Tales from the Bitface (version 4.0)

The Silencers, 1966 - ★½

When I was a little kid my family used to go on holiday to Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde.

We didn't go to the cinema often, if ever, back then. But Millport had a small cinema, and we always went once or twice when on holiday.

I don't recall any of the films we saw in the four years we holidayed there. What I _do_ remember is the film posters, because they were always there, so I saw them year after year. And unusually, they were round the walls inside the auditorium. So while you waited for the lights to go down, you saw adverts for films that once shown there.

It's where I first heard of the Dollars trilogy. Only the first two then, in a double poster for A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. When Eight Bells Toll. I think Ice Station Zebra.

And one called Matt Helm Gets it in Denmark. I eventually saw all the others, but not that one. As I got a bit older, if ever the name came back to me, I wondered what kind of 'getting it' the title referred to. I probably kind of looked like an adventure film, so it was probably more likely to be a threat to his life, than any other interpretation. The the entendre was clearly double.

I recently found that our Roku has a strangely-named channel called 'Movieland Tv' [_sic_ as far as the lowercase 'v' goes/]. I had a poke around, and it seems to specialise in old movies from the 60s and 70s that are not what might now be called classics. Though there are a couple of Bond films: Thunderball (the first Bond film I ever saw) and Diamonds are Forever.

But I came across one called The Silencers. The blurb described it as 'The first Matt Helm movie'. Well! Here was the mysterious figure from my childhood. If not getting it in Denmark, then at least in danger of being silenced. The blurb also told us he was an agent who'd got out of the game and his superiors wanted him back.

Fair enough, sounds like it could be OK, and I fancied something like a spy film tonight.

The first surprise was the star: Dean Martin. Now, that poster back in Millport might have shown his name in large type, and if it did you'd think the collision of his last name with my first would have stuck with me. But if so, that fact is lost in the mists of memory.

After an opening where four hit men are given bullets with 'Matt Helm' written on them, it starts with a woman dancing. And, basically, stripping. It's obviously trying to be like a Bond opening scene, but, way sub-even-that-standard.

And then another woman starts singing, and the credits include original songs by Elmer Bernstein, and a choreographer. Is this a musical?

Well, no, but if you've got Dean Martin in the studio, you'd be daft not to get him to sing a bit. Which he doesn't do in character, but does in a couple of scenes in voiceover, in effect. Oh and there's a joke with Sinatra coming on the radio and Helm saying, 'Turn that off, I can't stand his voice.' They retune, and a Dean Martin song comes on, and he says. 'Now this guy can sing.'

I know, it's not much of a joke.

It's a daft spy romp, and from Helm's amorous adventures, I think it's now clear which kind of 'getting it' will be happing in Denmark. Though probably a bit of both.

I'm giving it one star for making me laugh several time, though mainly at the ridiculousness. And half a star for the fantastic mobile bed. Why move to answer the phone when you can flick a switch and have your bed rotate you to where it is? And when you want to have a bath, just let your bed take you there and drop you in.

Honestly, that bit wouldn't have been out of place on Tracy Island..

Other than that, it's complete mince.


Why do Netflix, when nothing’s playing, still include The OA in the shows they tout, when the bastards cancelled that wonderful series three years ago?


This is a micropost, sent using the MarsEdit 5 beta’s new ‘Micropost’ feature.

It’s good. Would be even better if it had a character count.


The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, Translated by Jennifer Croft (Books 2022, 29)

I am unreasonably happy about having finished this before the end of the year. I started reading it at the start of the year. In fact, possibly before the start of the year, since it was a Christmas present.

Of course, I’ve read 28 other books while intermittently dipping into this behemoth, something I alluded to once or twice.

It’s a historical novel set in the middle and end of the 18th century, telling the story of Jacob Frank, a Polish Jew who led a cult, or alternative religious community if you prefer. He converted to Islam, then to Catholicism, taking his followers with him on the second of those changes. But they remained ‘true believers’, treating Frank as the true Messiah.

It took me so long to read partly because it’s so long, and certainly not because it was uninteresting. In fact it’s surprisingly compelling, considering the subject matter. But it is complex. Not least because of all the Polish place names and names of people. The latter is compounded when they get baptised into the Catholic church. They take on new names, so now most characters have two sets of names.

I got a surprise when I first picked up the book to find that it’s numbered backwards. Chapter 1 of Book 1 starts on page 892. The story ends on page 27. (There are some notes and blank pages after that.) At first I thought I might have to read it ‘backwards’, but no: the story proceeds in the direction I’m used to. It’s just the numbering.

I wondered if this was a reference to the direction of Hebrew writing, and Tokarczuk’s note at the end confirms that it is,

as well as a reminder that every order, every system, is simply a matter of what you’ve got used to.

Which is fair enough. I quite liked knowing how many pages I still had to go, with having to subtract. Especially as I got near the end.

Coincidentally, in the last couple of weeks I read this in ‘Shift Happens’, a newsletter about a book about keyboards:

(in Poland and parts of Europe, books have their tables of contents at the end, and so will mine).

Which isn’t the case here, but I thought it was an interesting slightly-connected idea.

