Monday, March 30, 2009

Kasper Hauser v Karl Pilkington

Watched Werner Herzog's rather excellent The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (aka Every Man for Himself and God Against All) last week, a telling of the true story of a young German man who, one day in 1828, was discovered standing in the street in Nuremberg, holding a letter and barely able to walk or talk.

It emerges that up until this moment, Kasper Hauser – for it is he – has been imprisoned in a cellar since birth; aside from a stranger who fed him, the villagers are the first human beings he has ever seen. He's played both movingly and clownishly by Kevin Eldon-lookalike Bruno S., who had also suffered from mental illness and - typical Herzog, this - had no acting experience at all.

Later in the film, when Kasper has been taken in by a kindly philanthropist and has learnt to speak, a self important professor turns up at the house to test his lateral thinking.

"In this village live people who tell only the truth," says the man, moving a sugar pot across the table. "Here is another village: the people who live here only tell lies."

He moves a tea cup to the other side of the table. "Two paths run from these villages to where you are standing, and you are at the crossroads. A man comes along and you want to know which village he comes from: the truthful village or the village of liars. Now, in order to solve this problem logically, there is only one question you can ask. What is that question?"

The maid, sitting between the two men, insists the problem is too difficult for Kasper, who remains silent. After some more pontificating, the professor gives the answer: "If you came from the other village, would you answer no if I were to ask you whether you came from the liar's village? By means of a double negative, the liar is forced to tell the truth… That's what I call logic via argument to truth," he concludes, with a flourish.

"Well I know another question," pipes up Kasper, emphasising each word as if it is an announcement all of its own. The professor indignantly denies that another question exists.

"I would ask the man if he was a tree frog," Kasper continues simply. "The man from the village of truth would say, "No, I'm not a tree frog," because he tells the truth. The man from the liars' village would say, "I am a tree frog," because they would lie. That's how I would know which village he was from."

Having been raised - if you can even call it that - outside society, Kaspar never fully grasps the rules - but this has also liberated from the rigid thought structures everyone is expected to adopt. He's a visionary, although, like Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo or Grizzly Man's Timothy Treadwell, one destined to be crushed by life's realities.

The nurse smiles. "What you've done is describe something, not deduce it," replies the professor angrily. "I cannot accept that question."


Interestingly, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant once posed a variation on this conundrum to that modern day idiot savant, Karl Pilkington. This alternative version had two identical angels, one truthful, guarding the door to heaven and one a liar, guarding the door to hell. What question would the bald-headed Manc ask to find his way to heaven?

After suggesting that one of the doors might be warmer because of the heat given off by hell, Karl wonders whether he might be able to take a look through one of the doors' keyholes. Gervais and Merchant disallow this.

Karl begins to get frustrated. "But would they be neighbours like this?" he says. "Would they be that close?"

After an explanation, which presumably goes right over his round, orange-shaped head, Karl concludes, "This is where you use your gut feeling, though, innit. I just think there's a lot of questions in life where you don't know the answer and you go, 'Do you know what? I don't like the look of him.'"

"They're identical," Gervais points out.

Says Karl: "Yeah, but still, with identical twins, you always get a little snidey one."

From the Goose archives
Film review: Rescue Dawn

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dark Days/Light Years/Good Times

The Super Furry Animals's ninth album, Dark Days/Light Years, is out in a couple of weeks - but age hasn't withered them, nor custom staled their infinite variety. I particularly liked this lyric, from 'Inaugural Trams':

"I will design a town in the image of your face
Round the wrinkles of your eyes, my footsteps you can trace
We could promenade down the infranasal depression
The streets of your hands will never feel a recession."

The song also features some rapping in German and the line "they say the future of cement is set in stone" - and yet it's still as hummable as anything. Viva SFA!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Put your best footnote forward

A pair of footnotes I've enjoyed recently. The first is from a history of Bob Dylan's song 'Like a Rolling Stone', the second from a non-fiction account of a murder which took place in Wiltshire in 1860.

