Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Yes Men Fix the World: Review

'The Yes Men Fix The World' is the sequel to 2003's 'The Yes Men': documentaries following two anti-corporate activists (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) as they stage a variety of stunts aimed at highlighting global injustice. Their primary weapon in this war is subterfuge- the filmmakers gain the trust of industry and media whilst masquerading as representatives from government or big business. It's a format we've grown accustomed to through the comic-doco style of Michael Moore and the pantomime spoofing of Sacha Baron Cohen's characters. But there's a precarious line between investigative journalism and getting your comedic kicks...

In the first section, the target is Dow Chemical and Union Carbide's refusal to accept responsibility for the Bhopal industrial disaster of 1984 - a tragedy estimated to have killed 25,000. This culminates in a BBC interview with a "Dow representative" promising 12 billion dollars of compensation to those affected. Audacious, yes- but there's little attention paid on the human tragedies of the story. It's used as a tool to rail more generally against the ambiguous 'greed' of 'big corporations'. When the two filmmakers do visit India, it's only to validate their position.

It's a self-congratulatory theme which informs the limp protests against ExxonMobil and Halliburton (soft targets for the protest movement) which are to follow. The film's most succesful argument comes later, and is also it's simplest: Thousands of New Orleans residents have been evicted from their homes in the wake of Katrina. The filmmakers reserve judgement here, letting the subjects speak for themselves- and it makes for convincing footage. But elsewhere, wistful acoustic guitars for background music and stoner-humour do little to validate their arguments, merely establishing that this is a film very much preaching to a partisan audience.

The Yes Men establish their raison d'etre as defenders of justice and the oppressed, patting each other on the back at regular intervals along the way. Whilst their stunts are impressive and their hearts in the right places, the film suffers from nonchalance toward it's subjects and arrogance in it's arguments. It's a tone which is self-defeating and wholly unneccesary when compared with peers of the genre. 'The Czech Dream' (2004) remains humble, whilst longtime comic/activist Mark Thomas is an expert in letting the facts hold centre stage. Occassionally funny but too frequently lightweight, 'The Yes Men Fix the World' raises serious questions, not about fostering social change through comedy, but about the legitimacy of using protest movements as a source of humour and entertainment.

First published in Planet Notion.

Monday, 17 August 2009

DJ Yoda: How to Cut and Paste (30s Edition) : Review

The '30's edition' is the latest in DJ Yoda's 'How to cut and paste' series; a now-established blueprint from which we've received an 80s mash-up, a country western themed disc and a foray into movie soundtracks. On this mix, Yoda samples a range of 1930s music and 'updates' with an array of beats and scratches.

The cult of the mash-up has enjoyed popularity of late due to the rise in availability of easy to use software. But the basic concept of 'the remix' has it's roots in something far older than Ableton. Historically, folk music relied upon certain pieces which were passed down and reinterpreted. A DJ's role is no different. Scouring an archive, reinterpreting. It's a similarly communal experience, rewardng those who pay attention. Faces on the dancefloor light up as they recognise a sample. From a DJ's perspective, such reappropriation can be a safe bet. And here's where it gets problematic.

The '30s edition' is, no doubt, enjoyable. Who wouldn't care to listen to Cab Calloway croon over 'Minnie the Moocher' or reminiscise for the 'Big Rock Candy Mountain'? And if Louis Armstrong's ode to 'Cheesecake' doesn't elicit a smile on first listen, you're incapable of human joy. The problem with this mix is not the source material, it's in the lack of imagination applied to it. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist applied a limited scope and acheived maximum results with their 'Product Placement' tour- through juxtaposition of samples. Yoda, however, seems content merely to apply morose beats and spoken word samples. It's a surprisingly lazy effort that would make Kool Herc shudder. Like all you have to do is spin an LP and drop a drum-loop on it.

I kept hoping for something engaging: a Robert Johnson riff against a Raekwon a-capell. Thelonius Monk vs Biggie. Instead, almost-verbatim reperformances. Maybe this mix wasn't intended for these discerning ears- perhaps it's meant for people who can only listen to vintage music once it's been co-opted into a known style. Something that goes against the very premise of being a DJ. If Yoda can craft a career from putting beats on records, fair play. But if kids can't listen to the originals on their own merit, then I despair.

First published in Planet Notion.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Cabaret Whore: Review

‘What is cabaret without pain?’ implored the knife-wielding French diva 'La Poule Plombee', one of three characters portrayed in Sarah-Louise Young’s 'Cabaret Whore'. A fitting closing statement for a performance which parodied the conventions of the genre with style, if not substance. A cocktail of anecdotal storytelling, music and dance which at times borders on the burlesque, cabaret is enjoying something of a rennaissance in comedy circles. Before travelling to the Edinburgh Free Fringe, the Camden Head was treated to a preview performance.

A foul-mouthed redneck porn star, a snooty librarian who idolises Jordan and an embittered Piaf-a-like paraded their loneliness, regrets and traumas through jovial song, before collapsing in tears under the weight of their pains. Young has a powerful voice capable of carrying her character's idiosyncracies; but whilst you couldn't fault the ability or indeed the effort, there was a feeling that 'the show' sometimes overshadowed the humour. Attempts at audience participation were met with uncomfortable silence. Social observation wasn't as clever as it thought. Though pain was the central premise of Young's charicatures, it was far from a painful experience. More an amusing spectacle that promised much but failed to deliver where it really mattered.

First published in Camden Fringe Voyeur

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Benson: The People's Fish

Anglers are today mourning the death of what is believed to be Britain's biggest carp. Commonly referred to as 'the People's Fish', Benson was introduced into the lakes in 1995, and at the time of his death weighed 64lb. The BBC reported that he had been caught up to 70 times during "his 13 year career". Career?

Anyway. Tony Bridgefoot, owner of Bluebell Lakes on the Cambridgeshire/Northamptonshire border, thought the fact that prospective fishers did not have to join an expensive fishing syndicate but could fish on a day ticket meant the carp was accessible to everyone.

"They sort of adopted it and took it to their hearts, and if you were lucky enough to catch the fish or even see the fish it was perfectly clear what a beautiful creature it was."

Here follows Benson's Best Bits.