It’s a huge work, in more ways than one, and also an incredible example of the translator’s art.


This is disappointing: Apple have removed the delightful page-turn animation from the Books app: Apple’s taken the joy out of its Books app with iOS 16 - The Verge.

Bring it back! Joy! Whimsy!


November sky. Days like this are the real reason we have Christmas.


Saddened to read of the death of Marcus Sedgwick. I don’t know much about him, but I read and enjoyed one of his books two years ago, and subscribed to his mailing list after that. He seemed like a decent guy.

So it goes, I guess.


If you use Stage Manager on Mac, it seems that Command-backtick (⌘+`) behaves differently.

Normally it switches between windows of the active app. With Stage Manager it appears to switch between windows that are active in the current Stage (if that’s the term). Even between apps.


My site is fully switched over to Micro.blog. Everything has changed. Not just the look — I plan to work on that and try to make it more the way I want — but the URL scheme.

There will be breakages. I’ll fix things over time, but let me know about any you see.


I plan to move my site to Micro.blog. I’ve had enough of running servers and juggling components to make Indieweb things work together. I’d also relish the simplicity of making short posts easily.

I have a feast of fiddling about ahead of me to get all my old posts imported.


Tax rises expected from the latest Tory PM. What I can’t figure out is why they have to ‘make up for a £50bn fiscal hole’ caused by Truss, when she was only in for 5 minutes. Her disastrous mini-budget hadn’t been enacted yet.


Next Songs, Elon Musk, and Joe Strummer

Since Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been confirmed, there has been a lot of chatter about free speech. Musk, we are told, describes himself as a ‘free speech maximalist’, and there are fears that he’ll have Twitter reinstate the accounts of Trump and other white supremacists.

But I’ve been thinking about Joe Strummer.

More specifically, I’ve been wondering why his ‘The Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was popping into my head so often. It wasn’t a problem: getting an earworm of a song I like doesn’t bother me. But I wondered what was triggering it.

I can often work out why I get a song in my head. I knew, for example, why I often had The Clash’s ‘The Prisoner ' in my head through the summer. The words ‘The Prisoner ' are written on the whiteboard in our kitchen, along with the titles of the other serieses we’re watching.

And in fact I sing ‘The Prisoner’ every time I hang out the washing, owing to its line referring to ‘hanging out the washing and clipping coupons and generally being decent.’

It clicked today, though. You know how — if you’re an old-school album listener (or just old) like me — when you play an album, one track’s ending often triggers the expectation of the next? So that, when you hear a song in isolation, on a playlist or on the radio or something, and the wrong song plays next, it can be quite jarring?

The song before ‘The Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ on Rock Art and the X-Ray Style is ‘Techno D-Day’. Joe’s celebration of illegal raves ends with the line, ‘And this is about free speech!’

So it turns out my head was just playing the next song whenever the phrase came up.


The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 28)

And so I circle back and reread the book I read just over a month ago.

This has been a most enjoyable experience, reading through the whole series. Rereading this one so soon was an excellent opportunity to see if I could spot any clues that I missed the first time (certainly one or two).

The apparent logical jumps the characters make at the climax made more sense this time, so that was good.

Excellent stuff. I look forward to the next one.


The Banshees of Inisherin, 2022 - ★★★★

Martin McDonagh's latest is sad, hilarious, tragic, and true. Or feels like it could be true, even if some of the decisions characters make are baffling, to say nothing of gruesome.

On a rugged, beautiful island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, with the civil war going on on the mainland, two friends fall out. Or rather, one says he doesn't like the other any more. A whole sequence of events flow out from this simple, almost child-like choice.

The funniest part happens when one of them goes to confession.But that's only to be expected: confession's a pretty funny kind of thing, when you think about it.


The Banshees of Inisherin, 2022 - ★★★★

Martin McDonagh's latest is sad, hilarious, tragic, and true. Or feels like it could be true, even if some of the decisions characters make are baffling, to say nothing of gruesome.

On a rugged, beautiful island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, with the civil war going on on the mainland, two friends fall out. Or rather, one says he doesn't like the other any more. A whole sequence of events flow out from this simple, almost child-like choice.

The funniest part happens when one of them goes to confession.But that's only to be expected: confession's a pretty funny kind of thing, when you think about it.

See in Letterboxd


Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 27)

For some reason this is the one whose title never sticks in my mind. When I try to think of the books in the series I always seem to have a hard time bringing this one to mind.

Which is by no means because of the story, which is excellent. Strike and Robin take on a cold case, 40 years old. When I wrote about this before I said I thought there was too much time spent on the other cases. That didn’t seem so this time.

Also back then, I was recovering from being sick. This time I was just starting to be. And indeed, I was reading a section where Strike gets flu and tries desperately to convince himself that he can’t be getting it; to no avail, of course. I was reading that and thinking, ‘Yes, I’m definitely getting it.’ And not flu.


Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 26)

The rereading continues. It’s actually now a couple of weeks since I read this, this time. what with forgetting, and then coming down with Covid, and what have you.

Politics is the background for this one, with Robin going undercover at the House of Commons to try to find out who’s blackmailing a government minister — or rather, why? The blackmailers are know, but nobody outside of the minister’s family knows what it is they have on him.

