Shiny Shelf


That Was The Year That Was – Part One

By Stephen Lavington on 05 January 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The best British television continues to be almost unbearably painful to watch: the second series of ‘Peep Show’ aligned the series more closely with ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ by upping the cringe factor (‘Yes, that would be fine. If I hadn’t lied about everything except my name’). Whilst this tradition has thus far been largely confined to sitcoms, Jed Mercurio’s ‘Bodies’ applied it to drama with astonishing, if harrowing, results.

‘Green Wing’ turned out to be a grower as well, and with ‘Doctor Who’ and a Chris Morris/Charlie Brooker collaboration coming early in 2005, there’s plenty to look forward to. I mostly managed to keep off the bad TV this year, although it took me a few weeks to twig what a right load of old rubbish ‘Nip/Tuck’ was.

‘Shaun of the Dead’ was both the first really good British horror film in years and the most accurate portrayal of the London I know – not prettified a la Richard Curtis or grittified a la Guy Ritchie, just as it is. With zombies. If he wanted to, Edgar Wright could probably go to Hollywood and become the thinking man’s McG. Ken Russell thought it was ‘loathsome’, but then he directed ‘Lair of the White Worm’ so what does he know?

Music-wise, DJ Danger Mouse’s ‘The Grey Album’ (painstakingly constructed soundclash of Jay-Z’s ‘The Black Album’ and The Beatles’ ‘White’ album) illustrated how creative sampling can be whilst my most-played album of the year has been The Futureheads’s debut: their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ will probably go Top Ten around February. Meanwhile the chancers of 2002 bit the dust, particularly The Liars and their charmless ‘They Were Wrong, So We Drowned’ album: great title, shame about the grunty vocals, ‘freeform’ keyboards and nonexistent production.

Having just moved to the North, it was good to find stuff like an excellent exhibition of Walter Sickert’s paintings, covering his entire career, in the small town of Kendal. Now if they’d just open a comic shop up here I’d be happy.

Grant Morrison has done two excellent but under-praised comics, ‘Seaguy’ and ‘WE3′, which operate on levels most comics writers don’t even know exist. Derek Hunter’s ‘Pirate Club’ was wildly uneven, but rollicking fun. Worst comic of the year was Scott Morse’s first ‘Plastic Man’ fill-in: okay art but a wafer-thin story, averaging less than three panels per page. You get more than that in ‘Jackie Chan Adventures’, for crying out loud.

Eddie Robson

It was a year of late arrivals, welcome revivals and commentaries on our times; ‘Star Wars’ came out on DVD, re-edited yet again and closer to perfection for it. The equally overdue release of proper ‘Star Trek’ came hard upon. They were the former.

As for the latter; Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America’ was a viscerally disturbing story of a fascist 1940s USA, one written with an astounding perspicacity and control of tone. In a surprisingly similar vein, the renaissance of ‘Enterprise’ under producer Manny Coto saw the series become capable of satirical comment, with darkly muttered discussions on pre-emptive strikes, faked intelligence of WMD and military occupations resisted by ‘insurgents’ but championed by TV news.

Kurt Weill’s insanely ambitious opera ‘The Eternal Road’ managed to be an example of both. It dealt with horrors ancient and modern, biblical and social and this was its first release since it was written (and performed just the once) in 1938. The triumphant return of Morrissey can’t have passed anyone by. “First of the Gang to Die” being probably the best song he’s written in twenty years. It was a fitting time too, for that Woody Allen favourite, Marcel Ophels’ ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’, to get an overdue, and digitised, revival at the NFT. Even at four hours it didn’t overstay its welcome, offering timely firsthand insights into the politics of occupation (in this instance Nazi occupied France). The NFT also screened Orson Welles’ sly TV documentaries about Basque culture, both unseen for decades while the National’s ‘Measure for Measure’ said more about voyeurism, emotional blackmail and shameless ideologues than most people could cope with in one evening.

In other spheres, Grant Morrison’s ‘We3′ proved, yet again, his status as one of the most creative writers in the English language. That he did it virtually wordlessly makes it even better. Also worthy of note were Bob Morales’ cruelly shortened run on ‘Captain America’ (more social comment), the brilliant ‘Identity Crisis’, Bendis’ ‘Daredevil’ (still!) and Benito Cereno and Graeme MacDonald’s head-spinningly ahistorical ‘Tales From The Bully Pulpit’.

A late event was ‘The Tears’, next year’s best band, playing their first gigs in London and Oxford. Oh, and course, this year we lost Jacques Derrida. But as a learned friend of mine pointed out, “Derrida’s dead? Long live Derrida. C’est le difference, non?”

Jim Smith

It’s been another magic year for British comedy, despite the departure of ‘The Office’. This is largely due to BBC3 which, after a shaky start, appears to have found a role as proving ground for more esoteric comedy. ‘The Mighty Boosh’, ‘Little Britain’ (much stronger second season), ‘The Smoking Room’, ‘Monkey Dust’ – all great. Honourable mention also to ‘Darkplace’ and ‘Peepshow’ on Channel Four. I loved every gorgeously drawn page of ‘New Frontier’, and awaited each of its six issues with glee (after recovering from the shock of Hourman’s apparent death in number one). Of course, this is about as subversive and shocking as saying ‘Shaun of the Dead’ was my top film or ‘The Killers’ my top band – both of which happen to be true.

With ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse’ and ‘Alien Vs. Predator’, it’s difficult to imagine there were any cinematic disappointments this year. This would be to forget the ‘mighty’ ‘King Arthur’, an insult in every way shape and form. Blander than a bag of flour but still teeth-gnashingly annoying, I came away feeling actively cheated. Similarly bland and disappointing was the Beastie Boys latest, ‘To the Five Boroughs’. Few musicians can make listenable protest music and this cloying mix of anti-Bush whining and saccharine post-9-11 New York tribute is no exception. Reckon it’s time to bring back the 16-foot hydraulic phallus.

Next year? Morrison’s ‘7 Soldiers’ will no doubt reduce me to tears. Thank goodness for two months of American cinema at the NFT in January and February.


Line Break

By Stephen Lavington




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