is in the air. “Get off then, you silly cow!” A sudden motion from the corner of my eye as someone falls, or is pushed, from the carriage. We all stare at the offender, a small man with a beard and small round glasses. He looks like a professor. We all hate him now. A lady, her face flushed with indignation, makes slowly for the exit. Her stomach is swollen, her breathing is heavy.

We continue to glare at the professor as we continue on our way, but we turn our faces back to our gadgets when he glances our way, flustered.

Were there such attacks on the Yamanote Line, as we sped from one prefab station to another? I can’t remember at first, then a memory stirs.

A man in the white shirt, black trousers uniform of the salaried worker, skulking away from me. There is blood coming from his nose, and his hand is clapped to it. He tries to look nonchalant. Nobody notices, or everybody pretends that they haven’t noticed.

I made that blood come from that nose. I made it appear by cracking my fist solidly against it.

In Japan, you can see posters in public areas that read ‘Beware of the Perverts.’ I had been leaning against a post at Ikebukuro station when I felt the hand on my behind. I had tutted and moved away – a rather insignificant action that didn’t credit the indiscretion that had taken place. When the man decided to move in for another try, it dawned on me that a stronger reaction was appropriate.

The punch had not been a satisfying one – more of a squish than a crunch. Had he not turned so suddenly, I would have tried for a second shot.

Even afterwards, I justified to myself that I shouldn’t have been groped, because I was only wearing a baggy T shirt and jeans – hardly the stuff titillation is made of. Such is the mindset of the jaded commuter in Tokyo, too absorbed in thoughts of the next day’s tasks and the latest romantic developments to comprehend that a gross indignity has taken place. It was only later that disquiet set in. Had it been my sister, would I have been so unconcerned that no one had done anything while she was manhandled by a stranger?

The wheels of change were already in the air when I left Japan – the cartoonish pervert signs were slowly replaced by a graphic of an angry woman in an even angrier red dress, her pixilated face twisted in rage. The subject of her ire, a shadowed baddie with lascivious intent, received the glares of surrounding commuters. Times were changing.

Back on the London train, the slight professor disembarks, no worse the wear for his outburst.

Should I have said something? I should have said something.

The first three buttons of the Mediterranean man’s shirt are undone, revealing a generous expanse of chest hair. It is also slightly too tight, showcasing rather large shoulders. The look is too sculpted, too self-aware. He loses his appeal in an instant.

When he later picks his nose and wipes it on the seat, we all pretend not to see.


So that happened. It’s common in Tokyo. It’s not like similar things don’t happen in other countries, but even after several years, the ‘Women Only’ carriages really got to me. You see a lot of unusual behaviour on trains – once I saw a middle aged businessman slapping a girl who nudged him while she was doing her makeup. 

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #10 – The Spitwad

I found this to be such a riveting story that I had to reblog. Wow!

Jacke Wilson

Here’s something I’ve learned: teachers are human.

They’re not superheroes or gods. Not saints or demons. They’re human beings, with flaws and weaknesses like all the rest of us.

Don Ward was a fine man who taught high school biology to undeserving students in the same crumbling, run-down building for forty-three years.

How bad was our school? When I was there, ceiling tiles used to fall crashing to the floor. I’d never actually seen one drop, but at least once a month we’d see one in the hallway by the lockers, broken on the ground with a cloud of white smoke that was probably 100% asbestos. In the ceiling, there’d be a gap that stayed there forever, never to be filled. No money in the budget. Or maybe nobody cared enough to bother.

Not such a great workplace for Don Ward. How did he do it? Why did he stay? It…

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Stephen King Prompt – Write a Lot, Read a Lot

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Helping Japanese kids learn how to write isn’t exactly what I thought I would find myself doing once I returned to the UK, but hey, it’s what I’ve got.

Living in Japan was great, but it had to come to an end eventually. Some people do end up staying for the rest of their lives, and hell, there are times I wonder if coming back was a good idea in the first place. London’s just… London. It’s a harsh, dog-eat-dog sort of place at the best of times, and without the safety net of a nice, cosy Japanese school to take my shoes off in, it can be downright uncaring.

However, something must have kept me yearning for the UK for all this time, right? I cut all my ties with Japan.

Well, almost all. See, I grade essays for kids aiming for elite schools. It’s a cool side gig. These kids are bilingual little brain rockets who I have no doubt will end up becoming future leaders.

Sometimes the essays are straightforward, thesis statement-topic sentence x 3-conclusion deals. They write about times they’ve experienced hardship, times they had to make tough decisions, that kind of thing. And sometimes, just sometimes, they write fiction.