All good stuff, as ever. I had totally forgotten who was behind it all (where ‘it’ is the murder that follows the blackmail), which just goes to show you can easily enjoy a whodunit a second time.


Well, damn. As the only one in my immediate family never to have had it, I really thought I was going to get away with it.

A lateral flow test for COVID-19,showing  positive result.
Positive

Barry Lyndon, 1975 - ★★★½

I had never seen this Kubrick film, and it was a little hard to get my head around it as a comedy. Which it kind of is, though I've also seen it described as a drama, and it has elements of both. Tragedy too.

It's a strange one. Beautifully shot, many scenes composed like paintings, and a great score. I mostly enjoyed it, but it's definitely not up there with 2001, in Kubrick's work.


Barry Lyndon, 1975 - ★★★½

I had never seen this Kubrick film, and it was a little hard to get my head around it as a comedy. Which it kind of is, though I've also seen it described as a drama, and it has elements of both. Tragedy too.

It's a strange one. Beautifully shot, many scenes composed like paintings, and a great score. I mostly enjoyed it, but it's definitely not up there with 2001, in Kubrick's work.

See in Letterboxd


Wednesday Night is Music Night

God, I have missed this so much. Live music FTW.

I get emails from the Joe Strummer Foundation . The most recent one told me that their artist of the month for September was someone called Gemma Rogers. I hadn’t heard of her, but was interested when I read that she’d had an album launch at Paper Dress Vintage. That’s a place just down the road from me on the Narrow Way. It used to just be a second-hand clothes shop, but now it’s more, I guess.

Anyway, the thought that she might be a local piqued my interest, as well as the JSF recommendation, so I gave her a listen, and liked what I heard a lot.

She was booked to play at a place called Folklore, on Hackney Road, so I thought, why not? In support was Gabi Garbutt and the Illuminations , who I saw once a few years back, because Sean Read, whom I know from round these parts, was producing them and playing in the band. Back then. Not anymore. Not tonight, at least.

Going to a gig in a small venue? No big deal, right? Except… this is the first gig I’ve been to since I saw Glen Matlock. At the end of February 2020.

It felt like quite a step.

But after a bite to eat across the road, we made our way in through forbidding, castle-like doors. Inside is a smallish bar area, and a classic pub backroom. The stage made of two layers of forklift pallets topped with hardboard. It was smoky. Visually, it was like being back in the eighties. But of course, it was stage smoke-machine smoke. Exactly why it filled the air before anyone had taken to the stage escapes me.

Unless it was to show the lasers. It looked like this:

A pub back room with a low stage set up for a band. Laser beams criss-cross the smoky atmosphere.
The back room of Folklore Hoxton

Anyway, Veronica Bianqui brought her Hollywood-fuelled LA tones to Hackney Road. Though it turned out she had been on the bus with us down from Clapton.

Veronica Bianqui on stage
Veronica Bianqui on stage

I probably enjoyed Gabi Garbutt’s performance most of the three. Because at times? At times they sounded a bit like late-period Clash.

Gabi Garbutt on stage
Gabi Garbutt on stage

They sounded. Like. The Clash. Combat Rock-era. I think it was mainly the bass player sounding a bit like Paul Simonon. Whatever, I can pay no higher compliment. No higher compliment can be paid.

But Gemma Rogers was also great, with the singalong of ‘Rabbit Hole’ being the highlight. Not often you get the band applauding the audience.

Gemma Rogers on stage
Gemma Rogers on stage

But yes: I had missed it so much more than I realised. Just getting together in room with a hundred or so people, while others make rocking sounds up the front? How could I have forgotten?


Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 25)

This is, by far, the most gruesome book in the Strike series. The crimes, the killings are, that is to say.

It also gives Robin the most action she’s had, as well as the most danger.

And I still, since reading it seven years ago, haven’t investigated Blue Öyster Cult. Oh well.


Also I don’t really like the #NotMyKing hashtag that some republican campaigners have been using. It implies either that someone else should be king, or that there is or could be someone who is ‘my king’. Republicans believe no one should be king. Or queen.


Did anyone else get heavy Cybermen vibes from the royal funeral parade? All the slow marching with a drumbeat on every step? Everyone in time, rocking from side to side…


God Save Your Mad Parade

I surprised myself, really. I, an avowed republican and atheist, watched the Queen’s funeral.

It was a historic event, there’s no doubt about that. If only because we need reminding once in a while that we live in a militarist theocracy.

Sure, the Prime Minister — elected, but just barely having any democratic legitimacy — was involved, reading one of the weird stories from the strange Christian book, The Bible. But look at the start of the ceremony. The military led the march to the church, surrounding the coffin throughout. Just inside the doorway they handed over to the religionists, who led them down the aisle.

All the living Prime Ministers were there, and some other politicians too, I expect. But it was not a day for them, for the elected; nor for their electors, for ‘commoners’, except to bow their heads and throw flowers.

I kept an eye on Twitter throughout, but it wasn’t nearly as snarky as I imagined. A few comments about dropped papers and spiders, but mostly just revelling in it.