"John Hammond told me once that I should take over Columbia Records," [Dylan producer Bob] Johnston says, as if telling the story of a broken treaty, of how his Apache ancestors were driven from their land. "And so I said, 'Well, how do you do it?' I went up and met with Paley and Stanton [William S. Paley, the legendary capitalist buccaneer who bought the tiny Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928, was chairman of the board of CBS, Frank Stanton had been president of the company since 1946] and those people up there, and they said, 'What would you do if you came into this?' And I says, 'Well, you're not gonna like it and you won't do it, but I think the first thing is, you should get your shit together. And by that, you should have the tenth floor of attorneys. And the eleventh floor of accountants. And the twelfth floor of music. And they should never be allowed to pass one another. Whatever you want to do, however you want to cheat, and fuck these artists around, is your opinion - but at least give them the opportunity of doing something, without people who tap their foot and whistle out of tune, and judge what's being made according to what somebody did last week, to keep their job six months longer.' And I said, 'If you do that, the music will always be the music, and those son-of-a-bitches will never have the chance at it, you can make all the money you want to, but they can't fuck with the music.' Paley said, 'That's very interesting.' John walked out and said, 'You didn't want the job, did you?'"
Greil Marcus, Like a Rolling Stone, London: 2005, fn. p143


To demonstrate the weird logic of homicidal monomania, [writer Joseph] Stapleton recounted a horrible story about a mild-mannered young man who was so obsessed with windmills that he would gaze at them for days on end. In 1843, friends tried to distract him from his fixation by moving him to an area with no mills. There the windmill man lured a boy into a wood, then killed and mutilated him. His motive, he explained, was the hope that as a punishment he would be taken to a place where there just might be a mill.
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, London: 2008, fn. p236

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tonight on BBC1: The Real Swiss Family Robinson

The problem with being shipwrecked is that it often looks like such fun. When it happened to the Swiss Robinson family in Johann David Wyss's 19th century novel, they ended up learning some important lessons about family values and self-sufficiency. When it happened to the cast of Channel 4's Shipwrecked, they ended up with, like, amazing tans and a handful of invitations to a variety of low-budget film premieres. 

So what will transpire when the Dye family from Essex are sent to the tiny, remote, unpopulated Pacific island of Anariki (what do you mean, "Where?" It's part of the Republic of Kiribati, you dunce) to fend for themselves? Will they create the kind of idyllic community seen in The Beach – or will they head the way of Tom Hanks in Castaway, performing makeshift dental surgery on each other and ranting at volleyballs?

Dad Andy has particularly strong reasons for getting away from it all and trying out a simple life. His once lucrative building business – which also employs two of his three children – has failed, and he sees this as an opportunity to put everything on hold, take stock, slow down and have a good, long think about what life is really all about.

"Do we want to go back to how it was before?" he asks, round the family dinner table. "We did have a lot of disposable money and we could go out and eat where we wanted to eat, we could buy the cars that we wanted to buy and we could go on three or four holidays a year. Do we want that back – or don't we actually want that back?"

Hmmm, that sounds all right, actually. Anyway, the clan head off to the beautiful island on their three-week jaunt, and, after some moaning, manage to build their own shelter, catch their own food and, eventually, throw off some of their materialistic western ways. It's reasonably diverting stuff which, with a bit of luck, might even make you question your own position in the rat race.

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 25 March 2009 

Originally published on

Last night on Five: The Mentalist

I've always wondered what would happen if Derren Brown decided Channel 4 wasn't big enough for him and started using his awesome powers of psychological illusionism for evildoing. Presumably he'd have his hands on millions of pounds and would have recruited an army of hypnotised mercenaries before you could say, "look into my eyes…" 

Five's glossy new US import – we know this is a quality drama, because its supporting cast includes two 24 stars and one former West Wing actor – imagines what would happen if Derren had the sunswept good looks of a Lost cast member and got a job as a homicide detective in California.

Simon Baker plays enigmatic Patrick Jane, a former phoney TV psychic who's given up his fraudulent ways and turned cop. We first meet him at the crime scene of a murdered young girl. Within seconds of the family's press conference, he's earned the trust of the grieving mother byguessing her favourite colour and so on – "You really only pretend to like skiing... you love India, but you've never been there" – and solves the case in true maverick fashion. "You're psychic?" she asks. "No," he laughs. "Just paying attention."

Baker is good, giving Jane a self-assurance which just about manages not to spill over into cockiness and a calm, ethereal air, meaning that even when he makes a ham and cheese sandwich, it seems mysterious and unknowable.

You'll see echoes of Life (kooky cop tussles with his uptight female partner) and moments of Dexter (each show has individual crimes to solve, but with an overarching serial killer case to tie it all together), but this opener seems to have a personality all of its own. And, irrespective of all of the above, how can you not love a show with a title like The Mentalist, when it's directed by someone called David Nutter?

by Will Parkhouse

Originally published on 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whacks lyrical

A collection of comments on classic pop lyrics from an irritated New York hotdog vendor, or something.

"You're no good, heartbreaker - you're a liar and a cheat."
All right, don't beat around the bush, Aretha. Jeez.

