Phonogram… Stripp’d

Gestalt Mash have my (long overdue) column on Kieron Gillen and Jamis McKelvie’s Phonogram comics.

To date, this series only has two volumes — 2007’s Rue Britannia and 2010’s The Singles Club — but those two volumes contain enough ideas to keep a Marvel character running for a generation.  The Joel Silver-style 30 second pitch is that the comic is Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love (2001) meets Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (2001) via Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and John Tynes and Greg Stolze’s roleplaying game Unknown Armies (2008).  Set in contemporary Britain, the comics tell stories about a group of mages who perform magic by engaging with pop music.  Some mages are critics, others produce fanzines and some simply love to dance.  What is fascinating about this particular comic is that Phonogram is that rarest of things, Fantasy series that does not look to the past for its sources of enchantment:

Think of the memories of Woodstock in the 60s, of the Kings Road in the late 70s and the acid house scene in the 80s. Think of the tales that people tell and of the sense of place that inhabit those stories. These were times when people knew where they were and they knew that what they were seeing was important. They knew that magic existed because they could see it spring fully formed on stage amidst the stenches of weed, sweat and overpriced cheap lager. Anyone who has been part of a musical scene will know what it is like to walk into a club and to know who everyone is and why they are there. To be a part of a scene is to know everyone’s side-projects and why absolutely nothing good can come from their decision to start fucking the bass-player. To be in the right place at the right time is to be cool and to be cool is magic. But then the bubble pops. The wave breaks. Maybe the lynchpin band fall out with each other or there’s a fire at the important venue. Maybe the wrong people start turning up to gigs and the atmosphere turned sour. All kinds of things can happen and when they do, you can feel it end. To be cool is to know what it’s like to live in a world filled with meaning and magic, but it is also to know what it’s like when the gods depart the stage and the magic drains from the world. To be cool is to know how it feels to be left standing in a sweaty club surrounded by stupid people who suddenly feel very tired, very old and very sad.


Le Quattro Volte (2010) – Pay No Attention To The Goat Behind The Ocean

Film critics sometimes talk about films having a ‘Malick Aesthetic’.  What they generally mean by this is that the film features lots of nature photography such as the fields of long grass rippling in the wind from The Thin Red Line (1998), the sunlight in the trees from The New World (2005) or the desert sunsets from Badlands (1973). The ‘Malick Aesthetic’ is created by inserting this sort of footage in between more eventful scenes both as a way of allowing the audience to reflect upon what they have just seen and as a way of creating an impression of the numinous that both surrounds and consumes the characters. Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte is a film that makes extensive use of this technique to create a film that is both free of dialogue and positively overflowing with the same sense of grace that infuses many of Malick’s most enduring films. However, unlike films such as Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light (2007), Frammartino is not content with presenting us a world imbued with the divine. Instead, much like Malick himself, Frammartino interrogates the divine resulting in a film filled with wit, warmth and wonder, but also profound scepticism about the divine spark that supposedly surrounds us.

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