Getting out of the ‘Arrgh! Robots are attacking the school and my new Xbox exploded and killed all the aliens I forgot to mention earlier!’ levels can be hard. My advice to the struggling kids is to read. A lot.

And some kids do read – I remember teaching a boy who’d already worked his way through the Sherlock Holmes series, a shedload of Tolkien, Crime and Punishment, and a smattering of Shakespeare for good measure. I remember blushing and stammering out an excuse when he asked what I thought of Tolstoy.

You can tell the kids who don’t read. Their stories feature messy dialogue, (‘Argh! A bee has just buzzed in my ear and made me go deaf, oh no!’) lots of grammar mistakes, and words like ‘good’ and ‘crazy’ reign supreme.

So – Write a lot and read a lot. Stephen King said that.

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he stresses these points frequently. It’s one of my favourite books. If there were fewer instances of shit and cunt, I’d make it one of my students’ favourite books as well.

It’s a dream to read. I remember when a lecturer called on an excerpt during a screenwriting class at university – by the end of that day, I’d bought and read the whole thing cover to cover. It’s less of a textbook and more of a set of guidelines – think more along the lines of the Eightfold Path than the Bible (apologies to the saved). It’s more like a memoir than a rule book. You don’t so much learn from it as simply enjoy it.

I should probably confess that apart from On Writing, the only other stuff by Stephen King I’ve enjoyed is the Different Seasons novella collection (some of the best work I’ve ever read). Horror and suspense just aren’t my bag, I think.

A memorable part of the book is when Mr King actually sets a writing task for you. What is this, school? But you know what? It works pretty well. Apparently, writes King, stories are fossils in the earth, just waiting to be found. Our job as writers is to find the fossil and ease it out of the soil. Some people use a jackhammer to get the thing out of the ground, and force a plot out of their novel, destroying the whole thing in the process. All we need to do, he says, is think about the situation. Plot schmot! Just worry about how the characters react to a situation, and the rest will follow.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: Jane’s abusive husband, Dick, is a controlling, jealous bastard, and he’s been incarcerated for his violent ways with her. She’s safe at last – she’s dropped her daughter off at a party, and she’s about to go home and relax with a cup of herbal tea. But when she gets there, she’s overcome with a strange feeling – something’s wrong. Something is different. She brushes the thought aside, gets the hot water going, and puts on the news.

What’s this? Three men have escaped from the local jail! Two have been caught, but one’s still at large. Jane knows for sure which one. After all, she now knows why she felt so uneasy at the door – she could smell Dick’s hair tonic.

A great situation. King tells us to write what comes next. Only – and this is a big only – we have to switch the genders of the characters. Boom!

Based on what we know, we can simply write the way the characters react to the situation. It’s a kind of written improv, I reckon. It’s a fantastic exercise, and it can make writers out of all of us.

Here’s what I came up with.

Dick’s eyes stayed on the TV. He gritted his teeth a little, felt the little muscles in his cheeks jump. The smell of the Miracle Moist shampoo, a brand he hadn’t bought since… since a while, seemed to fill every corner of the room.

The footfalls were getting louder. He fancied he could hear a slight irregularity to the pace of them, as if the wearer hadn’t donned this particular kind of shoe for a long time. He could feel his tea was cold in its porcelain cup. He gripped it harder.

A rustle outside the living room door. He didn’t move his eyes. A couple were having a good natured fight on Neighbours, a show where the highest level of family conflict seemed limited to forgotten birthday parties.

If he didn’t look up, he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the door slowly opening. He wouldn’t have to see her or speak to her. He would ignore her and watch his programme, as he had done so many times before while she screamed and accused him.

Youfuckinbastardmakinmefeelstupidwithyourdirtysluts

He could feel her behind him. Dick watched Neighbours.

“Dick.” A hand on his shoulder.

It faintly came to him that he was being rather rude. He turned then. He saw the white chiffon before he saw her, and smelled an overwhelming mix of Custard Apple Miracle Moist and mothballs. She was wearing her wedding dress.

“Hello, sweetie,” he said.

And so on. You could probably do this for as long as you can stand it. It’s a great writer’s block tool. I don’t think it means you’ll produce the next bestseller, but it certainly demonstrates that you can write something. At the very least, imagining how characters really react might save me from reading more dialogue about crazy robots taking over the island in a Lord of the Flies reimagining.

Write a lot, read a lot. I like it.