"She looks like a painting: Jackson Pollock's Number Five".
Yeah, real funny, Brown. That's my cousin you're talking about. Jeez.

"Tramps like us, baby we were born to run."
Who you callin' a tramp, Springsteen? You're not The Boss of me. Jeez.

"Like a knight from some old fashioned book, I have saved all my ribbons for thee."
Cohen, enough about your fuckin' ribbons, already. Jeez.

"'Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?' He just grinned and shook my hand. 'No' was all he said."
Tough crowd. Jeez.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Last night on BBC3: Natalie Cassidy's Real Britain

Natalie Cassidy, aka Sonia out of EastEnders, is annoyed. Fed up with gossip stories about how perfect celebrities are – although actually only the really boring gossip stories are about how perfect celebrities are – the soap actress is presenting Natalie Cassidy's Real Britain, which tells the story of two unique real people (i.e. not from London, not obviously beautiful) as they hold their noses and hurl themselves face first into the swimming pool of fame. 

First up is endearingly naïve South Shields girl Lauren Luke, whose YouTube videos, in which she gives make-up tips, have pulled in a total of more than 30 million views. And what has it got her? Nothing, that's what. Luckily, there's a New York marketing firm who think they can turn the hits into dollars by releasing a make-up line using Lauren's name.

The second story follows the adventures of Nicky Avery, an Essex man diagnosed with breast cancer at the mind-bogglingly young age of 24. He wants to turn the disease into a living – hey, it's his cancer, he can do what he wants with it – so, despite having already sold his story umpteen times, he heads to London for a meeting with Max Clifford in the hope of getting a TV gig. Although both Lauren and Nicky are chasing their dreams in unconventional ways, neither seems to have any beef with celebrity culture, making for a programme that doesn't quite seem to know what it wants to be.

The real life stories work well enough in their own right, but they're bookended by Natalie's tub-thumping "fame culture = last days of Rome" screeds, which at times just seem to be an excuse for the soap star to blow off some steam about the unfair way the celeb magazines have treated her. Could it be that the programme makers have just tacked a celebrity name onto the title in order to pull in a few extra viewers? Surely not!

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 4 March 2009 

Originally published on

Last night on Channel 4: Red Riding

We'd very much like to shake the hand of the brilliant individual who signed up the Red Riding cast – that's once they've wiped the great globs of special thespian pheromones from their sticky mitts. With the likes of David Morrissey, Sean Bean, Paddy Considine, Rebecca Hall, Andrew Garfield, Eddie Marsan and Warren Clarke featuring in this trilogy of feature-length dramas, this must be the most talented bunch of British actors to be seen together on the small screen for quite some time. 

Although it'll look familiar to anyone who's seen David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac, which has both similar tone and content, Red Riding is based on David Peace's quartet of books, which are set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, though also strongly concerned with alleged police brutality and massive corruption.

It begins with eager young Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie 'Scoop' Dunford (BAFTA-winning Boy A star Andrew Garfield proving he's no one-hit wonder) reporting the murder of a young girl who was killed wearing a red hooded anorak. As he joins the dots between the girl's death and other unsolved child killings years before, his colleague Barry is investigating the shady business activities of one John Dawson (a smarmy but vicious Sean Bean). Is it all somehow connected?

Set in 1974, part one looks fantastically authentic. Thanks to that nicotine filter camera lens, visually it takes its lead from Our Friends in the North or a grimmer Life on Mars: an era when most furniture and items of clothing were either green, brown or beige and when journalists pinned clippings and maps to the wall, instead of Ctrl+C-ing it all into a Word document.

As Eddie probes further and events take their horrifying course, the drama has the feel of a bad dream spiralling surreally out of control. You're likely to end up so sucked in, all that "acting masterclass" stuff will be the last thing on your mind. Very strong stuff.

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 4 March 2009 

Originally published on

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Get your Rock off

After watching the first few episodes before dropping out, I've recently been reacquainting myself with 30 Rock (Five USA seem to have just got round to showing the second season). Friday's 'Rosemary's Baby' episode was a particular corker, and it featured one of the best lines I think I've ever heard in a sitcom.

Having visited the disgusting house of her screenwriting heroine Rosemary Howard, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is explaining her horror to her confidante, eccentric company CEO Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). "I don't think she has a toilet," says Lemon. "I saw my future, Jack."

Handing her a glass of red wine, Donaghy replies: "Never go with a hippie to a second location."

This scene, from earlier in the same episode, was also astonishingly good, particularly if you're used to Baldwin's usual strait-laced style of acting.